Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963)

Thinking outside of the box can be a tricky task, but it is necessary if one hopes to come up with a story that hasn’t already been thought of or isn’t something that could just as easily be dreamt up by anybody. The natural habit of falling into a comfort zone can easily hamper one’s ability to innovate. In the context of genre film, it is easy to stay inside the comfort zone while exploring around a little outside of the box, not too far, though, to discover something pretty new and cool that keeps the genre alive for that much longer. With Antonio Margheriti’s THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG we have all of the ‘60s Gothic horror themes we know and love that keep us happy and comfortable but melds and fuses them with fascinating new approaches that keeps one from getting bored of the same ol’, same ol’. 

A young nobleman moves into his ancestral castle with his wife. After the wife notices her husband missing one night, she strolls out of bed and seemingly witnesses the aftermath of a servant being tortured and murdered in the castle’s museum of medieval torture devices. The person responsible is a ghostly killer whose identity is hinted at by a servant that refers to him as “The Punisher,” claiming that he’s come back “to plant the seed of terror in shameless women’s hearts.” Is the killer her husband, one of the strange servants, or something else that has culminated from past evils?

A cool little charm to Margheriti’s film is that despite a few reminders of the modern (1960s Germany) setting, the majority of time spent in and around an ancient castle frequently fooled me into thinking that this was an era piece. I liked that there were plenty of candles with antique holders on hand for when the mandatory thunderstorms would cause the power to go out, giving us a nice reason to view our gorgeous heroine, Mary (Rossana Podestà of SEVEN GOLDEN MEN), wander the dark castle halls with lit candles in hand.




I can’t help mentioning that I enjoyed the way that Podestà’s appearance was integrated into the background, in that her reddish/brown (auburn) colored hair nicely matched the prevalent reds and browns of the castle interior, lending a marvelous visual aesthetic to a type of movie that is usually filmed in black and white.

Our heroine in this case proves to be very prone to fainting during a few horror climaxes. She spends a good deal of time being bedridden from her fainting fits and ends up at first being like the fragile and sensitive wife. Her husband, Max (Georges Rivière), does the usual “you must be exhausted from the trip” or “it must’ve been a nightmare” routine, not believing in her story about the tortured and murdered body she came across that caused her to pass out and hit the floor in the middle of the night.




In a way, Mary eventually goes through a subtle transformation after surviving and viewing a few horrific acts from the killer. She toughens out a little bit later on, no longer fainting when stumbling upon a dead body, and she finds herself comforting a female servant acting easily frightened and impressionable, very much the same way Mary acted earlier on. Also, Mary’s company is pleasant and her ability to take the offensive when it becomes necessary, attacking and wounding the killer in one instance, was highly admirable.




Furthermore, a lot of the characters seem to have unclear motives for why they act so strange and suspicious. Mary’s husband is no exception, having her take tranquilizers as advised by the doctor and leaving her alone frequently with the castle’s suspicious servants.

Realizing that her husband is acting strange, Mary fakes taking the pills and starts to curiously wander the castle. Interestingly enough, while exploring, she dodges a couple of the maids by hiding behind the curtains. There wasn’t any reason for her to hide from the servants here, but it still made for an enjoyably tense atmosphere. We also get to enjoy the sight of our protagonist wandering the gorgeous castle grounds (as Margheriti enjoys filming Podestà’s side profile) or frantically fleeing out of the castle in the middle of the night while donning her nightgown in a stylishly shot scene.

Another side profile shot put to more poignant use is that of Christopher Lee’s two-face character. In one instance, we see the scarred and war damaged side of his face while he converses with Mary before he turns to look behind himself revealing his handsome side. Lee (although dubbed by someone else) is given a juicy role to work with as the disfigured servant, Erich. A touching face-to-face encounter between Lee’s character and the man he calls ‘mein herr’ makes for a pretty good payoff at the end as well as a fiery climax, a la INFERNO.




THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG is very gory for its time, consisting of very visceral horror sequences. Viewers would likely be pleased early on during the pre-credit sequence, as the title medieval torture device is put to bloody good use in what could possibly be an attempt to one-up the intro scene to BLACK SUNDAY. A scene with a captured girl and an ancient torture technique almost feels like a very early precursor to torture porn. Recall that Eli Roth’s character from Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS did pose as a certain “Antonio Margheriti” at one point in the film (remember when they went undercover as Italians in the movie theatre?).




While the soundtrack by Riz Ortolani consists of a many good deal of the usual orchestral sounds that attempt to provoke tension and jump scares, there is also the main theme song to THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG from Ortolani that happens to feel unusually placed here. And yet the film seems to be made all the better for it, in some sort of ironic way. Recall Ortolanis beautifully melodic piece for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which was soothing and pleasant but worked so unusually well alongside the brutal carnage of that movie. Here, it is jazzy and hip, and a bit film noirish, and yet it adds to the medieval castle and torture device visuals in a very unlikely way. I’m in no way trying to say that the music doesn’t fit, on the contrary, it fits really well, just in a more sensationalistic way that freshens up the genre a bit.


"Farewell, Herr General-- as we were before." Erich/ Christopher Lee

The inclusion of miniature sets only ruins it if the viewer decides to let it. I once referred to the miniature sets in Margheriti’s Eurospy LIGHTNING BOLT as “pleasing cheap effects.” Though look forward to one funny part of an all too obvious toy doll that is supposed to pass as a character being carried by gushing water after nearly drowning in a flooded dungeon with rats. Emilio Miraglia did this much better several years later in THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES, but it’s just so darn pleasing and fun here. 

THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG is yet another delightful treat for fans of Margheriti and Gothic horror in general. World War 2 stock footage is blended to good effect in describing the genesis of the killer and at the same time doing away with the more obvious ghost of a diabolic ancestor from the Middle Ages. Befitting the title, Margheriti cleverly relates the incidents that were a main focus of the Nuremberg Trials to the horror at hand, making the killer even seem like a victim to a residual evil left over by the war. A burning ember that was reluctant to die out. 


"It's not a ghost if it bleeds." Mary/ Rossana Podestà
  

13 comments:

  1. Seems like an interesting film; very rich in horror elements. Nice review.

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  2. What a colours! Wonderful, one of my favorite Margheriti! Ultra gothic!

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    1. It’s probably my favorite Margheriti, so far. But I do also love CASTLE OF BLOOD and SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE.

      Hi Luigi! I’ve been reading DYLAN DOG, and I am hooked. My favorite story, so far, is MEMORIES FROM THE INVISIBLE WORLD.

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  3. Christopher Lee and music by Riz Ortolani...I'm going to put this at the top of my 'must see' list. It's funny that most of the pictures make it look like a period piece, but then you mention the killer's genesis is World War II. I'll definitely check it out, thanks for the great review!

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    1. You are most welcome! :) The era feeling was so authentic that I kept getting disoriented when I’d see a car all of a sudden, or a character mentioning going to the airport. And that’s only just part of this movie’s magic.

      Thanks for reading, Jonny. Looking forward to contributing a post on your site sometime in the future.

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  4. Wonder what it was about setting horror movies in castles that appealed so to directors in the 60s.

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    1. Hi Erin :)

      Well, my lazy answer is that Gothic horror was extremely in vogue at the time, but in trying to come up with a better answer, I came across this fascinating article on the symbolism of castles in horror movies: http://voices.yahoo.com/the-symbolism-castles-horror-movies-horror-6662462.html?cat=40

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    2. Cool! I'm very interested in symbolism; thanks!

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  5. This looks like a very fun film with a delightful protagonist! I saw some screenshots of it and they look surprising violent for a film made in the 60s. The castle looks gorgeous and awfully welcoming.

    I highly respect Christopher Lee. After years of seeing him in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, it's quite amusing to see him star in obscure European films even though he tends to be dubbed in many of them.

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    1. Rossana Podesta is most certainly delightful; she's blazingly hot in the aforementioned SEVEN GOLDEN MEN. She was in a lot of Sword n' Sandal epics (Peplums), but that's not my strong point (I'm sure that'll change someday, though). Despite having a model exterior, the castle in this film is definitely a significant component to the film and as I mentioned tricks you into thinking that the movie is taking place in the 19th century. I don't know if this seems weird, but for me it was kind of a cozy setting, too.

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  6. a masterpiece,we need a blu-ray!..I have this older dvd.

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  7. Also,George Riviere is still with us and in his mid 90's I believe!,he's also in 'Castle Of Blood'..Margheriti's other horror masterpiece.the castle sets including the staircase were also used in 'Castle of Blood'and Bava's The Whip And The Body.

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