... aka: Le manoir maudit (The Cursed Mansion)
... aka: Metempsycose
... aka: Tomb of Torture
"Anthony Kristye" (Antonio Boccaci)
Due to the international success of Hammer's takes on Dracula and Frankenstein as well as BLACK SUNDAY a few years later, there was a mini-Gothic horror revival in Italy in the 60s. This is one of the least-viewed of dozens of those... a fate pretty much deserved. Things begin when schoolgirls Esther (Emy Eco) and Cathy (“Terry Thompson”) decide to sneak into a crumbling old castle where the beautiful Countess Irene disappeared 20 years earlier. No one has seen her since. She was set to marry her fiance Rahman beforehand; a unfulfilled union rumored to have driven Rahman mad over the years. The girls run into the castle's stern, bitchy caretaker, Countess Elizabeth (“Elizabeth Queen” / Flora Carosello), who promptly tells them to get the hell out. Before that can happen they run into a bearded, deformed hunchback with a nervous laugh who makes short work of them in his torture chamber. Their nude bodies are later discovered discarded in a field.
Dr. Darnell (“Thony Maky” / Adriano Micantoni) arrives in town with his troubled daughter Anna (Annie Alberti), who happens to look exactly like the missing Countess Irene. Because she's been plagued by nightmares of the death of Irene, her father hopes actually staying in the castle will cure her. I'm not sure how that's supposed to work but seeing how the doctor later tells a concerned policeman to get “a good enema” he likely doesn't put much thought into such matters. Their first day there, Anna sees a ghost in the mirror and passes out. That leads to a nightmare involving a talking skeleton, a werewolf-like creature, a zombie and a walking suit of armor that chops a guy up with its sword and shoots her in the stomach with an arrow. The director (as “William Gray”) wears dark face paint, a turban and a continuously expressionless look playing the Indian Rahman, who's been obsessed with finding Irene's remains since her disappearance and warns the doctor to get out while the getting is good.
Reporter George Dickson (“Mark Marian” / Marco Mariani) is headed to the village to do a story on the two murdered girls when his car overheats. When he goes down to the lake for some water for his radiator he's just in time to get an eye full of Anna skinny dipping. Despite that awkward first meeting, the two are soon flirting and, in just their second scene together, are already discussing marriage! Elizabeth, the current owner of the old castle who loves it so much she lives elsewhere, shows up speaking of a hidden treasure in jewels somewhere on the grounds and tries to scare Anna (“They're going to kill you! They're going to KILL YOU!”) It's also revealed that Rahman was romantically involved with Elizabeth two decades earlier but cast her aside once Irene entered the picture. And Elizabeth is still bitter about it.
Meanwhile, Hugo the droopy-eyed hunchback is lurking in a hidden torture dungeon only accessible through one of two hidden passageways that even Rahmad hasn't discovered in twenty years time. Someone wearing a suit of armor and speaking in a deep female voice (gee, wonder who that could be?) encourages him to kill the intruders. Eventually, Anna is entranced, lured to the dungeon and is tied up while George and Rahman attempt to come to her rescue. It must have been a real blow to their egos that they then get schooled in how to defeat bad guys by the two guinea pigs who've been posing as rats throughout the film.
This has all the expected trappings of a good old Gothic horror film. There's a picturesque shooting location, a great castle, good art direction, passable period detail (it's set in 1910), decent black-and-white photography, atmospheric lighting, a dusty dungeon, secret passageways, effective makeups on a variety of ghouls and more. What really drags this down is its boring slog of a midsection where nothing of interest occurs, unless you count annoyingly neurotic characters spewing abominably bad dubbed dialogue as interesting. I actually thought I was going to rate this even lower but the last 20 minutes finally provide some much-needed tension and suspense.
Aside from the actress playing Elizabeth and the unknown playing the hunchback, the cast is dull and really make one look at what charismatic actors like Barbara Steele, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price brought to similar films with a new appreciation.
The distribution rights for this were acquired by Richard Gordon. He had it English dubbed and then released theatrically in the U.S. in 1966, where it often (but not always) played on a double bill with the West German / Yugoslavian film Cave of the Living Dead (1964). Image acquired both titles for DVD release in 2000.