What could be better than watching fiery eyed Barbara Steel in a gothic horror role? Having her play the role of two sisters in the same film, one a sultry blonde, the other a dark vixen. Grrrowl! Nightmare Castle may not be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a few horror staples (besides Steel) that make it worthy of a late night viewing.
Botanist Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers his wife Muriel (Steel) fooling around with the handyman David in the greenhouse after the doctor supposedly just left for a trip. Catching them in the act he savagely beats and whips them before having them hung in shackles in the castle basement. As he tortures Muriel and she begs to be killed she also reveals that she has already preempted any plans he may have had to kill her and inherit the castle as she secretly created a will bequeathing her possessions to her sister Jenny, currently resident in an asylum.
This surprise revelation also worries the scraggly old housemaid Solange (Helga Liné) as Dr. Arrowsmith had developed a serum that would rejuvenate her to her former beauty and the two had planned to live together in the castle after killing Muriel. Undaunted, Arrowsmith kills the lovestruck Muriel and David, removing their bloody, beating hearts, and has equally sinister plans for dealing with Jenny.
We then cut to the doctor arriving at the front door by horse and buggy with his new wife… Jenny!. (It seems marrying your widowed brother-in-law was deemed acceptable in Victorian times.) His plan is simple. Have Muriel believe that she is once again losing her sanity (or at least believing so) which will give him title to the castle. Going so far as to invite a psychiatrist to live with them for a while, with Solange as his accomplice (inexplicably now a beautiful young woman again, although she is getting blood transfusions from Jenny with perhaps with the aid of some serum) they no sooner begin their assault on Jenny’s senses when the murdered duo start appearing for real. Revenge can be sweet especially when dealt by Steel, now walking around in a zombie like state with her dark hair covering half her face.
There are plot holes galore including no explanation of Solange’s decrepit old state at the beginning of the film (and why would Arrowsmith even fathom rejuvenating her?), why Muriel bothered sticking around in the first place since she already made sure Arrowsmith would not inherit the castle, and most of all, why invite an impartial psychiatrist to stay in the house as you play with someone’s senses.
This Italian horror serving courtesy of director Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald) also went by the title The Faceless Monster, apropos given the glimpse we get of a scarred half face Muriel in the final moments of the film. Maestro Ennio Morricone provides the score, but don’t expect any of his later musical magistry here.
Not a classic, but Steel fans will be amply rewarded and there are a few neat FX and makeup scenes to make it watchable. My DVD was one from the 50 Horror Movie collection of public domain movies and was lackluster transfer. It would be nice to someday see this in a clean and restored form as it deserves better.