Monday, 11 January 2010

Il castello dalle porte di fuoco / Blood Castle / Ivanna / Scream of the Demon Lover

This turn of the decade Italian-Spanish co-production from Jose Luis Merino is very much the product of its time, having one foot in the 1960s past and the other in the 1970s future. As a 1960s film, it is rich in Gothic atmospherics. As a 1970s film it is that bit more explicit in terms of nudity, violence and perversity.

Set around the turn of the 20th century, the plot sees biochemist Dr Ivanna Rakovski (fotoromanzi fixture Erna Schurer) hired to assist Baron Janos Dalmar in his researches. The baron has a bad reputation amongst the locals, being suspected of the murder of several young women and of his older brother, Ygor.

Schurer voices off

But it is hard for Ivanna to know how much credence to put in these peasant stories, not least because the man who agrees to take her to the Dalmar castle attempts to rape her en route.

Whatever the case, Baron Janos is initially reluctant to employ Ivanna, having apparently not realised that she was female, beautiful and eligible when he contracted her via an agency. She is equally reluctant to leave, however, and soon wins him over with a display of professionalism, although predictably their relationship equally quickly begins to extend beyond work.

The Baron's first appearance, via Dracula and Black Sunday.

It emerges the Baron is continuing his late brother's research into tissue regeneration; having died when his laboratory blew up Ygor is also the experimental subject, with his charred remains being preserved in a vat of chemicals.

The Baron tries to blame these chemicals for inducing the extraordinarily vivid hallucinations or nightmares Ivanna soon experience, which see her being taken to the castle dungeon and tormented by an unseen figure...

Blood Castle's greatest assets, besides lead Erna Schurer's breasts and her willingness to display them at every opportunity which presents itself, are its visuals. Take out the scenes of Schurer wandering around the passages and chambers of the castle and the film would probably be half the length. But they are so beautiful to look at that it almost doesn't matter.

This is all the more so since the film is, like many of its kind, decidedly less satisfactory when it actually comes to telling a story. Besides the usual infelicities of translation and dubbing (some of the supposedly Slavic characters speak with Cockney accents in the English version) we get an awkward kitchen sink of supernatural, mad science and mad man motifs that recall superior predecessors and intertexts featuring only one or the other: The Virgin of Nuremberg, via the torture chamber and a (not so) mysterious disfigured figure; The Whip and the Body, via the ambiguous S&M scenarios and the Byronic baron; and The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock, via a Hitchcockian glass of drugged milk.

It's this aspect which also demonstrates how Blood Castle is a perfect illustration of the division between Anglo-American and European approaches to fantasy-horror, as proposed by Tohill and Tombs in Immoral Tales, that between the narrative logic of the former and the cinematic logic of the latter.

1 comment:

David A. Zuzelo said...

As always, excellent posts-now I want to rewatch this film!

By the way (and I hate doing this in random comments, many apologies)...
For you!