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A beautiful young woman travels to a remote estate to seek employment as a biochemist for Baron Janos Dalmar. She finds herself attracted to him, so immerses herself in her work to suppress her lusty desires. A rash of rather brutal murders occurs in the area and she soon discovers that the Baron is not what he seems. Not long thereafter, the Baron transforms into a demon, and the beautiful young woman becomes his very own love slave. Written by
Blood Castle (aka Scream of the Demon Lover, Altar of Blood, Ivanna--the best, but least exploitation cinema-sounding title, and so on) is a very traditional Gothic Romance film. That means that it has big, creepy castles, a headstrong young woman, a mysterious older man, hints of horror and the supernatural, and romance elements in the contemporary sense of that genre term. It also means that it is very deliberately paced, and that the film will work best for horror mavens who are big fans of understatement. If you love films like Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963), but you also have a taste for late 1960s/early 1970s Spanish and Italian horror, you may love Blood Castle, as well.
Baron Janos Dalmar (Carlos Quiney) lives in a large castle on the outskirts of a traditional, unspecified European village. The locals fear him because legend has it that whenever he beds a woman, she soon after ends up dead--the consensus is that he sets his ferocious dogs on them. This is quite a problem because the Baron has a very healthy appetite for women. At the beginning of the film, yet another woman has turned up dead and mutilated.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ivanna Rakowsky (Erna Schürer) has appeared in the center of the village, asking to be taken to Baron Dalmar's castle. She's an out-of-towner who has been hired by the Baron for her expertise in chemistry. Of course, no one wants to go near the castle. Finally, Ivanna finds a shady individual (who becomes even shadier) to take her. Once there, an odd woman who lives in the castle, Olga (Cristiana Galloni), rejects Ivanna and says that she shouldn't be there since she's a woman. Baron Dalmar vacillates over whether she should stay. She ends up staying, but somewhat reluctantly. The Baron has hired her to try to reverse the effects of severe burns, which the Baron's brother, Igor, is suffering from.
Unfortunately, the Baron's brother appears to be just a lump of decomposing flesh in a vat of bizarre, blackish liquid. And furthermore, Ivanna is having bizarre, hallucinatory dreams. Just what is going on at the castle? Is the Baron responsible for the crimes? Is he insane?
I wanted to like Blood Castle more than I did. As I mentioned, the film is very deliberate in its pacing, and most of it is very understated. I can go either way on material like that. I don't care for The Haunting (yes, I'm in a very small minority there), but I'm a big fan of 1960s and 1970s European horror. One of my favorite directors is Mario Bava. I also love Dario Argento's work from that period. But occasionally, Blood Castle moved a bit too slow for me at times. There are large chunks that amount to scenes of not very exciting talking alternated with scenes of Ivanna slowly walking the corridors of the castle.
But the atmosphere of the film is decent. Director José Luis Merino managed more than passable sets and locations, and they're shot fairly well by Emanuele Di Cola. However, Blood Castle feels relatively low budget, and this is a Roger Corman-produced film, after all (which usually means a low-budget, though often surprisingly high quality "quickie"). So while there is a hint of the lushness of Bava's colors and complex set decoration, everything is much more minimalist. Of course, it doesn't help that the Retromedia print I watched looks like a 30-year old photograph that's been left out in the sun too long. It appears "washed out", with compromised contrast.
Still, Merino and Di Cola occasionally set up fantastic visuals. For example, a scene of Ivanna walking in a darkened hallway that's shot from an exaggerated angle, and where an important plot element is revealed through shadows on a wall only. There are also a couple Ingmar Bergmanesque shots, where actors are exquisitely blocked to imply complex relationships, besides just being visually attractive and pulling your eye deep into the frame.
The performances are fairly good, and the women--especially Schürer--are very attractive. Merino exploits this fact by incorporating a decent amount of nudity. Schürer went on to do a number of films that were as much soft corn porn as they were other genres, with English titles such as Sex Life in a Woman's Prison (1974), Naked and Lustful (1974), Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) and Erotic Exploits of a Sexy Seducer (1977). Blood Castle is much tamer, but in addition to the nudity, there are still mild scenes suggesting rape and bondage, and of course the scenes mixing sex and death.
The primary attraction here, though, is probably the story, which is much a slow-burning romance as anything else. The horror elements, the mystery elements, and a somewhat unexpected twist near the end are bonuses, but in the end, Blood Castle is a love story, about a couple overcoming various difficulties and antagonisms (often with physical threats or harms) to be together.
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