B&W, 1964, 91 mins. 19 secs. / 82 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Barabra Steele, Georges Rivière, Margarete Robsahm, Arturo Dominici, Silvano Tranquilli, Giovanni Cianfriglia, Umberto Raho
Severin Films (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Synapse Films (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), SevenSept (DVD) (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1969, 71 mins 53 secs. + 70 mins. 37 secs. + 58 mins. 37 secs. + 60 mins. 48 secs.
Directed by Giorgio Albertazzi
Starring Giorgio Albertazzi, Ursula Davis, Massimo Girotti, Marina Berti
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), RAI (DVD) (Italy R0 PAL)

Color, 1971, 95 mins. 37 secs.
Directed by Corrado Farina
Starring Giuliano Esperati, Adolfo Celi, Geraldine Hooper, Francesca Modigliani
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Gargoyle Video (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1972, 78 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Paolo Lombardo
Starring Rosalba Neri, Edmund Purdom, Robert Woods, Carla Mancini
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

After delivering one of 2023's finest Euro horror sets with Danza Macabra Volume One: The Italian Gothic Collection, Severin Films swiftly followed it up with a second volume that delivered one of the most in-demand Italian horror restorations ever -- the actual Danza Macabra, better known as Castle of Blood to English-speaking viewers. Once again you get four films Castle of Bloodin Danza Macabra Volume Two: The Italian Gothic Collection, and this time all are worldwide HD premieres with the headliner getting a very welcome UHD Castle of Bloodpresentation to boot.

Made at the peak of the Italian Gothic horror boom, Castle of Blood remains the most highly regarded film by the fascinating, genre-hopping director Antonio Margheriti, usually credited as "Anthony M. Dawson." Passed off as an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation of the nonexistent story "Danse Macabre," presumably to cash in on the Roger Corman/Vincent Price hits from AIP, Margheriti's film packs in all of the elements one might expect from the period: ghostly apparitions, a dunderheaded hero, a few tasteful dashes of bloodshed, cobweb-laden castle corridors, and a little sexual titillation for the continental crowd. The result is a classic of the genre that bears admirable comparison to the similar works of Mario Bava.

While staying at an inn, traveling bachelor Alan Foster (The Virgin of Nuremberg's Rivière) listens to bloodcurdling tales of horror told in a tavern by Poe himself (Tranquilli). The men there begin to discuss the nearby Blackwood Castle, which is reputed to be haunted by ghosts on this very night, All Soul's Eve. Alan accepts a wager from the castle's owner, Lord Blackwood (Raho), that he'll be willing to spend the entire remainder of the evening inside the castle, after which the men will come to collect him in the morning. Once inside Alan explores the desolate halls and encounters a variety of peculiar characters, including the beautiful and mysterious Elisabeth (Black Sunday's Steele), who seems to be murdered by a psychopathic muscle man. Further apparent murders pile up as a mysterious blonde named Julia (Robsahm) and the odd Dr. Carmus (Dominici) also drift through the castle, and meanwhile Elisabeth reappears and kindles a romance with Alan - though she refuses to leave the castle grounds. Will Alan unravel the castle's deadly Castle of Bloodmysteries and Castle of Bloodsurvive until dawn?

A film comprised of 90% atmosphere and 10% plot, Castle of Blood utilizes its moody black-and-white photography to the hilt as the camera morbidly caresses each dusty corner of the haunted castle and fixates on the always fascinating Steele, whose ability to simultaneously convey romantic attraction and sinister lust pays off during the memorable finale (and the great shock ending, which can still draw gasps from theatrical audiences). Fresh off the success of Mondo Cane, composer Riz Ortolani pulls out all the stops with a rapturous score based upon a particularly haunting love theme. Amazingly, one of the film's writers was spaghetti western maestro Sergio Corbucci (Django), a reputable genre stalwart in his own right who came up with the concept and intended to direct this himself before scheduling issues got in the way. Oddly enough, Margheriti remade this film a mere six years later (in color) as Web of the Spider, featuring Tony Franciosa and Klaus Kinski, with Ortolani returning for musical chores. (Thankfully in that one Margheriti left out the one misstep in this film, the gratuitous on-camera killing of a snake, though he would go on to obliterate other members of the animal kingdom in films like Cannibal Apocalypse.) Margheriti and Steele also collaborated the same year as Castle of Blood with an effective companion piece, The Long Hair of Death, though this remains their most famous collaboration.

A familiar staple of public domain horror dealers, Castle of Blood was usually seen via dupey, splicey 16mm transfers obscuring much of the sensitive camerawork. To make matters worse, the notoriously scissor-happy U.S. distributors, Castle of BloodWoolner Brothers, made the film more family-friendly by trimming out most of a homoerotic murder scene between two women and a fairly brief topless bit by Sylvia Sorrente. Also scissored was a great deal of Poe's dialogue (including the bulk of his opening story) and a few other random lines here and there. Running 89m4s, Synapse's DVD from 2002 originates from the longest possible variant at the time, the French Danse Macabre print, with the English soundtrack married to the image wherever possible with occasional switches to Castle of BloodFrench with optional English subtitles. The entire French soundtrack can also be accessed (with no subtitles except for the restored footage). The anamorphic transfer from 35mm looked fine overall compared to its predecessors, though it's been outclassed by far since then. The print contains the original French opening titles, which contain a completely alternate set of names for most of the crew! Extras accessible from the elegantly designed menus include the alternate U.S. opening credit sequence (over a silhouette of the London cityscape), a gallery of rare photos and stills from the collection of the late Alan Upchurch, and the highly emphatic American trailer ("A night of horror!"), with Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas providing liner notes for the illustrated booklet. The genuine Italian version of the film appeared on French DVD from SevenSpet in 2008, in French or Italian with optional French subtitles, and an HD transfer of the shorter American cut (82,27s) can also be found on Severin's 2015 Blu-ray of Nightmare Castle.

The Severin release devotes no less than three discs to the film, which absolutely deserves such a prestigious tribute. (There's no soundtrack CD, but that is available separately.) The first disc is a UHD featuring a 4K restoration of the Italian Danza Macabra version with the extra French topless footage integrated as well, taken from a gorgeous restoration by Cinématographique Lyre with the involvement of Severin Films and a slew of other collaborators. The leap in quality here is drastic compared to anything we've had before, with exquisite black levels and detail that make each shot inside the castle an intoxicating treat for the eyes. The superior Italian track is here in pristine quality (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) Castle of BloodCastle of Bloodwith optional English-translated subtitles, plus the option to watch it in English with the Italian slugged in for the missing bits with subtitles. The Castle of Blood cut is here as well, using the 4K restoration wherever possible and slugging in the U.S. credits and text inserts from the print used for the 2015 Blu-ray. Also included are the trailer and a TV spot, while the Danza Macabra cut comes with a new audio commentary by the NaschyCast's Rod Barnett and The Bloody Pit's Adrian Smith, who have a great time hitting all the highlights from this film's history including its reusing of sets from The Monk of Monza, Margheriti and Steele's careers to that point, and the involvement of Corbucci who came back to direct one sequence. The first Blu-ray is devoted to the Danza Macabra version with the commentary and a selected scene commentary with Steele and Russ Lanier (17m12s) featuring her positive comments about Margheriti (whom she compares favorably to Corman and Bava) and her dismissal of Margheriti's claim that it was shot using multiple cameras on the set, which was more common to TV at the time. It's especially worth a listen for her remark that Rivière was like "a better-looking Danny Kaye." Also on that disc is the incisive "Exploring the Castle Of Blood" (44m27s) with Stephen Thrower working out the chronology of the film's inception and belated release, its early use of the transgressive lesbian element that also turned up in Bava's Black Sabbath around the same time, the historical meaning of the film's title, the familiarity of the some of the set designs, and one shot that seems really dicey by standards of the time. The second Blu-ray features the Castle of Blood U.S. cut, the trailer, a TV spot, and four featurettes starting with "The Director Who Didn't Like Blood" (13m44s) with Edoardo Margheriti, the director's son, analyzing his dad's fondness for this film, his preference for Gothic stories versus explicit violence, his relationship with Steele on the set, and some other projects realized and unrealized scattered throughout his career. In "Enigmatic Elegance: Unveiling the Haunting Legacy of Barbara Steel in the Italian Gothic" (30m35s), Rachael Nisbet balances the bio highlights of Steele's career with a study of her unique screen presence and her unique aspects that made her an icon of the macabre as well as a repeat star for directors like Margheriti and Riccardo Freda. "Return to the Castle" (22m23s) features Alberto Farina guiding you on a Jekylltour of the actual location in Bolsena, Italy used for the exterior shots -- and it's a fascinating history unto itself. Finally you get an archival 5m10s interview with Margheriti Jekyllby Peter Blumenstock looking back at his pleasant memories of the film and working with Steele (including that possibly apocryphal story about her freaking out while making Black Sunday).

The fourth and fifth discs are devoted to one of the horror highlights of Italian television, 1969's Jekyll, a four-part miniseries that has been essentially unseen in the U.S. until now unless you went through the trouble of importing the double-DVD set released by RAI (which wasn't English friendly). Having this one subtitled is a major reason to pick up this box and might pave the way for some significant '70s gems in the RAI catalog that deserve the same treatment like Ritratta di donna velata, Ho incontro un'ombra, and the superb Racconti fantastici di Edgar Allan Poe. Here you get a black-and-white production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson, updated to the present day with some striking late '60s sets and stylish direction by Last Year at Marienbad star Giorgio Albertazzi -- who also takes the lead here as the respectable scientist Henry Jekyll and his evil counterpart, Edward Hyde. Shot by none other than future crime movie legend Stelvio Massi and featuring an effective score by Planet of the Vampires' Gino Marinuzzi Jr., this version was made on the heels of Jekyllthe previous year's U.S. TV version produced by Dan Curtis and starring Jack Palance (and preceded the bizarre 1973 made-for-TV Jekyllmusical one with Kirk Douglas). Here the story unfolds as a mystery through the eyes of attorney John Utterson (Girotti) who traces an attack on a young girl to Edward Hyde, the man named as the beneficiary to respected biologist Henry Jekyll-- who handed a hefty check to the victim's father to hush it up. As Utterson and the police are confronted with more violence, the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde becomes even more puzzling given the former's extensive, secret DNA experiments...

Though everyone is familiar with the source material in one form or another, this one disposes with the dual love interest angle familiar since the Hollywood versions and focuses more on the dynamic of its protagonist's dangerous explorations into the dark side of the human psyche. The Hyde appearance here is truly creepy with shiny clear eyes and black clothing, and it's easy to see why this made such a strong impression on viewers when it first aired. Vintage Italian productions are usually an "it is what it is" proposition given how they were shot and preserved, and that's the case here with the best surviving vault tape master used for the JekyllBlu-ray Jekyllwith all the limitations that implies. It looks like videotape, of course, including some analog damage in a few spots, but there's no way this could look any better -- and having it subtitled as good as it can be is a cause for rejoicing. The three extras for this one (spread across the two discs) start with "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Albertazzi" (7m24s), an interview with actor Giuliano Disperati about the director-star's dedication to the source material, the nature of Italian TV production at the time (including the fact that black-and-white was still the standard there at the time), and the unorthodox approach to a story that had already been told many times. "Building the World of Jekyll" (9m13s) features set designer Emanuele Taglietti explaining the often resourceful approach to creating the environments seen in the production, including the very mod lab and that incredible medical classroom that looks like something out of Barbarella. Finally "The Double Spiral Staircase of Jekyll and Hyde" (14m42s) is a video essay by Joseph Dwyer providing a fascinating examination of the story's topical concerns and existential terror that remained unfiltered when brought to the present day in this adaptation, a stark contrast to what was being made for the big screen at the same time.

They Have Changed Their FaceMentioned in horror reference books far more often than actually seen, 1971's They Have Changed Their Face (...Hanno cambiato faccia) belongs to that odd subset of vampire films that double as sociological critiques a la Jonathan, Thirst, and Ferat Vampire. This was the first of only They Have Changed Their Facetwo features directed by Corrado Farina, a writer and filmmaker who cut his teeth on commercials and documentary shorts but made his biggest international impression with 1973's delirious Baba Yaga, adapted from the popular Valentina adult comic books. Both of his films were scored with preexisting music, in this case using highlights from Amedeo Tomassi's music for Pupi Avati's rarely seen Thomas (including a great theme also repurposed by Radley Metzger to excellent effect in Score). Presented on the sixth disc in the set, this is the first legit appearance of the film in the U.S. in any format and its first time with English subtitles outside of the gray market.

At a misty, mountainous estate away from the hustle and bustle of the city, auto company employee Alberto Valle (Violent Rome's Esperati, credited as Disperati) is summoned to the home of his employer and the company owner, Giovanni Nosferatu (Thunderball's Celi). Along the way he picks up a friendly companion, Laura (Modigliani), and becomes fascinated by Nosferatu's secretary, Corinna (Hooper, the androgynous "boyfriend" from Deep Red). Over the course of his stay, Alberto makes several chilling discoveries about his boss, who makes a highly unexpected and unusual professional offer, and the machinations of the business including its weirdly detailed records about the staff dating back for generations.

They Have Changed Their FaceVery out of step with standard Italian genre fare around that time (especially given the flood of gialli coming out), They Have Changed Their They Have Changed Their FaceFace playfully adapts the aristocratic vampire concept of Dracula to modern corporate predators to fine effect with a result that alternates between the humorous and the spooky. The actual horror content is quite low, but it's impossible to watch this without bearing in mind the unethical and obscenely rich raiders of the 21st century whose willingness to inflict massive harm on the populace is already skewered quite effectively here. That's also where Farina's advertising background comes in handy as a diabolical board meeting leads to some Putney Swope-style jabs at TV commercials for good measure.

The Severin disc marks the first availability of this film outside Italy in ages, and even there it only got a fleeting, Italian-only DVD edition back in 2008. The packaging just references film materials as the source, but it's obviously a print that apparently is the best surviving material. Colors are on the muted and brown side, but it's still the best this has looked to date and makes for a solid presentation given its rarity. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track sounds fine given the undemanding nature of the source, and the optional yellow English subtitles are good. Before his death in 2016, Farina recorded an audio commentary with his son Alberto in which they have a relaxed, comfortable chat about the film and his career, including his dissatisfaction with the budgetary limitations, his many artistic pursuits, and his pride in the finished result. (This track is presented They Have Changed Their Facein Italian with subtitles as well.) A second, new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger goes headlong into the film's depiction of class exploitation and tensions, the use of Gothic trappings, her own initiation into vampire movies via They Have Changed Their FaceHollywood, and lots more. Alberto Farina turns up again for "The Farina Method" (43m14s), an extensive chat about his father's life and work including lots of family photos and tidbits as well as info about other artistic pursuits well beyond filmmaking. The very lighthearted "Bloodsucking Capitalists" (30m59s) features Disperati and editor/screenwriter Giulio Berruti clearly having a good time looking back at their time together on the film, including fond comments about the director's invigorating approach and the freedom to break away from cinematic norms with the creation of the narrative and the main character. An interesting batch of "outtakes of De Sade" (6m14s) features the entire reel of footage shot for a throwaway bit in the film, with a note explaining its remarkable recovery in an unexpected place. Then you get a trio of Farina short films: the Gothic romantic comedy Il figlio di Dracula (The Son of Dracula) (20m34s), the marital satire / horror spoof Giro Giro Tondo (Ring Around the Rosie) (11m14s), and the plotess, expressionistic Il cantico delle creature (The Canticle of the Creatures) (5m16s). Listed as Praised Be My Lord on the specs but unnamed on the menu is a short of documentary in mini pieces (84m16s) by Farina using a melange of comic strips, found footage, urban snapshots, a look at the Hermitage, and other digressions contrasting the sacred with pop culture. Finally the disc wraps up The Devil's Loverwith a reel of Farina-directed commercials (9m32s) with lots and lots of The Devil's Loverbabies.

Finally discs seven and eight are devoted to 1972's The Devil's Lover (L'amante del demonio) and its soundtrack CD, the premiere release of the excellent score by Elvio Monti. This one's better known in U.S. circles under the title Lucifera: Demon Lover, including its earlier appearance as a gray market DVD release from a very shoddy, cut tape master that's best avoided. How much you get out of this one will depend on your expectations as it barely qualifies as a horror film at all, with just some vague supernatural trappings and a random orgy scene in a cave involving some Jean Rollin-style female vampire imagery. Mostly this feels a lot more like the "decamerotic" sexy medieval films suddenly pouring out in the wake of Pasolini's The Decameron the previous year, with the main attraction being cult icon Rosalba Neri making for a magnetic presence as always. The opening in which she gets to strut around in denim and go-go boots might raise hopes that the film is about her having a frenzied, carnal face-off with Satan when she leads two other friends to show up unannounced at an Italian castle only for them to stick around The Devil's Loverfor dinner and a sleepover. Their motivations become clear soon enough when they explain that legend has it the castle is owned by the devil himself, something they aim to disprove. Cue Neri's character walking around alone after the lights go out only to plunge into a period The Devil's Loverfrom the castle's past involving sword fights, a red-cloaked mystery figure in the woods, a love rectangle involving spaghetti western star Robert Woods, and various witchcraft accusations involving Neri's character, now named Helga, and her attempts to thwart a random curse involving a wedding dress. Given the involvement of producer Dick Randall (Pieces, Don't Open Till Christmas), it isn't too surprising to see actor Edmund Purdom turning up in the final stretch as... well, take a look at the title.

An obviously messy production that feels strained even in its complete form here at 78 minutes, this is a really odd duck of a film that can't seem to decide what kind of exploitation it's going for. The entire medieval story that takes up the bulk of the film spins its wheels most of the time, so it's up to the dazzling Neri, the gorgeous locales, and that infectious score to do all the heavy lifting here. This was only one of three films in the mostly undistinguished career of director Paolo Lombardo (whose biggest cinematic contribution was co-writing the pulpy cult classic The Embalmer), with other hands reportedly The Devil's Loverinvolved in bringing it up to feature length (more or less). Luckily the Severin release presents this on its best behavior with a stunning 2K The Devil's Loverrestoration from the camera negative that makes this far more pleasant to sit through than the terrible prior versions; the colors and detail here are remarkable with some reds and greens that will make you gasp. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Italian track is also perfect and features optional English subtitles. (Apparently an English dub was never prepared, and this was barely exported anywhere at the time.) This is also the slightly longer version never seen before on home video, restoring a little bit of extra nudity and writhing during the orgy scene. A new audio commentary by Annie Rose Malamet works up a lot of enthusiasm for this film with comments about Neri's star presence, the subversive aspects of female sexuality in genre cinema, the red color coding in the costumes, and those unmistakable Rollin-esque touches, among other topics. The video essay "Lady Of The Night: The Feminism Of Rosalba Neri" (16m44s) by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas features pretty much every shred of screen nudity Neri ever did while running through the actress' work in Slaughter Hotel, Amuck, Lady Frankenstein, The Devi's Wedding Night, and this film. Finally in "Out Of The Woods" (25m21s), Woods covers the various phases of his acting career including his work as a dubber, his theater roles, his early break in Otto Preminger's The Cardinal, and his move to Italian westerns that led to a prolific career in Euro projects like this one.


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Updated review on January 30, 2024.