B&W, 1965, 86 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Massimo Pupillo
Starring Paul Muller, Barbara Nelli, Erika Blanc, Gordon Mitchell, Michel Forain, Carlo Kechler
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Artus Films (DVD) (France (R2 PAL), Sinister Film (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1963, 88 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Starring Ombretta Colli, Gérard Tichy, Leo Anchóriz, Helga Liné, Irán Eory, Vanni Materassi
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1966, 87 mins. 7 sec.
Directed by Mino Guerrini
Starring Franco Nero, Gioia Pascal, Erika Blanc, Olga Solbelli
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Sinister Film (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1966, 109 mins. 22 sec.
Directed by Damiano Damiani
Starring Rosanna Schiaffino, Richard Johnson, Gian Maria Volontè, Sarah Ferrati, Margherita Guzzinati, Ivan Rassimov
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Koch Media (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Italian cinema in the 1960s was flooded Lady Morgan's Vengeancewith melodramatic Gothic horror films in the wake of the Lady Morgan's Vengeancetrailblazing I Vampiri and Black Sunday, with filmmakers like Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti, and Riccardo Freda finding a seemingly endless demand abroad for product that could play alongside the more lavishly budgeted period chillers from the likes of Roger Corman in the U.S. and Hammer in the U.K. However, quite a few managed to fall through the cracks with minimal or no international play, and in 2022 Arrow Video addressed that oversight with the four-disc Blu-ray set, Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror, featuring a quartet of delicious black-and-white delights with 2K restorations from their camera negatives in far superior condition to what collectors have had to endure in the past. Half of the films have never even been released dubbed or subtitled in any official capacity before, while the other two have been largely consigned to the dregs of gray market trading or dupey budget label discs in the past. Outfitted with a slew of extras, this is pure catnip for Euro horror fans and long overdue for every title included here. The limited edition box also comes with an 80-page book featuring new essays by Roberto Curti, Rob Talbot, Jerome Reuter, Rod Barnett and Kimberly Lindbergs, plus a fold-out double-sided poster and reversible sleeves featuring the original poster art and new designs by Colin Murdoch.

First up is 1965's La vendetta di Lady Morgan, or Lady Morgan's Vengeance, here making its official English-subtitled debut in any format (since no English-language track was ever prepared). Sporting a lyrical early score by the great Piero Umiliani, this was the last of three memorable Gothic horrors from Massimo Pupillo following the sublime Bloody Pit of Horror and Terror-Creatures from the Grave, this time offering a veritable checklist of elements including flickering candelabra, diaphanous dresses, scheming servants, and ghostly payback from the beyond. Lady Lady Morgan's VengeanceSusan Lady Morgan's VengeanceBlackhouse (Nelli) is deeply in love with architect Pierre (Forain), who gets called off to business in Paris. The couple decide to announce their engagement to her uncle, Neville (Kechler), in the presence of the aristocratic Sir Harold Morgan, who has to be up to no good since he's played by regular perverse Jess Franco villain and Nightmare Castle star Paul Muller. Sure enough, Sir Morgan tags along on Pierre's boat trip to France (apparently they're supposed to be in England?) and chucks him overboard so he can have Lady Susan and her fortune to himself. Struck with amnesia in a hospital, Pierre is helpless to take action as Susan marries the scheming baddie who's barely even trying to camouflage his affair with their sinister housekeeper and nanny(?), Lillian (Blanc), with a plot afoot to drive Susan mad and perhaps even knock her off for her inheritance while hulking manservant Roger (peplum star Mitchell) torments Uncle Blackhouse in the dungeon. And that's just the setup...

Crammed with both incident and atmosphere, this is a rollicking good time if you're in the right mood with Blanc in particular having fun in an early example of the treacherous viper roles in which she would excel on and off through the rest of her career. It's actually difficult to pinpoint exactly what subgenre this falls into since it throws in so many elements from gaslighting melodrama to old dark house thriller to rampaging ghost story, with the last option reigning supreme at the end. (And it's worth noting that the ghost rules vary wildly from one scene to the next depending on the demands of the story, even throwing some quasi-vampirism in for good measure.) This one first turned up on DVD years ago in both France and Italy without English options, with fan-subbed copies ending up on the bootleg market if you looked around enough. The Arrow release is a stunner, looking immaculate here and featuring a crisp LPCM 1.0 mono Italian track (as do the subsequent titles) with optional English subtitles. An audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas starts off by noting it will be a broad overview, which Lady Morgan's Vengeancemeans she focuses more on the Italian Gothic in general while offering a bit about Pupillo and some of the cast members. As with many of her other tracks, Lady Morgan's Vengeancethere are very long silent gaps throughout so keep the remote handy. The video extras here (most courtesy of Freak-o-Rama) kick off with a "Vengeance from Beyond" (4m38s) intro by Mark Thompson Ashworth talking about the central location, similarities to Castle of Blood, and his preference for this over Bloody Pit. "The Grudge" (21m29s) is a compelling new video essay by Kat Ellinger (who oversaw this entire set) covering the transposition of the Hollywood revenge Gothic to Italy, the trope of the "wronged woman" including incarnations by Barbara Steele and other horror icons, and ties to similar narrative strands in Japanese folklore and cinema from Kwaidan to Ring. "When We Were Vampires" (24m4s) is a new interview with Blanc about her first real leading role here, her fond memories of her fellow cast members and director, the most vivid memory of having to kiss Gordon Mitchell, and her affinity for making horror movies. "Born To Be a Villain" (20m3s) is a newly edited video interview with Muller (who passed away a few years ago) about his own acting background, his early days in French cinema, his frequent casting in bad guy roles, his experiences watching audiences at his films, and thoughts on some of his key roles in various genres from swashbucklers to horror. "The Pupillo Tapes" (20m16s) is a newly edited audio interview with Pupillo originally conducted in 1993 for Italian radio by Fabio Melelli, focusing primarily on his three horror films but also going into his spaghetti western, Django Kills Softly, and some of his other projects, often signed as "Max Hunter" or "Ralph Zucker." Also included are the complete 59-image original cineromanzo (published in Suspense in 1971, a gallery of 10 images, and the subtitled Italian trailer.

Disc two continues The Blancheville Monsterthe traditional Gothic castle fun with The Blancheville Monster, here shown in its Italian and English-language The Blancheville Monsterversions under the original title, Horror. This was the first horror film (and fourth feature overall) for genre-hopping director Alberto De Martino, who started off with peplums and later went on to more widely circulated films like The Antichrist, Strange Shadows in an Empty Room, Holocaust 2000, and The Pumaman. Dumped straight to TV in dubbed form by AIP back in the '60s, the film plays a lot better here now that you can actually savor the creepy production design and crisp photography for the first time anywhere outside of an Italian theater.

Returning to her ancestral home with a suspiciously modern 'do and makeup job, Emilie De Blancheville (Colli, credited as "Joan Hills) arrives in Ireland with her friends Alice (Eory) and John (Materassi) to find that her very Poe-like brother, Rodéric (Tichy), is now running the whole place. That includes a whole new stable of servants including the imposing housekeeper, Miss Eleanore (Spanish horror icon Liné), while the Count Blancheville, The Blancheville Monsterher supposedly dead father, is actually cloistered away out of sight in a tower after being severely burned. At night she starts wandering against her will through the ruins around the castle, and it soon becomes clear that a supposed family curse The Blancheville Monsterinvolving Emilie's death when she turns 21 within the week might soon come to pass.

Total hokum complete with some bizarre hypnosis plot turns and a finale straight out of Scooby-Doo, The Blancheville Monster starts at full throttle with a massive nocturnal thunderstorm, a spooky castle, and a frenetic orchestra, and it rarely lets up after that. Carriages, endless harpsichord playing, a premature burial, and other amusements abound, and it's best if you don't try to scrutinize the plot too much along the way. This one's been a stalwart of PD editions over the years from labels like Mill Creek and Retromedia, none really worth the trouble, and the Arrow offers a very classy presentation that fascinatingly includes both the Italian and English versions (with their respective language tracks and title sequences) with English translated or English SDH subtitles. Both are worth a look as they're radically The Blancheville Monsterdifferent throughout; the dialogue for the English dub was considerably overhauled almost line for line, and even the general location is changed (Brittany in the English dub, somewhere in Scotland in the Italian). A new commentary by Paul Anthony Nelson is spirited fun as he comments about how this film is a bit "rough around The Blancheville Monsterthe edges" due to its relatively green director (who vocally dismissed it later) and early status in the Gothic sweepstakes, then points out all the Poe references, the amusing resemblance of Leo Anchóriz's performance (as the ambiguous family doctor) to Vincent Price, the echoes of Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers in Liné's character, and tons more. In "Castle of Horror" (6m49s), Ashworth provides another video intro noting the influence of Corman's The Fall of the House of Usher and The Premature Burial. "Are You Sure It Wasn't Just Your Imagination?" (20m54s) is a new video essay by Keith Allison examining how the film and its Poe-Corman influence sprang from the 1957 arrival of Hammer horror and the horror tropes it manipulates while running parallel with other European genre productions. Finally in "Welcome to the Manor" (13m55s), Antonio Tentori focuses on contextualizing this film within De Martino's career and as part of the Italian fantastic cinema wave at large. Also included are the 3m11 American title sequence (pulled from a VHS source), the really wild William Castle-style Italian trailer, and a three-image gallery.

Disc The Third Eyethree delivers a film that's been referenced far more often than actually seen among The Third EyeEnglish-speaking horror fans: Il terzo occhio or The Third Eye, starring a young and impossibly chiseled Franco Nero the same year he broke through to stardom in Django. This one is especially noteworthy to Italian horror fans since it was remade (without credit) by Joe D'Amato in 1979 as the infamous gore shocker, Beyond the Darkness. The plotline here has one extra major character but is otherwise the same, albeit without the plentiful guts and fingernail mayhem that made the D'Amato film a sick splatter classic. Recycling the excellent music score from The Ghost by Francesco De Masi (credited here as "Frank Mason"), our tale depicts the descent into madness of aristocrat Mino (Nero) who lives in a sprawling and dysfunctional household with his overbearing countess mother (Solbelli) and acid-tongued housekeeper, Marta (Pascal). In two weeks the petulant Mino is engaged to marry the sweet-natured Laura (Blanc), but whom mom despises so much she intimates she'd reward Marta for committing a bit of homicide. Secretly pining for Mino herself, Marta cuts the brakes of Laura's car which results in the young woman's death in front of Mino while he's in hot pursuit. Meanwhile Marta and mama have a fight back at the house resulting in the latter's own demise, a double whammy that sends The Third EyeMino on a psychotic, murderous bender killing nearby women at home next to Laura's embalmed body in the The Third Eyebedroom. However, when Laura's identical twin Daniela (also Blanc) shows up, things get even more twisted...

Though obviously inspired a bit by Psycho right down to having Nero perform some very graphic bird taxidermy, The Third Eye is definitely its own sleazy beast with plenty of berserk plot turns, implied necrophilia, plentiful murders, and a bug-eyed Nero performance that paves the way for his definitive madman portrayal a few years later in A Quiet Place in the Country. That said, the real star here is Pascal who delivers an intense, deeply perverse performance that makes one regret she never made another film after this. The dialogue is often outrageously venomous throughout to such a degree it often plays like an Italian Andy Milligan film, and unlike the abrupt ending of the D'Amato remake, this features a far more protracted and ultimately satisfying third act with a little bit of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? beach mania thrown in as well.

Previously available only on European DVD without English options, The Third Eye sparkles on Blu-ray here and comes with a major bonus: the elusive The Third EyeEnglish track, which is quite well done and very welcome here in addition to the usual Italian audio. The film only has Italian title The Third Eyesequences though, so it's still undetermined whether English ones were prepared for possible export. Again there are some interesting variations in meaning between the two versions and both are equally valid, so it's worth sitting through twice. A superb and very thorough new commentary by Rachael Nisbet is jammed with great insights and tidbits about the film from start to finish, juggling observations about director Mino Guerrini's aesthetic choices, background about the creation of the script including its nonexistent literary source, the Hitchcock influences, and the psychological ramifications of the characterizations. Ashworth turns up again for "The Cold Kiss of Death" (6m15s), which starts by claiming this was never dubbed in English (oops) and provides some trivia about the production personnel and observations about the grimy subject matter versus the elegant visuals. In "Nostalgia Becomes Necrophilia" (12m), Lindsay Hallam studies the film's visual scheme as an extension of the melodramatic and Gothic conventions in the story, while "All Eyes on Erika" (15m40s) finds Blanc returning to chat about one of her final black-and-white roles, her career in the mid-'60s, the experience of playing a dual role, and her memories of Nero. A gallery of five images is also included.

Finally The Witchon disc four we step outside of traditional horror for the only film in this batch to receive The Witchsignificant English-language theatrical distribution, 1966's La strega in amore or The Witch. Kind of a supernatural chamber melodrama, the film directed by Damiano Damiani (Amityville II: The Possession, Mafia, The Most Beautiful Wife) is probably the closest thing we'll get to what an occult story by Luchino Visconti might feel like and sports a marvelous jazz score by future Oscar winner Luis Bacalov (Il Postino, Django). In the second of what would be many of his Italian roles, British actor Richard Johnson (Zombie, Beyond the Door, The Great Alligator) stars as Sergio, an archivist and historian who answers an ad for someone to catalog the manuscripts of a dead nobleman. He arrives at the sprawling apartment in the heart of Rome to find the dusty library managed by the widow and lady of the house, Consuelo (Ferrati), who met her husband when she was sixteen in Mexico and now wants his erotic journals preserved for posterity. Her beautiful daughter, Aura (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and The Slave's Schiaffino), quickly entrances Sergio, but it seems there are some twisted games going on here that have already ensnared other men like the unfortunate and very frazzled Fabrizio (Volontè). As the title already indicates, The Witchthere's something distinctly strange going on in the house, The Witchbut Sergio's reaction to it might be the real reason to be afraid.

As solid as Johnson always is in a real cad of a role, this film really belongs to the magnetic Schiaffino who gets to enjoy one of his best leading roles here. Damiani displays a sure creative hand throughout with some clever framing and lighting choices, and while the central mystery might be screamingly obvious to most viewers early on, it hardly matters given the sheer pleasure of watching the actors work in close harmony with the visual side here. The rather brutal and abrupt ending (not in the source novel by Carlos Fuentes) is something of an opinion divider among viewers of this film, but there's no doubt that it's memorable and creates some food for thought about the treatment of supposed witches over the centuries. It's also the most erotic film of the four by far with a subtle but palpable charge throughout courtesy of Schiaffino's performance, with that smoky Bacalov music doing the rest of the heavy lifting.

Occasionally seen on American TV and on the repertory circuit from time to time, The Witch makes its official The WitchU.S. and U.K. home video debut here The Witchafter years of substandard gray market releases of its English-dubbed version. Here you get both the English and Italian tracks (with their respective title sequences as Strange Obsession and La strega in amore) with optional English SDH or English translated subtitles, and it's a toss up as to which one is preferable given that Johnson performed in English and the rest of the actors seemed to speak mostly (but not entirely) in Italian. Ellinger contributes an enthused and very worthwhile audio commentary here making a case for this as a Gothic film while reeling out info about the cast, the fairy tale aspects of the story, ties to other genre films like Lisa and the Devil and Blood and Roses, the traditions of paganism, the trope of the trapped man, and the psychological implications of the story including its resolution. In "Witchery" (3m46s), Ashworth admits up front he's least comfortable talking about this one but touches on Damiani and his intellectual approach. In "Loving the Devil" (24m25s), Miranda Corcoran examines this film as part of a larger tradition of the depiction of witches in popular culture from ancient stories and artwork through more benevolent depictions like Bewitched, with a particular focus on the metamorphic qualities lent to witches in various countries. In "The Rome Witch Project" (18m38s), Tentori focuses on Damiani, the source novel and its author, and the creation of a modern Gothic that refuses to be easily pigeonholed. A gallery of five images is also included.

Reviewed on October 2, 2022.