Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Oct 28, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Massimo Pupillo, Alberto de Martino, Mino Guerrini, Damiano Damiani

Release Date(s)

Various (October 18, 2022)

Studio(s)

Various (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A+
  • Overall Grade: A

Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror (Blu-ray)

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Review

While Hammer Studios was successfully producing Gothic horror films in the UK and Roger Corman via American International Pictures was doing the same with Vincent Price in the US, Italy began producing several of its own Gothic horrors, among them Lady Morgan’s Vengeance, directed by Massimo Pupillo (Terror-Creatures from the Grave); The Blancheville Monster, directed by Alberto de Martino (The Antichrist aka The Tempter); The Third Eye, directed by Mino Guerrini (Date for a Murder); and The Witch, directed by Damiano Damiani (Amityville II: The Possession). All of them have been gathered together for the first time by Arrow Video in the new Blu-ray boxed set Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror.

In 1965’s Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (aka La vendetta di Lady Morgan), Susan (Barbara Nelli) is in love with Pierre (Michel Forain), and the two desperately want to marry. After receiving permission from Susan’s father, Pierre is called away on an urgent trip to Paris, and during his journey by ship, is tossed overboard by an unknown assailant. Susan is devastated, but agrees to marry another suitor, Sir Harold (Paul Muller), traveling with him to his estate where his maid Lillian (Erika Blanc) and butler Roger (Gordon Mitchell) lie in wait. Meanwhile, Pierre wakes up in a hospital, unable to remember who he is. He continues to dream about Susan, not remembering who she is, as she begins experiencing a range of unexplained terrors in her new home.

Lady Morgan’s Vengeance is certainly one of the odder Italian Gothics. It’s an unorthodox mix of romantic melodrama, gaslighting, and horror involving vampires and ghosts, and none of it really blends together seamlessly, yet it’s a strange combination of elements that make it worth seeing. Director Massimo Pupillo was certainly no stranger to horror, having helmed Terror-Creatures from the Grave and Bloody Pit of Horror the same year. (Unfortunately, he became disillusioned with making these types of films, and retreated from them altogether.) The performances are strong from all involved and there’s atmosphere to be had, but it’s often overburdened with score at inappropriate times. Even still, Lady Morgan’s Vengeance has plenty on its mind, even if the various elements don’t intermingle successfully.

In 1963’s The Blancheville Monster (aka Horror), Emilie (Ombretta Colli) returns to her family home with her friend Alice (Iran Eory) and her lover John (Vanni Materassi). Upon her arrival, her brother Roderic (Gerard Tichy) informs her that their father is disfigured, all of the servants have died, and that Eleanore (Helga Line) and Alistair (Paco Moran) have replaced them. Roderic warns of a mysterious family curse that can only be fulfilled if Emilie dies before her 21st birthday. Dr. LaRouche (Leo Anchoriz) arrives soon after to provide medicine for her father, but remains when multiple attempts are made upon Emilie’s life by a mysterious hooded figure.

The Blancheville Horror, or simply Horror as its titled in the Italian version, is an obvious pastiche of Edgar Allan Poe influences, most prominently The Fall of the House of Usher, of which Roger Corman’s film version had been a major success in Italy a couple of years prior. It’s gorgeously photographed and has tons of atmosphere, but it’s laboriously paced with an abundance of dialogue, much of it repetitive. Still, one can’t help but be drawn in by the Gothic architecture and lush visuals, and not necessarily the story itself. It’s not that difficult to follow and the identity of the hooded figure isn’t much of a surprise, but the aesthetics are to be admired.

In 1966’s The Third Eye (aka Il terzo occhio), Mino (Franco Nero) lives with his domineering mother (Olga Sobelli), but wants to get away from her by marrying the beautiful Laura (Erika Blanc), who’s having doubts of her own. Their maid, Marta (Gioia Pascal) is crazy jealous of Laura and Mino’s mother, wanting Mino for herself. After cutting the brakes on Laura’s car and pushing Mino’s mother down the stairs, both women die, leaving Mino a psychological wreck who uses taxidermy to keep Laura preserved by his bedside. He attempts to find new women but kills them once they see Laura, strangling them and leaving Marta to clean up the mess. But when Laura’s twin sister Daniela comes calling, Mino sees another chance for he and Laura to be together, and Marta must get out of his way.

A pre-Western fame Franco Nero gives an excellent performance as Mino. Even though his character loses his mind completely and does terrible things, he somehow is able to curry sympathy, only wanting things to remain as they were. Gioia Pascal as Marta is also outstanding, trying her best to win over Mino and doing anything to make it happen. The film was later remade by Joe D’Mato as Beyond the Darkness, which is a much sleazier and exploitative version of the story. But The Third Eye is more of a psychological thriller than a horror film, creating decent suspense, particularly during the finale when there’s potential for Mino to be caught by the police.

In 1966’s The Witch (La strega in amore), a drifter, Sergio (Richard Johnson), finds himself answering an ad for a librarian, noticing an older woman following him on the street. In turn, he follows her to her home and she introduces herself as Consuelo (Sarah Ferrati), emphasizing that she was the one who placed the ad. Her home is a large villa, wherein he finds her daughter, Aura (Rosanna Schiaffino), and is immediately attracted to her. Discovering them together is Fabrizio (Gian Maria Volonte), a man who claims to already be the librarian and hasn’t seen Aura in quite some time. It becomes clear that the two women are ensnaring men for their own needs, but Sergio will soon get to the bottom of why Aura disappears when Consuelo is around.

Based on the novel Aura by Carlos Fuentes, The Witch (a very poor and uncreative title for the film) boasts a surprising amount of sensuality for its era, as well as impressive camera work. The story and the why and how of Consuelo and Aura is never fully explained, though you can fill in most of the details as the film goes along. However, this lack of concrete knowledge is a bit of detriment, despite the fact that leaving things open for interpretation leads to various avenues about relationships between men and women. Consuelo and Aura are not intrinsically evil, nor are Sergio and Fabrizio for that matter, but things tend to get a little maddening once the story finally heats up. The film is also a tad too long and a lot of the same information tends to be repeated, but regardless, The Witch is a mesmerizing, if a bit imperfect, Italian Gothic story.

Lady Morgan’s Vengeance was shot by director of photography Oberdan Troiani on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video’s presentation is sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative, which appears to have been in very rough shape. Heavy grain, mild instability, occasional jitter, and frequent lines and speckling are on display, as well as an occasional bit of damage. Transitions and occasional stock footage are also a little rough. Grayscale is decent, though whites can appear hot and blacks aren’t very deep. There’s also an unmotivated dip to black at 49:49 to 49:52, which looks to be a part of the source, but whether this was intentional by the filmmakers or not is unclear. Whatever visual flaws it may have, it’s still a healthy, natural presentation, and definitely the best the film has looked on home video, but one can’t help but wonder if a 4K scan would have yielded deeper levels of detail, especially in the shadows.

Audio is presented in Italian mono LPCM with optional English subtitles. It’s a narrow track, as to be expected, but is quite clean and offers excellent support for score and dialogue.

The Blancheville Monster was shot by director of photography Alejandro Ulloa on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video presents both the Italian and English versions of the film, sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. Either version features their language-exclusive opening and closing titles, dependent upon which version is chosen from the main menu. It’s much improved over its predecessor, crisp with a refined and even grain structure. There are higher levels of fine detail, particularly in the shadowy environments, and contrast is perfect with excellent grayscale, deep blacks, solid whites, and lovely gradations in between. The overall picture is clean and stable, with only minor speckling visible.

Audio is presented in Italian and English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English for the Italian track and English SDH for the English track. Both presentations are less narrow and have the same qualities outside of the dubbing, which is a little more pronounced on the English track. Both tracks are also clean and offer fine support for sound effects and score.

The Third Eye was shot by director of photography Alessandro D'Eva on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video presents both the Italian and English versions of the film, sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. Either version features their language-exclusive opening and closing titles, dependent upon which version is chosen from the main menu. It’s not quite as crisp as its predecessor and is a tad softer by comparison, but it’s still natural to its source, appearing organic with a healthy grain structure and high levels of fine detail. Several shots are out of focus, which is clearly due to the original cinematography and not the restoration itself. Contrast and grayscale are ideal, and though there’s minor jitter in a few spots, it’s a clean and otherwise stable presentation.

Audio is presented in Italian and English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English for the Italian track and English SDH for the English track. Like the previous film, both presentations have similar qualities, but the dubbing for the English track is flatter and more narrow. Both tracks are also clean and offer good support for sound effects and score.

The Witch was shot by director of photography Leonida Barboni on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video presents both the Italian and English versions of the film, sourced from a 2K restoration of the original camera negative. Either version features their language-exclusive opening and closing titles, dependent upon which version is chosen from the main menu. It’s on par with its two predecessors, but is perhaps a tad softer and slightly more jittery. Otherwise, it offers the same healthy grain structure with excellent contrast and nice gradations of black and white. A minor bit of speckling and one instance of a hair in the gate are on display, but it’s a mostly clean and stable presentation.

Audio is presented in Italian and English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English for the Italian track and English SDH for the English track. Again, these tracks have similar qualities outside of the dubbing, which is much hotter and slightly wider in the mix than the Italian track. Everything else is in order in regards to sound effects and score, which are well-represented.

LADY MORGAN’S VENGEANCE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B-/B
THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/A/B+
THE THIRD EYE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A-/B
THE WITCH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B+/B+

Gothic Fantastico is a four-disc Blu-ray boxed set which each disc presented on a separate disc within separate thin, clear amaray cases. Each case contains an insert with new artwork by Colin Murdoch on one side and the original Italian theatrical artwork on the reverse. Also included is a double-sided, fold-out poster featuring the original Italian theatrical artworks for The Blancheville Monster (Horror) and The Third Eye (Il terzo occhio); and an 80-page booklet featuring cast and crew listings for each film, the essays An Experiment in Terror: An Introduction to the Italian Gothic by Roberto Curti, Ghouls and Gaslighting: Lady Morgan’s Vengeance by Rob Talbot, Italian Gothic Goes Corman… and a Bit Further: The Blancheville Monster by Jerome Reuter, Birth of a Monster: The Third Eye by Rod Barnett, Secrets and Transgressions: The Witch by Kimberly Lindbergs, and restoration details. Everything is housed in a sturdy slipcase featuring new artwork, also by Colin Murdoch. The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE (LADY MORGAN’S VENGEANCE)

  • Audio Commentary with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • Vengeance and Beyond (HD – 4:38)
  • The Grudge (HD – 21:29)
  • When We Were Vampires (HD – 24:04)
  • Born to Be a Villain (HD – 20:03)
  • The Puppilo Tapes (HD – 20:16)
  • Original Cineromanzo (HD – 57 pages in all)
  • Trailer (HD – 2:24)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 8 in all)

In the audio commentary with author and film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, she expertly offers her thoughts on the many facets of the film. She drops out of the conversation occasionally, but delves into the film’s thematics, its content, its cast and crew, and other Italian horror films and filmmakers of the era. It’s another “banger” of a commentary, as she would put it. Vengeance and Beyond features Italian film devotee Mark Thompson Ashworth briefly discussing the film. In The Grudge, author and producer Kat Ellinger offers a visual essay that examines the presence and significance of women in Italian horror, as well as the history of Gothic horror. When We Were Vampires features an interview with actress Erika Blanc in which she discusses her fondness for director Massimo Pupillo and her co-stars, other films she appeared in, pseudonyms she used during her career, and her thoughts on the film itself. Born to Be a Villain features an interview with actor Paul Muller in which he talks about becoming an actor early on, working in the theatre, and coming to Rome to work in film. Humorously, he has very little memory of working on Lady Morgan’s Vengeance. The Puppilo Tapes is a newly-edited audio interview with director Massimo Pupillo, which was originally recorded in 1993 for a radio show hosted by Fabio Melelli. It’s a career-spanning interview, but covers a lot of ground in a short time. The complete original cineromanzo (similar to a fotoromanzo, both of which are print-based adaptations of films in comic book-like form) is included, which was published in Suspense magazine in 1971. Also included is the film’s trailer and an image gallery containing 8 stills of posters and lobby cards.

DISC TWO (THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER)

  • Audio Commentary with Paul Anthony Nelson
  • Castle of Horror (HD – 6:49)
  • Are You Sure That It Wasn’t Just Your Imagination? (HD – 20:54)
  • Welcome to the Manor (HD – 13:55)
  • American Opening Titles (Upscaled SD – 3:11)
  • Trailer (HD – 4:16)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 2 in all)

The audio commentary features filmmaker and film historian Paul Anthony Nelson, who has a sense of humor about himself and the film, lending personal character to his comments. He watches the film and details many aspects of it, including its cast and crew. It’s a little more energetic and less of a straightforward, fact-repeating track than most of its ilk. In Castle of Horror, Mark Thompson Ashworth returns to discuss the history and the cast and crew of the film. Are You Sure That It Wasn’t Just Your Imagination? is a new video essay by writer and pop culture historian Keith Allison. He delves into the many films that led up to The Blancheville Monster and how they informed the final film. In Welcome to the Manor, author and filmmaker Antonio Tentori discusses many of the same subjects. Offered in lesser quality is one of the film’s US opening title sequences under the title Horror: The Blancheville Monster (likely from a home video release, judging by the quality). Also included is the film’s trailer and an image gallery containing 2 stills of posters.

DISC THREE (THE THIRD EYE)

  • Audio Commentary with Rachael Nisbet
  • The Cold Kiss of Death (HD – 6:15)
  • Nostalgia Becomes Necrophilia (HD – 12:00)
  • All Eyes on Erika (HD – 15:40)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 4 in all)

In the audio commentary with author and critic Rachael Nisbet, she delves into members of the cast and crew, the influence of Psycho on the film, and facets of the film in relation to other works. As per usual, she provides a well-researched and fascinating scholarly track. The Cold Kiss of Death features Mark Thompson Ashworth who once again discusses the film and its cast and crew, pointing out key figures, including Franco Nero, Erika Blanc, and Olga Sobelli. Nostalgia Becomes Necrophilia is a new video essay by author and filmmaker Lindsay Hallam in which she delves into the thematics and possible meanings behind many of the film’s characteristics, as well as examining the era in which the film was made and how it was influenced by it. In All Eyes on Erika, actress Erika Blanc returns to humorously discuss working on the film. The image gallery contains 4 stills of the poster and lobby cards.

DISC FOUR (THE WITCH)

  • Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger
  • Witchery (HD – 3:46)
  • Loving the Devil: Aging and Sexuality in La strega in amore (HD – 24:25)
  • The Rome Witch Project (HD – 18:38)
  • Image Gallery (HD – 5 in all)

The audio commentary featuresh author and producer Kat Ellinger, who is a major fan of the film and very excited to see it restored for Blu-ray. As per usual, she expertly examines the film’s content in relation to the other Italian Gothic films of the era and reads into the film’s thematics, visuals, and storytelling. It’s also an enlightening commentary as she provides her own perspective on the events of the film as they play out. It’s an excellent track. Witchery sees Mark Thompson Ashworth return for the final time to briefly discuss the film and its history. Loving the Devil is a new video essay by author and academic Miranda Corcoran who examines the portrayal and impact of the notion of witches in popular culture, literature, and film. The Rome Witch Project features an interview with author and filmmaker Antonio Tentori who discusses director Damiano Damiani, the creation of the film, the cast and crew, and its content. The image gallery contains 5 stills of promotional photos, the pressbook, and the poster.

The Gothic Fantastico boxed set is certainly not for those looking for obvious horror. These films are more about their atmosphere, mood, and characters than boogeymen and monsters. That said, they’re four fascinating films from a time when Italian cinema was evolving. For those looking to venture past straight giallo, action, and horror films, this boxed set is for you. It comes armed with terrific presentations and entertaining and informative extras. As such, it’s highly recommended.

- Tim Salmons

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Tags

1963, 1965, 1966, A Tale of the Ragged Mountains, Alberto de Martino, Alejandro Ulloa, Alessandro D'Eva, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Alfredo Bini, Antonio Tentori, Arco Film, Arrow Video, Aura, Barbara Nelli, Beyond the Darkness, black and white, black-and-white, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, box set, boxed set, boxset, Bruno Corbucci, Carlo Franci, Carlo Kechler, Carlos Fuentes, Cidif, Colin Murdoch, Consorzio Italiano Distributori Indipendenti Film, Damiano Damiani, drama, Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Duncan, Erika Blanc, Ermanno Donati, Fabio Melelli, Film Columbus, Four Italian Tales of Terror, Francesco De Masi, Franco Belotti, Franco Nero, Frank Moran, Gerard Tichy, GG Productions, Gian Maria Volonte, Gianni Grimaldi, Gioia Pascal, Giuseppe Piccillo, Gordon Mitchell, Gothic, Gothic Fantastico, Gothic Fantastico Four Italian Tales of Terror, Gothic horror, Helga Line, horror, Horror The Blancheville Monster, House of Usher, Il terzo occhio, INDIEF, Iran Eory, Italian, Italian horror, Italy, Ivan Rassimov, Jerome Reuter, Joan Hills, Joe D'Amato, Kat Ellinger, Keith Allison, Kimberly Lindbergs, La strega in amore, La vendetta di Lady Morgan, Lady Morgan's Vengeance, Leo Anchoriz, Leonida Barboni, Lindsay Hallam, Llama Films, Luigi Carpentieri, Luis Bacalov, Margherita Guzzinati, Mariano Arditi, Marina Morgan, Mark Thompson Ashworth, Massimo Pupillo, Medusa, Medusa Distribuzione, Michel Forain, Mino Guerrini, Miranda Corcoran, Morgan Film, Nino Baragli, Oberdan Troiani, Olga Solbelli, Ombretta Colli, Ornella Micheli, Otello Colangeli, Paco Moran, Panda Societa per L'Industria Cinematografica, Paul Anthony Nelson, Paul Muller, Piero Regnoli, Piero Umiliani, Rachael Nisbet, review, Richard Davis, Richard Johnson, Rob Talbot, Roberto Curti, Rod Barnett, Rosanna Schiaffino, Sarah Ferrati, Some Words with a Mummy, Strange Obsession, The Blancheville Monster, The Digital Bits, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Third Eye, The Witch, The Witch 1966, The Witch in Love, Tim Salmons, Titanus, Ugo Liberatore, Vanni Materassi

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