Recently I had the pleasure of viewing two of Italian director Antonio Margheriti’s wonderful ghost films. The original black & white 1964 version of Castle of Blood (aka Danza Macabra) which was recently released on DVD by Synapse and Antonio Margheriti’s 1970 remake of the same film re-titled Web of the Spider (aka. Nella Stretta Morsa Del Ragno). Both versions of the Margheriti’s movie are well worth a look so I thought I’d review them together.
The scripts for both films were written by different writers but they follow the same plot. Celebrated spaghetti western director Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence, Companeros, etc.) co-wrote the original screenplay for Castle of Blood with Giovanni Grimaldi and Sergio’s brother Bruno Corbucci wrote the screenplay for Web of the Spider, which was later revised by the film’s producer Giovanni Addessi. The plots of both films tell the same tale which begins with the renowned American author Edgar Allan Poe drinking at a pub and telling a mesmerizing story about a local haunted castle owned by his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood. At the pub Poe is approached by a journalist named Alan Foster who questions the validity of Poe’s tale. Soon after Foster becomes involved in a peculiar wager between himself, Poe and Thomas Blackwood who bet that Foster cannot survive an entire night in the haunted castle alone. After Foster accepts the bet and enters the castle he soon discovers that it is inhabited by ghosts.
Castle of Blood and Web of the Spider are both memorable films that should please fans of Italian horror films who appreciate the gothic atmosphere of Roger Corman’s films. Director Antonio Margheriti was obviously inspired by the Corman’s Poe adaptations such as the wonderful Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). Although Corman’s influence is obvious, Margheriti’s films have an erotic and stylish Italian flavor that is all their own. Both versions of his movie are very compelling and the story they tell is unusual since the ghosts also posses vampire-like traits.
The 1964 version of Castle of Blood was filmed in moody black and white and stars French actor George Riviere (The Virgin of Nuremberg, etc.) as journalist Alan Foster, Silvano Tranquili (who would also appear in Web of the Spider) as Edgar Allen Poe, lovely Barbara Steele (Black Sunday, 8 1/2, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc.) as Elizabeth and Margarete Robsahm as Julia. Castle of Blood relies heavily on the wonderful gothic atmosphere of its setting to conjure up its spooky moments. If you like your horror movies filled with lots of blood and visceral frights you may find Castle of Blood a little slow moving but if you enjoy spooky ghost films like The Haunting and The Innocents you’ll probably enjoy Castle of Blood. When the films were first released they claimed to be based on stories by Poe but this this is false. They’re merely “inspired” by Poe but fans of the writer should still enjoy them.
Barbara Steele dominates Castle of Blood with her haunting performance as Elizabeth. The movie also features one of the earliest erotic scenes in a horror film between two women, which is thoughtfully played out. It’s easy to see why the male and female characters in the film are passionately drawn to Steele’s Elizabeth since she’s charismatic as well as extremely beautiful. Overall Synapse Films did a wonderful job with their Castle of Blood DVD release. The film looks terrific and for the first time in the US it has been released in widescreen, uncensored and uncut. DVD extras include the original US trailer and opening sequences, extensive liner notes by Tim Lucas and a nice still gallery. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the Web of Spider DVD released by Brentwood Home Video. The quality of the film transfer is rather terrible at times which is really a shame. Personally I think Web of the Spider deserves the same uncut/widescreen treatment that Castle of Blood got. It would be wonderful to see it restored and released by a distributor like Synapse.
Before watching Web of the Spider my expectations were very low since I had read a lot of bad things about it from various critics and even the director himself was unhappy with his remake and said that it couldn’t compare to the original. I completely disagree and happen to think that the color version is just as effective as the black white version of the film and both movies can be enjoyed for different reasons. Web of the Spider boasts some terrific color photography at times that fans of Mario Bava will appreciate. The great Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo, The Great Silence, Nosferatu the Vampyre, etc.) plays Edgar Allen Poe in this version but he’s in the movie all too briefly. Thankfully he gets more screen time than the previous actor who played the role and Kinski gives an over-the-top and frenzied performance as Poe. It’s easily one of his most unforgettable screen moments and makes the film a must-see for Kinski fans. Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre, Fathom, The Swinger, etc.) plays Alan Foster and the lovely actresses Michele Mercier (Angelique, Black Sabbath, etc.) and Karin Field (Cave of the Living Dead, The Mad Butcher, etc.) take over the roles of Elizabeth and Julia.
Web of the Spider has some genuinely creepy moments and even if Michele Mercer doesn’t exactly steal the show like Barbara Steel did in the original, she does a great job of trying. She’s incredibly beautiful and she looks terrific in the her costumes. The equally compelling performances by all the actors involved in this version give the film a slightly more balanced feeling in my opinion, which moves the story along a little quicker. Anthony Franciosa seems a bit out of place here since he can’t seem to master the mannerisms of a man in the 1800s and his modern approach to the role of Alan Foster is awkward at times but still entertaining.