Saturday, 7 June 2008

Nella stretta morsa del ragno / The Web of the Spider

Along with the likes of Hitchcock's The Man who Knew too Much and Haneke's Funny Games, this is one of those rare instances of a director remaking their own film. The director in question is Antonio Margheriti / Anthony Dawson and the original is Castle of Blood.

The story, by Bruno Corbucci, is simplicity itself: Sceptical journalist Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa), follows Edgar Allan Poe (Klaus Kinski) to the UK in search of an interview, refuses to believe that Poe's tales of mystery and imagination are in fact reportage of actual occurrences, wagers with Lord Blackwood to spend a night in his haunted castle to prove that there are no such things as ghosts, and comes to regret this decision somewhat by the time the night is over.

The sceptical enquirer

The tortured artist who knows it is all real

Like its predecessor, Web of the Spider is somewhat slow moving but undeniably atmospheric, with plenty of cobweb-filled rooms, billowing curtains, creepy portraits and single candles illuminating it all as if they were spotlights. It also has that distinctive blend of the physical and metaphysical, with vampires who only materialise one night of the year; a Beyond-like place out of the laws of space and time; and, more regrettably, the killing of a snake as a means of demonstrating a point about the nature of life and death, acknowledged even within the diegesis as somewhat spurious.

A clock stopping in a haunted house is never a good sign...

Nor are women identical to those in old portraits...

Nor balls in previously empty rooms...

The chief difference is that the film is in colour rather than monochrome. While a commercial necessity by 1971, it is debatable whether it adds terribly much. Indeed, in that Margheriti seems to here avoid more stylised colour effects, with almost everything in the same drab shades, it's possible that it actually detracts by giving the film a more realistic veneer throughout. Though this may be intentional, as a means of conveying that Blackwood Castle and its inhabitants seem normal to the reporter until it is too late, one can't think it would have been aesthetically preferable to establish greater contrast between real and fantastical through a more expressive use of contrasting colour regimes.

Having said this, it's also equally possible that this general drabness is a consequence of the poor quality of the version of the film under review here, particularly given that the near contemporaneous Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye features a number of beautiful colour effects.

The panning and scanning, most evident within what would otherwise be two or three shots as an awkward telecine whip pan moves from one character to another, is particularly bad here, making it even more difficult to fairly judge the film.

One does, nevertheless, hesitantly get the impression that Web of the Spider comes across as somewhat out of time and place itself, as a comparatively tame and suggestive 1960s gothic made in the more explicit 1970s. This said, the pervasive sense of deja-vu one gets from having seen its predecessor also adds to the experience by re-enforcing the selfsame theme of fatalism that already runs through the film.

The changes in casting between original and remake are both for the better and worse. Klaus Kinski of course makes for an excellent haunted Poe, though his contributions is confined to the framing narrative(s). Franciosa is an agreeable protagonist, effectively conveying the journalist's smug self-confidence in the initial scenes followed by its progressive undermining and ultimate collapse. The female beauties, including Michele Mercier and Karin Field, are suitably fatally attractive, though inevitably comparatively lacking in those unique sado-masochistic, victimiser-victim and pain-pleasure hacceities that Barbara Steele brought, consciously or otherwise, to her role in the original.

A cleaned up DVD release would certainly be very welcome.


Anonymous said...

I've never seen it, but this is often cited by Kinski fans as an example for the occasionally inspired performances he delivered in lesser material, when in the right mood.

K H Brown said...

He's good as the tortured poet, especially when flipping out in the cemetary at the start - a scene that's implied inspires one of his poems.

I'd compare his performance here to Jess Franco's Justine, where he plays the Marquis de Sade in a series of cutaways filmed in one day. He's more animated here and makes a more visible effort, but just has the right look for these kind of little but intense roles.

Wow Gold said...

Good posting!