Saturday 25 June 2011

Blood Castle (1970)

BLOOD CASTLE is an Italian / Spanish co-production of a gothic horror film that was directed by José Luis Merino and stars Erna Schurer, Carlos Quiney, Agostina Belli, Cristiana Galloni and Mariano Vidal Molina.  It premiered in Italy in October 1970 under the title 'Il castello dalle porte di fuoco' and in Spain a couple of years later as 'Ivanna'.  An independent, educated young woman arrives at the castle of Janos Dalmar to work as his lab assistant where she learns that the dashing young Dalmar is under suspicion of the murders of several young girls in the area.  Nevertheless she is drawn to him and begins to experience vivid dreams in which she submits to his will.

I should start by saying that I saw a very ropey print of this film which, while apparently uncut, was pan-and-scanned, scratchy, poppy and generally pretty muddy.  Inevitably seeing a film under such conditions means you are not seeing it as the director intended.  Indeed, BLOOD CASTLE is a good example of what can happen to a film after the director has handed it over to the studio.

For a kick off, it was distributed under numerous different titles (imdb lists 11) and was often cut to suit the requirements of a particular distributor.  Its original running time was 94 minutes but it has been shown in at least two other versions, running for 78 and 75 minutes.  On VHS and DVD it has had at least six different distributors; I suspect the co-production deal has meant that the copyright situation is unclear and the film may be in the public domain as a result.  If it is in the public domain then unscrupulous companies can grab any old print they can find and whack it out on DVD, under any title they choose.  That would certainly explain the shoddy print I saw as well as the utterly meaningless title BLOOD CASTLE.

You have to sympathise with Merino because from what I can tell he was actually trying to do something a little different with this film.  It has more in common with something like Jane Eyre or even Rebecca; that is to say it is more gothic than horror.  It has a strong female central character which is unusual for the period, it's restrained in the blood and guts stakes and there's interesting contrasts drawn between science and rationality on the one hand and depravity and insanity on the other.  However, despite the nod towards a more enlightened approach to women the film still relies on the standard woman in peril scenario and the casual attitude towards attempted rape, sexual abuse and general misogyny is disappointing to say the least.

Merino made a considerable number of genre pictures in the '60s and '70s, most of them Spanish / Italian co-productions but his career petered out as the exploitation market dwindled in the early '80s.  I've not seen any of his other films but a look at his filmography suggests he was more at home with action movies, specifically WW2 and westerns, than horror.  Erna Schurer's career followed more or less the same path as Merino's, getting plenty of work in some pretty cruddy European movies before more or less retiring in the early '80s.

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