Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

La vendetta di Lady Morgan (1965)

... aka: Folterhaus Der Lady Morgan
... aka: Vendetta of Lady Morgan, The

Directed by:
Massimo Pupillo

As a fan of Gothic Euro horrors from the 60s and as a fan of several people in the cast, I really wanted to check out this extremely hard to find film, which for a long time was presumed to be lost. Unfortunately I had to settle for watching a washed-out looking, green-tinted, too-dark TV dupe from many years ago. I'm not sure if this has been released in other countries, but there's no R1 DVD, nor was it ever officially released to video. The print I saw was also only in Italian with no subs, and since I don't speak Italian, I had to try to make sense out of the plot the best I could. Thankfully, it's not too hard to follow along since this uses a similar old-dark-house horror template that was popular during this time. It's full of the expected lecherous, immortal men and women who populate Gothic horror of the time. It also has all of the plot and visual elements one may expect - backstabbing, adultery, false allegiances, creaking doors, fog, long dark hallways, thunderstorms and ultimately, revenge enacted on those who certainly have it coming. VENDETTA was one of three such horror-thrillers directed by Massimo Pupillo (under the name "Max Hunter") that same year. The other two were the exploitation favorite THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR and 5 TOMBE PER UN MEDIUM (released as TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE here in the U.S.) This one isn't the best of its type, but it's certainly not the worst I've seen either.

Susan Elaine Blackhouse (Barbara Nelli) and her lover Pierre Brissac (Michel Forain) plan to be married but a shadowy figure in a cape knocks out Pierre and pushes his unconscious body off the side of a boat, where it's presumed he drowned. Heartbroken, Susan reluctantly agrees to an arranged marriage to Sir Harold Morgan (Paul Muller) and goes to live in his mansion home with him and several servants. She goes away with her father on a trip and when she returns she discovers her favorite servant Josef is missing but in his place is a mysterious and sinister new housekeeper named Lilian (Erika Blanc). Also staying in the home are Roger (top-billed Gordon Mitchell), a butler and Harold's right-hand-man, and Terry (Edith MacGoven), an obedient maid. Strange things begin happening soon after Susan arrives. She starts hearing Lilian's voice calling to her at night. She's awoken from her sleep and when she tries to leave her room discovers the door is locked and she can't get out. Freshly poured wine disappears from a glass. A snake appears in her bed. She hears a man's screams in the night. She also walks down to the cellar and thinks she sees Roger whipping the chained up missing servant Josef. Is Susan cracking up or are some of the characters conspiring against her?

As is customary with this type of film, it turns out to be the latter. Harold and Lilian are actually lovers and are plotting to do away with young, innocent Susan. Since I couldn't make out the dialogue I have to assume it was for money since that's usually the case. Anyway, the voices Susan hears are indeed coming from Lilian, who uses a hidden intercom device to send her sinister voice into Susan's bedroom to manipulate her actions and thoughts. Lilian is also adept at hypnosis and manages to get a sleepwalking Susan to follow her through a stairwell up to the rooftop, where she plunges to her death. All the while, Susan's former lover Pierre turns out to be alive in a hospital suffering from amnesia. The minute Susan hits the ground he snaps out of his condition and starts remembering his former life and former love. He goes to the home to try to locate Susan and comes into contact with her ghost. Then comes the revenge portion...

Back at the Morgan Manor, Harold, Lilian, Roger and Terry start getting the ghost haunting treatment as candles blow out or light themselves, doors creak open and shut, wine turns to water, water turns to blood, furniture tips over, the urn holding Susan's ashes smolders and explodes and clouds of smoke puff out of the floorboards. The four evil-doers then start panicking and turn on each other. When Roger thinks he's stabbing a ghost behind a curtain, he's actually stabbing and killing Terry. Susan's ghost leaves a pair of Roger's shoes by Lilian's bedside to let Harold in on the fact Lilian and Roger are secretly lovers. Angered, Harold snaps and strangles Lilian to death. Harold and Roger then promptly get into a fight that leads up to the roof, where Harold falls to his death. When Roger goes to leave he's trampled to death by a white horse controlled by Susan that kicks his face until it's a bloody mess. And then things get even stranger as the ghosts of all four evildoers appear as blood-sucking phantoms, who at one point start lapping blood up off the floor. Can Pierre manage to get out of this sticky situation?

It's a decent film of its genre, even though it's slow moving and gets rather ridiculous and overblown at the end. Primarily set-bound, there are a few decent atmospheric shots of horses galloping through fog, close-ups of glistening water, Blanc holding a candle and leading Nelli up a long staircase and some other touches Gothic horror lovers will appreciate, though they'd no doubt look much better on a restored print (if we ever get one). There's a romantic, if sometimes overbearing, music score provided by Peter O'Milian (if that's not an alias). The major plus here it he casting. Nelli is fairly good (and lovely) as the lady-in-peril, Muller (playing a role somewhat similar to his part in NIGHTMARE CASTLE) does his sleazy character justice as he always does and Mitchell is also good, if a little over-the-top. The standout here though it really Blanc, who's perfect as the nasty seductress Lilian. She frequently gets to chastises the staff ("Stupida!"... "Idiota!") and gives off some wonderfully sinister facial expressions throughout.


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