Sunday, October 29, 2023

Night of the Damned / La notte dei dannati (1971)

“Thank Heaven! The crisis / The danger is past, and the lingering illness, is over at last /, and the fever called “Living” is conquered at last.” Edgar Allan Poe 

Horror films are more traditionally associated with anxiety and sleepless nights. Funny, then, how we tend to look towards horror sometimes to wind down after the day. Now, I love to be scared and shocked just as much as any horror fan, but what about a horror film that can have the opposite effect, one that puts you to sleep through relaxation and comfort? Thanks to the usual languid pace and soothing dark ambiance, a lot of older gothic horror films can serve as a pretty good example of this, such as the gothic literary mashup Night of the Damned. 

Directed by Filippo Walter Ratti and written by Aldo Marcovecchio, Night of the Damned is a quaint little ‘70s Italian gothic horror that hits a lot of the right notes when it comes to style, mood, and atmosphere. Sure, there is better to pick from, but something about this film made me want to revisit and connect with it on a deeper level. The Poe-inspired world is worth getting lost in, and it appeals to my love for the supernatural femme fatales who reign from their remote dark castles, with the occult and hedonistic rituals that usually accompany them.


This is somewhat familiar fare if you’ve been digging around vintage gothic Eurohorror for a while. You’ve probably seen most of this before, but I’m assuming you’re here because you also love this stuff and can’t get enough of it. It’s good for the collectors of this type of film, and, if you can bare a somewhat convoluted and slow narrative, there’s a considerable amount of enjoyment to be had as well, with beautifully dark visuals, a macabre meld of death and sex, and the lovely company of Patrizia Viotti (Death Falls Lightly, 1972) and Angela De Leo (Juliette de Sade, 1969). I will say though, with an effectively creepy interior castle being the common setting, the movie suffers a little for not having a single castle exterior establishing shot. I mean, there are brief glimpses of small portions of the castle when the leads arrive, but why not show the whole picture?


Night of the Damned fuses literary inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) and wraps it in the classic witch’s curse theme, topped off nicely with that 1970s gothic and erotic horror aesthetic. It starts out a bit like House of Usher, but in the 1970s, and eventually turns into Carmilla by way of Elizabeth Bathory. I like the result even if the movie is overall lacking a bit in the story and set piece department. The provocative, and not to mention fabulous, music with female vocals in the film, by Carlo Savina, is recycled from Amando de Ossorio’s Malenka (1969). I like it, and it does nicely fit here, too. I mostly recall it being used during the opening credits and closing scenes in both films.


Jean (Pierre Brice) and Danielle (Viotti) Duprey are a savory couple about to fall into some unsavory business. It’s established from a newspaper article that Jean Duprey is a lucrative journalist with a talent for exposing criminals. Turning down a personal phone call from the minister, Jean is apathetically relaxing on his couch, after his latest journalistic victory, and enjoying his tobacco pipe and comic cartoon strips while Daniele reads excerpts of praise to him from a newspaper. Downtime doesn’t last very long when you’re a man like Jean Duprey, because adventure calls in the form of a letter, with a royal seal, from a dear old friend of his, Prince Guillaume de Saint Lambert (Mario Carra). The letter contains a kind of poetic riddle with an encoded distress call from Guillaume. Jean must refer to his Charles Baudelaire poetry book, previously gifted to him from Guillaume, to decode the message with additional help from Danielle. Maybe something was lost in translation, but I tend to have a difficult time following along as Danielle and Jean ponder over the text and flip through the pages of the book, but what is gathered is that Guillaume could be in grave danger and likely needs Jean’s help. Why would Guillaume have to encode his distress call and not be more direct about it? I imagine it’s because his outgoing mail gets thoroughly screened, likely from someone in his own household.


The distress call works, because Jean and Danielle are off to visit/check-on Guillaume at his creepy castle that hasn’t seemed to change much since the Middle Ages. After arrival, they are met by a pretty but sketchy looking maid (Daniela D’Agostino) and Guillaume’s beautiful but sinister looking new wife Rita (Angelo De Leo), who alerts them that Guillaume is not well. (I love the way these kinds of horror castles always come with a stock maid, whose job here is to look suspicious in the background, while lurking around lighting candles. She might just be an innocent bystander. Come to think of it, she kind of vanishes from the movie at one point without really being accounted for.) 


It's when Jean visits Guillaume in his room that the film starts to feel like The House of Usher suddenly. The conversation scenes between Jean and Guillaume are grim and depressing, with Guillaume in a frantic and weak state, mentally and physically, referring to a dreadful family curse. He alerts Jean that he has discovered a terrible secret in the old books and papers in the castle library, but his delirious state keeps him from clarifying specifically what he’s discovered. It isn’t difficult to guess that maybe Guillaume’s wife and the creepy doctor (Alessandro Tedeschi) she has treating him might also have something to do with what is happening to him.


Guillaume’s suffering eventually ends with his passing one night. His funeral procession that follows seems sinister, as it is conducted in a cult-like manner that does not seem to be honoring him but rather prepping him for something evil. 

Eventually, after his death, Guillaume’s cousin and sister, despite being in remote locations hundreds of kilometers away from the castle, are mysteriously abducted, at different times, and fed to a deadly black mass orgy (the reinstated ritual orgy scenes are visually rough looking and probably could have been wilder, but they are still nice to behold). The orgies take place in some hidden smoke/fog-filled dungeon and are overlooked by none other than Guillaume’s evil widow, Rita, atop her throne. The following discovery of the dead bodies with their breasts clawed and their relation to the Saint Lambert family has detectives and Jean puzzled (a brief scene, where one of the bodies is discovered, was shot in the same hotel where Death Falls Lightly (1972) was also shot, which also starred Patrizia Viotti). Jean continues residing in the castle, utilizing the library to get to the bottom of what is happening. Ultimately, Danielle falls prey to Rita and her black masses. Will Jean defeat the evil witch and save his wife from the ravages of the lesbian orgy?


Night of the Damned somehow manages to deliver on a visual and thematic level. I like the gloomy looking environments and the inevitable feeling of doom. It has just about everything fans look for in this kind of genre film. With great cinematography from Girolamo La Rosa (Sex of the Witch, 1973), the interiors of the castle kind of give off the feel of an isolated world that I try to get lost in when watching the film. 

When analyzing it, the story to Night of the Damned really isn’t bad; it probably could’ve been executed a little better. I guess it kind of fails as a mystery movie, since a mystery element is introduced and is heavily focused on, but it’s executed in a way that doesn’t really keep you interested and ends up not offering much in the way of originality or any real surprises. It doesn’t have the most inspired wrap up either, but it does suggest that the adventures of Jean Duprey may continue… Although, not if Danielle has any say in the matter.


I did like the small cast of characters and thought they were quite memorable. Alessandro Tedeschi has a creepy, unnerving, and dialogue-free role as a false doctor who doesn’t seem like he should be anywhere near poor Guillaume. Pierre Brice is not a bad lead, if a little bland. His lead role as the hero, Jean Duprey (a bit of a swap for Poe’s Dupin), ends up feeling more like a detective than a journalist. He is actually a good guy who doesn’t seem to make any mistakes. I would’ve preferred someone a little more flawed or amoral. It is a little annoying when he laughs at or dismisses Danielle’s nightmares and anxieties regarding the castle. It also seemed unnecessary for him to keep Danielle at the castle after Guillaume’s death, seeing as the place wasn’t good for her mental health. They nonetheless do seem to have a healthy marriage otherwise.


Angela De Leo’s role as the evocative Rita Lernod / Tarin Drole is another dark, visually bewitching villainess alongside the likes of roles by Rosalba Neri in The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) or Anne Libert in A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). She’s like the witch versions of Carmilla and Elizabeth Bathory, who also has the soul-sucking sexual predatory characteristics of a lesbian succubus. 

Aside from the light-hearted scenes at Jean and Danielle’s home that bookends the movie, Night of the Damned is one of the darkest and slowest Italian gothic horrors I’ve come across. It is quite subdued without much in the way of excitement. It slowly rolls on like a funeral procession, possibly a little too slow, even by Eurocult standards, as this one tends to drag at times, so many viewers might be relieved when everything is quickly wrapped up at the end. But if slow, moody horror doesn’t bore you too much and you really enjoy dreary gothic ambiance, then this one can also be relaxing, almost with an ASMR quality to it at times. So, if you are looking for something to watch before bed, then why not fall asleep to Night of the Damned

© At the Mansion of Madness


Sunday, July 30, 2023

Death Falls Lightly / La morte scende leggera (1972)

When analyzed with any degree of honesty, jealous behavior appears, in reality, neither as a duty nor a right, but as a shabby dross of our obsession with possessing.” – Emmanuelle ArsanL’hypothese d’Eros 

A weekend getaway at a resort hotel with your significant other is most people’s idea of a relaxing holiday, but having to hide out in a creepy, possibly haunted hotel with your mistress for the weekend, because your wife turned up murdered, sounds like a more interesting time to me. 

Death Falls Lightly is one of two thrillers directed and co-written by Leopoldo Savona (the other being Byleth – The Demon of Incest (1972)) that I commend for its unusual and multidirectional approach. You’re not really sure what they’re going for, but you kind of like it anyways. Like Byleth, it’s a little hard to compare to other films of its ilk, since it’s kind of an oddball example. It reaches for different ideas, perhaps one too many, while maintaining that appealing ’70s Euro-genre ascetic, so you’re getting something both different and familiar at the same time. Whether or not it’s actually any good is somewhat difficult to tell by the film’s end. 

I personally find this one delightful, as it is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades genre movie that borrows from crime, mystery, giallo, erotic, fantastical, psychological, and occult horror, so it’s like there’s a little bit of something for everyone. It is mostly centered around a claustrophobic and somewhat dark and depressing hotel. Interestingly, this movie predicts The Shining during a few moments, and my mind even thought a little of Silent Hill at times.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Witches Mountain / El monte de las brujas (1973)

Cover art by Justin Coffee

 “A woman will sometimes forgive the man who tries to seduce her, but never the man who misses an opportunity when offered.” – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

I’m hoping that in the coming months and years, more and more people discover, and hopefully enjoy, the unfairly banned and relatively forgotten Spanish horror Raúl Artigot’s The Witches Mountain thanks to Mondo Macabro’s recent release of the film. Lured by its title and because Patty Shepard was in it, I first saw the film as a VHS rip on YouTube back around 2013 and was really floored by how atmospheric and beautifully haunting it was despite the low picture quality. I’m usually easy to please in this area, but every DVD-R and download of this film I came across was quite soft looking and really showed the film’s age. Anytime I thought to review it, I was discouraged, and mildly depressed, by how much the poor-quality screengrabs undersold the film, so I kept holding out for a decent release someday. Years went by, and I personally started to give up hope, so it was miraculous news for me when the HD upgrade of The Witches Mountain was finally announced. There was a significant delay after the Halloween presale, but I thought it was worth the wait.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Zelda (1974)

“You came to watch this movie just to see two naked women… You have a colonialist mentality.” – Alberto Cavallone on the ending to Le salamandre*  

“I would like, as I said, for the lover’s place to be in the middle of the couple.” – Emmanuelle Arsan**    

Alberto Cavallone’s films are not fun. I can’t think of one I’ve seen that does not have a depressing ending. Whether or not they are entertaining might depend on the viewer’s mindset, but they are almost always enthralling in a way. You might think you’re being lured in for an erotically fun time, with films like Le salamandre (1969) and Blow Job (1980), or a film with a notorious reputation that precedes it like Blue Movie (1978), but that’s just to get you in front of the screen so the film can put a mirror in front of you, whether or not you realize it, and call you a colonizer or a degenerate (who Cavallone referred to as the “raincoat crowd”), crudely interrupting your titillation. Basically, if the film upsets or antagonizes you, then it was made for you. What’s fascinating is that the films nevertheless did well with the audiences Cavallone was hoping to annoy.  

Cavallone dismissed his own erotic thriller Zelda as a commercial effort, lacking the sociopolitical content of his previous films. On the surface, the movie does have an erotic pull to it, with the promise of interracial lesbian scenes, in a manner similar to Le salamandre. Like Le salamandre, the erotic pull ends up not being the main point of the movie, and with Zelda, Cavallone is critical, or at least dreadfully pessimistic, of the loose sex lives of married couples and the en vogue erotic film of the era while also making his film look very much like one.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Bloody Pit of Horror / Il boia scarlatto (1965)

Fun is only partially the name of the game with a film like Bloody Pit of Horror. With its comic book style influence, there’s lots of fun to be had, but it’s got a mean side too, as sadism is also the name of the game. The mix of fun and dark in the film is an influence from a style of Italian adult-oriented superhero, crime, and erotic comics known as Fumetti Neri, which consists, among many others, of flamboyant masked super heroes/villains: Diabolik, Kriminal, Mister-X, and Satanik. The antagonist in Bloody Pit of Horror could’ve easily come out of this subgenre, but he’s no fantastic masked superman. He’s a fantastically cruel masked super-sadistic-madman, the Crimson Executioner, played with love, enthusiasm, and high energy by a chiseled Mickey Hargitay.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Marquis (1989)

Only Marquis’ literature can give me a taste for living.” –Justine (Isabelle Wolfe

Marquis is quite the creation. I never knew of its existence until recently. It’s a little like the movie Quills (2000) but with anthropomorphic characters who look like they’ve escaped from Alice in Wonderland. It is set in 1789, shortly before the Storming of the Bastille, in Paris France. The lead character (Francois Marthouret) is an inmate of the Bastille, who is referred to as Marquis and is a talented writer of erotic, violent, and depraved manuscripts. He is not necessarily alone, for his sizeable member who goes by Colin (Valerie Kling) is his close companion, consultant, and conversationalist. In between writing various pieces of salacious stories, Marquis finds himself participating in a ploy to help free a political prisoner, Lupino (Roger Crouzet), for the sake of the Revolution. Another imprisoned woman, Justine (Isabelle Wolfe), who was raped and impregnated by the king, is eventually thrown into the same cell as the Marquis, as a corrupt priest, Dom Pompero (Vicky Messica), intends to divert the blame on to him and cover up the king’s misdeed, but Justine instead finds the Marquis to be a gentleman and an enthralling storyteller. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll / Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota (1974)

The sadistic and awesome poster art is certainly deceptive, but the US title House of Psychotic Women isn’t too far off. Perhaps it should be, ‘house of sisters who probably should learn to communicate better’? Can’t say it doesn’t really sell the film though. Oddly enough, I was sold on the movie’s original title Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, which works for the film as well, so feel free to pick your favorite title for this Spanish thriller, written by and starring Paul Naschy, and directed by Carlos Aured. It was also known as House of Doom for US television. 

Carlos Aured originally knew Paul Naschy from working as assistant director for Leon Klimovsky. Aured would be hired on to direct Naschy in Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973). They would collaborate in the ‘70s on three more films, with Naschy starring and Aured directing: Curse of the Devil (1973), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, and The Mummy’s Revenge (1975). 

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll was pivotal in my becoming a Paul Naschy fan. It was my second Paul Naschy film. My initial interest in it being that it looked and sounded like a giallo, and I certainly wanted it for my giallo collection that at the time was just starting to grow beyond Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I had also remembered Paul Naschy from a previous film I saw as a teenager, the aforementioned Horror Rises from the Tomb, which at the time disappointed me, so I was feeling slightly dubious. After watching Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, I had a much better time with it, and I loved Naschy’s character in the film, Gilles, which resulted in my eventually collecting many more Paul Naschy movies and becoming an ardent fan of his. Plus, I would end up realizing a new love and fondness for Horror Rises from the Tomb as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Devil’s Lover / L’amante del demonio (1972)

Now I have you with me, under my power. Our love grows stronger now with every hour. Look into my eyes, you will see who I am. My name is Lucifer, please take my hand.” – Black Sabbath 

When Satan comes to town, he sets his sights on the biggest catch in The Devil’s Lover, or my personal favorite alternate title Lucifera: Demonlover

I don’t know why, but it’s taken me many years to revisit this Italian gothic horror. The last time I watched it was in 2009 when I picked up the pan-and-scan Mya DVD. Despite the poor picture quality, I was happy to have it, as I probably wouldn’t have ended up knowing about it otherwise, but I am surprised the film never had an upgrade since. As far as I can tell, the only way to see it in 2022 is still as a censored and murky full screen film. 

Even though it was restrained, my fondest memory of this film was the grand love scene between a nude Rosalba Neri and a clothed, caped Devil figure, played by Edmund Purdom. I was in awe at the visual of Rosalba’s sideways lying profile figure that was partially shrouded by the devil’s cape as he embraced her. It certainly has the same kind of energy as the classic reclining nude paintings, such as La Grande Odalisque (1814) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres or The Rokeby Venus (1647-1651) by Diego Velázquez.