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The journalist Alan Foster makes a bet than he can spend one night at the haunted Blackwood Castle. As he learns, the rumors of ghosts at the castle are indeed true. On All Soul's Eve the ghosts of the castle search for blood to tide them over for another year. In the castle Foster meet and fall in love with Elizabeth Blackwood. Written by
I recently found myself an original Italian widescreen print of this film that is gorgeous, and helps explain some of the negative user comments about it. Nella stretta morsa del ragno, as I have been taught to call it, is more than just a technicolor revisitation of Antonio Marghetti's CASTLE OF BLOOD. The problem is that he tried to make it much too more -- to explore the period detail in particular -- and in doing so the focus of the film became muddled.
One of the aspects that made CASTLE OF BLOOD so remarkable was Marghetti's use of light and dark in such a calculated manner -- whenever Alan Foster strikes a match or lights a candle, it is an EVENT within the framework of the shot. In NELLA STRETTA, candles and matches become props to be carried around by characters to establish the sense of place & setting.
Marghetti's greatest miscalculation, though, was in lighting his sets to show off the rich, exquisite detail his larger budget could afford. The result is a series of events that look like they were filmed on a movie set, not a nightmare playing out in front of our eyes in living black and white. On that plane of reasoning, NELLA STRETTA has more in common with Marghetti's VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG with Christopher Lee, which is all about color picture texture and the musical score. NELLA STRETTA also amps up the music, with a Robert Fripp-ish atonal guitar riff that pops up whenever something weird is about to happen. The film this becomes almost formulaic, and the suspense generated in CASTLE OF BLOOD becomes more of a slog to get to the good parts.
And there is one really, REALLY good part: I still remember it scaring me so much as a kid I refused to go into our basement for weeks afterwards ... It is the segment when Dr. Carmus takes his little trip down into the Blackwood family crypt and finds something that should probably have best gone undisturbed.
'Tis a pity, though, that an adventurous company like Blue Underground or Anchor Bay Entertainment doesn't resurrect and "restore" this bizarre, flawed but interesting bit of Eurohorror; With his widescreen shot compositions and color schemes intact, the Italian cut I found not only runs circles around the prints turning up on the Brentwood and Diamond DVD sets, but it does away with the "another film where every shot is a closeup" charge -- those closeups are the result of a widescreen image being chopped, reformatted and blown up to play back on television sets. And, as is evident in the latest DVD release by Diamond, some of the distributors looped, slowed down or even froze individual frames to cover up what little graphic luridness that Marghetti used and was deemed unacceptable.
Yet right there we come to the meat of the thesis on why NELLA STRETTA MORSA DEL RAGNO will always be looked upon as less than a success -- it is too tame for the time period it was made in. The Italian print does include some very brief nudity and, like the Synapse DVD release of CASTLE OF BLOOD, spends more time establishing the illicit lesbian relationship between Elizabeth and Julia ... But it's nothing too thrilling, and by today's standards the whole affair has the shock effect of a good DARK SHADOWS episode.
Yet it is worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of atmospheric 1970's period Eurohorror with a touch of the erotic. Timeless Video's VHS runs 94 minutes but has really awful color rot to the print. Brentwood's print from the CIRCUS OF DEATH and TALES OF TERROR box sets runs about 96 minutes and looks a bit better, but not much. For the present, the version to go with for US buyers is to be found on Diamond's double bill DVD with CIRCUS OF FEAR, runs about 98 minutes, has a somewhat richer color range and much better quality audio, and for it's budget line price you really can't beat it.
I give WEB OF THE SPIDER/NELLA STRETTA MORSA DEL RAGNO *** out of ****, but only because I have a soft spot for it, and still feel the hair rise up on my neck whenever Dr. Carmus lights his candle and goes looking for that breathing sound .... shiver!
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