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The opening of this film treats us to Klaus Kinski in twice his usual state
of delirium - thrashing about in a shadowy, cobweb-laden crypt. He's playing
Edgar Allan Poe, and he looks the very embodiment of an absinthe-soaked
poete maudit. His role, alas, turns out to be little more than a glorified
cameo! Still, he sets the tone admirably for the next 90 minutes of
flickering candelabra, ethereal vampire beauties and white muslin curtains
billowing softly by moonlight.
It would be easy to dismiss this movie as a compendium of Gothic horror cliches. Easy but unfair, I feel. Like any other highly stylised art form (Romantic ballet, bel canto opera...) a Gothic tale rests on a set of unreal and perhaps arbitrary conventions. Much of a fan's pleasure depends on how faithfully, how stylishly, these conventions are played out. In truest Gothic horror tradition, Nella Stretta Morsa del Ragno does very little that's new - but does it in grand style!
In a nutshell, the fiendishly deranged Poe inveigles a young journalist (Anthony Franciosa) into spending a night in a creepy old mansion. The family who inhabit this mansion seem to spend all their time dying and coming back to life. The rest of the 'plot' is predictable enough, but Michele Mercier (as the most glamorous ghoul) looks stunning whether dead or undead. Her romantic agonies are offset by Ottavio Scotti's splendid Gothic art direction. If the editing and camerawork look a little choppy at times, I blame the ghastly pan-and-scan job on my video copy.
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
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!
Right after Mario Bava, the late Antonio Margheriti was arguably the
second-greatest Italian Gothic Horror director, his doubtlessly most
ingenious work being the 1964 masterpiece "Danza Macabra" (aka. "Castle
of Blood") starring the one and only Barbara Steele. "Danza Macabra"
easily ranks among the most brilliant and fascinating Gothic Horror
films ever made, and I was therefore sceptical about this "Nella
stretta morsa del ragno" aka. "In the Grip of the Spider" (1971), a
remake which Margheriti made of his own film only seven years later.
While "In the Grip of the Spider" does in no way equal (or even come
close to) the greatness of "Danza Macabra", however, it is nonetheless
an atmospheric, creepy and highly entertaining film that every fellow
fan of Italian Gothic Horror should enjoy.
The storyline is more or less the same as in "Danza Macabra": When interviewing Edgar Allan Poe (Klaus Kinski), a journalist Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa) makes a bet with a sinister count. Foster has to spend a night alone in the count's eerie, presumably haunted mansion. When the first after his arrival is the beautiful Elisabeth Blackwood (Michèle Mercier), Foster does not foresee the horrors that he is about to experience... Anthony Franciosa is always great, most fellow Italian Horror fans will agree that he had his greatest moment in Dario Argento's "Tenebre" (1982); and who would not love a film that begins with the credits: "Klaus Kinski as Edgar Allan Poe"? Michèle Mercier is a beauty, but she is no Barbara Steele. Barbara Steele is my all-time favorite actress and her mere appearance is such an enrichment to all the great Gothic gems she has starred in that a remake with someone else in her role is most likely to disappoint. She is dearly missed in this one, even though Miss Mercier is in no way bad. "Danza Macabra" is one of the most atmospheric and eerily beautiful Horror films ever made. "In the Grip of the Spider" can not compete with the wonderful mood of the original, even though the film is nicely filmed in cool, eerie settings. It really is a blast to see Klaus Kinski play Edgar Allan Poe, however. While the film mostly keeps the storyline of "Danza Macabra", Margheriti added a long opening sequence which consists mainly of Kinski wandering through eerie tombs in search of a grave. Before seeing this, I expected it to be more exploitative than "Danza Macabra", but the film is actually quite low on sleaze and violence. Overall, "In the Grip of the Spider" is nowhere near as brilliant as "Danza Macabra", but it is definitely still atmospheric, creepy and vastly enjoyable Gothic Horror. My fellow Italian Horror buffs can definitely give this a try, but should make sure to see "Danza Macabra" first.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Antonio Margheriti's 1971 remake of his classic "Castle of Blood" has always been criticized for being inferior in every level to it's predecessor. While I do think "Castle of Blood" is a better film, "In the Web of the Spider" does not stand so far behind. Made on a bigger budget than the 1964 version, Margheriti does a good thing by taking a different aesthetic approach than the candle-lit B&W nightmare that is the latter, and instead lighting up the set with a nice range of deep blues and orange gels to show off the more elaborate locations. It also enjoys a better cast than the original, with a highlight being the presence of Klaus Kinski as Edgar Allan Poe. At first glance, he might not seem very right for the role, but he truly nails it in a absolutely maddening performance. They even made his role slightly larger than the original, by adding a superbly creepy introduction scene in a crypt that sets the tone for the rest of the picture. Albeit not as memorable as Barbara Steele, Michele Mercier (the protagonist from the Telephone segment of Mario Bava's "Black Sabbath") is a good replacement and she has great chemistry with Anthony Franciosa (Argento's "Tenebre"), even more so than Steele and Riviere in "Castle...". Also, I found the film to be somewhat more frightening than it's predecessor, specially towards the ending. The best example of which is the scene where Carmus descends into the crypt and coms across a corpse being reanimated. The effects used in the scene are more subtle, but all the more effective in my view. Riz Ortolani's score is rather uneven. There are some memorable tunes, particularly the hauntingly beautiful love theme and the song that plays during the ball sequence, but the rest is a routine and rather distracting orchestra piece intended to create a creepy environment, whereas there are more than a few scenes where I think absolute silence would've made it all the more effective. Still, it doesn't really ruin the picture, and as I've said, it wasn't all bad. The film's major problem is the fact that it's virtually a scene-by-scene remake of the original. Surely, there are some slight improvements, such as the shirtless, hunky ghost that was looked silly in the original is now dressed and more menacing-looking, and the ending is also more subtle and tragic. Still, these elements are only a very small portion of the piece, and while they do make a difference, the whole thing failed to impress me story-wise, because I knew exactly what was going to happen next in every scene. There are no big changes and/or improvements to make it essential viewing for those who have already seen "Castle of Blood", which is a pity really, since it does have some great assets and even surpasses the latter in some ways. Also, where "Castle of Blood" felt provocative and ahead of it's time with it's depiction of sex and lesbianism, "In the Web of the Spider" feels way too restrained and tame, specially for a film that came one year after "The Vampire Lovers", which dealt with some similar themes. The sole 'gore' scene we get to see is in the very end, and is restrained to a brief shot of blood flowing from Franciosa's wound. Mind you, I'm not a gorehoud, nor do I think violence is essential to make a horror film good, but in this case I think it was more than necessary, if only to make it stand out from the original. None of these cons stopped it from being a fun and atmospheric slice of Italian Gothic, but it makes me sad to give it a mere a 7/10. If you're a fan of this type of film and haven't seen "Castle of Blood" yet, I think you might better watch this one first, but otherwise I unfortunately can't go as far as calling it the forgotten gem of continental horror it could have been.
I REALLY like Klaus Kinski. He made some wonderful movies like Aguirre:
Wrath of God, Fitzgaraldo, Android and Nosferatu...so I buy anything
with him in it.
I bought Web of the Spider because of Klaus. Well, you can forget about that. I peered into the darkness of the opening scenes and tried with some difficulty to tell if I was looking at K.K. or not.
At the end of the movie there was more of the same, and most of it could have been left out...plotwise.
I was a little let down, but I stuck with it, and was surprised at the quality of this little gem! It's atmospheric and moody and well done.
I enjoyed my first viewing of it tonight, and I'm looking forward to watching it again.
When Michèle Mercier appears in the sequence when she's still "alive"
and puts on a necklace,it is obvious that the director was thinking of
her "Angelique " character.The scene looks like an outtake of the
Bernard Borderie's saga.
"Nella..." is certainly an underrated work:it does not rely on special effects or on gore and sex is kept to the minimum.Probably influenced by Bava,Margheriti creates fear with his camera ,using elements of the settings ,a mirror for instance.His lead is an earnest thespian,Anthony Franciosa, a former student of the Actor's Studio,not a mediocre amateur as we often meet in European horror movies.Supernatural is smartly introduced and the screenplay is much more elaborated than usually.Many people will disagree but Amenabar's style in "the others" is not that much different,even if that director is infinitely superior to Margheriti."Nella..." was also certainly influenced by Robert Wise's classic "the haunting " (1963!!!) as far as the conclusion is concerned.
Poe's presence (Klaus Kinski) and the fact that the hero's first name is "Allan" do not bring much to the movie.
In spite of the poor rating,I sincerely believe that fantasy and horror buffs won't waste their time if they watch "nella...."
Some people really suck at negotiating business deals. "In the Grip of the Spider" revolves on a guy who accepts a bet to spend the night in a secluded and reputedly haunted castle and if he survives the ordeal, he receives the astonishing, stupendous and exhilarating reward of 10 pounds! Ten pounds?!? Even in the 19th century this probably wasn't even enough to pay the coachman to drive you back to civilization! At least the eccentric Vincent Price offered his guests $10.000 to spend one night in his house on haunted hill; now there's a guy you can do business with! "In the Grip of the Spider" is an accomplishment of the hugely underrated Italian director Antonio Margheriti (better known under his international alias Anthony M. Dawson) and apparently a remake of his very own Gothic horror classic "Castle of Blood" starring Barbara Steele. By doing this Margheriti was far ahead of his time, as it's extremely popular among directors nowadays to remake their own earlier movies. Unfortunately I haven't seen "Castle of Blood" (or at least not yet), so I can't compare, but reliable sources tell me this early 70's version can't hold a candle to the original. This may be so, but I still wouldn't call "In the Grip of the Spider" a bad film especially not if you're a sucker for Gothic atmospheres. Admittedly the storyline is a little flimsy and unspectacular, but the film nevertheless has several things going for it, like the presence of Klaus Kinski (depicting no less than Edgar Allen Poe), lovely luscious ladies and a downright sardonic finale. The American journalist Alan Foster is desperate to get an interview from the notorious novelist Edgar Allen Poe, but he gets more than he bargained for when Poe and his friend challenge him to spend the night at Blackwood castle. Convinced that ghosts and vampires don't exist, Foster accepts and remains alone in the dark and ominous castle. Things start out great for him, as the lucky bastard even has sex with the perplexing beauty who appears out of nowhere. Several more suspicious individuals make their appearance and, through flashback, Alan gradually learns they're all ghosts trapped inside the castle for all eternity. "In the Grip of the Spider" is slightly overlong (110min) and a lot of footage easily could have been cut. There's a lot of ballroom dancing and painting observing going on, which is quite unnecessary and in fact only undermines the atmosphere of Gothic morbidity. The scenes where random characters dwell through the castle's catacombs and stumble upon ancient tombs are irrelevant to the plot at well, but at least they fit the Gothic concept. The rare moments when Kinski appears on screen are sublime even though he doesn't even remotely resemble the real Edgar Allan Poe since there is no other actor more suitable to play a neurotic and lightly inflammable genius than him. Michèle Mercier (as Elizabeth) and Karin Field (as Julia) are both extremely beautiful and sexy starlets, but I'm sort of convinced that Barbara Steele was even better than the two of them combined in the original. I guess I'll have to track that one down as soon as possible. Overall this is a flawed but interesting film, recommend to fans of vintage Italian Goth-horror.
Although I haven't seen CASTLE OF BLOOD, the earlier film version of this movie. I can still say that it was beautifully photographed, and painfully atmospheric. Which is a good thing. I picked this film up in a 20 movie- 10 DVD boxed set titled NIGHTMARES FROM THE CRYPT. From what I hear, this movie was extremely rare to come by. I'm glad to see that it has a new DVD release. I say stop by Sam Goody, pick up the boxed set for $30 and have a horror film weekend with some friends. And be sure to watch this film first, with all the lights off. You'll love it. Now, I'm going to go pick up CASTLE OF BLOOD so I can compare. Have fun!
In comparing this 1971 remake with its 1964 original, one immediately misses the presence of Barbara Steele, although in both titles the 'heroine' only makes her first appearance at the half hour mark. Director Antonio Margheriti must have felt the absence of color in "Castle of Blood," and really adds little else to this new version, with Michele Mercier's Elisabeth fleshed out to some degree, as we see more of her absent husband, barely seen in the original. All the plot elements are virtually identical, right down to the lesbian love scene, resulting in three corpses lying on the floor in roughly two minutes of lustful activity. It was definitely daring in 1964, but here is treated in such timid, predictable fashion that it loses all the bite of the original. The guest filled ball is the one sequence that adds more running time here, 106 minutes over 1964's 89, Elisabeth juggling multiple affairs while her husband is away in America, and both male and female lovers equally jealous to the point of murder. The main weakness in both versions remains the same, a skeptical journalist who doesn't engender audience empathy with his failure to discover what the audience already knows. I would recommend the black and white version with Barbara Steele over the color one, both of which aired twice on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater, between 1976-1982.
Like others i was drawn to this initially because of the presence of Klaus Kinski but unfortunately he only features at the beginning and end. Gives it his all, mind you, perhaps because he has the role of Edgar Allan Poe. Bit too energetically at one point for the flimsy set, where he is bashing away at the grave and we see the headstone bouncing up and down. Otherwise it is Anthony Franciosa who ha to carry much of this, speaking to himself much of the time. Things brighten up when Michele Mercier materialises and even more when another beauty, Karin Field emerges from the depths of this haunted house that is the setting for the entire film. Rather bloodless but occasionally effective and the director seems determined to manage without exposing the young ladies. Ms Mercier was an actress of some standing who became typecast as Angelique so perhaps her hands were tied but there was no excuse for Karin Field whose character tries several times here to seduce her. Field had appeared in a blatant German sex film the same year as well as several Franco films including The Demons and fairly explicit lesbian sex scenes were a speciality. Anyway, here, no blood and hardly any sex means the cast, variously appearing and disappearing have a quite a task in keeping us interested. Sets are OK but little special effects apart from a particularly effective sequences were dry ice is allowed to drop down a stone cellar staircase.
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