Antonio Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg which was retitled Horror Castle for American audiences, is one of his first films and also one of his best. The movie features a hooded killer, a possible ghost from the past who has come back to haunt the family castle and take up the murder and torture which was left behind many years previous. Rossana Podestà is the star of the picture, the lovely young bride who has just moved in and who is unaware of the castle’s sordid past. Soon enough she is made all too familiar with it as the killer starts terrorizing the inhabitants and it is not long until her character Mary finds herself subject to his vile ministrations while those around her lose their lives.
The plot is a familiar one seen in many a horror film, that of the faceless killer whose motivations and identity are unknown. Bodies pile up – mostly women, and there is blood and violence enough to sate any appetite. Though it might wander into intimate territory, Margheriti manages to grab the attention of the audience by fusing the picture with a score that while jazz in nature, turns out to be effectively haunting. It might seem out of place at first, but Riz Ortolani’s music compliments the movie in a way that makes Margheriti seem like a genius for including it and it would definitely be an entirely different film without it. Visually, the movie is quite lovely to look at with its bold use of colour and lighting. It is a highly atmospheric picture that flirts around Gothic edges, the beauty of the rooms in the castle above contrasting with its dungeons and torture devices below. Even the masked killer seems a little romanticized thanks to Margheriti, at least until that mask is removed and the horror beneath is revealed. Margheriti also spins a little bit of a mystery throughout the film as to who the hooded figure could be, though when that reveal does happen, it is completely unexpected and not anything that was expected in the slightest.
In addition to Podestà starring is Georges Rivière as her husband Max, a man who seems oblivious to everything going on, yet also seems to know at the same time. Last but not least is Christopher Lee as their scarred manservant Erich. Though his role was a small one, Lee’s presence is unmistakable as it is so commanding. At times the film does seem a little aimless, what with Podestà running around and running into the killer, but it never manages to be something one gets bored of and the fact that the killer could strike at any moment makes things quite interesting. The special effects and the entire last third of the picture are superior to what comes before and the film manages to end on a stronger note than when it began.
Suffice it to say, Horror Castle is a wonderful little chiller, something to put on late at night if looking for something to immerse one’s self in. The actors are good and the direction solid and while it might be a little routine at times, it is always entertaining. For horror fans, it is worth seeking out, preferably in the original Italian as the dubbing leaves a little to be desired.
3.5 out of 5