... aka: El grito (The Scream)
... aka: Exorcism Mansion
... aka: Mansion of Mist, The
... aka: Murder Mansion, The
... aka: Quando Marta urlò dalla tomba (When Marta Screamed from the Grave)
F. (Francisco) Lara Polop
Various people are traveling through the country. There's motorcyclist Fred (Andrés Resino), who gets into a dick swinging contest with sports car driver Mr. Foster (Franco Fantasia), which starts out with a race and is followed by a game of "Who gets the sexy hitchhiker?" when they spot the miniskirt-clad redhead Laura (the gorgeous Lisa Leonardi) standing by the road. With his cool and less sex predator-y approach, Fred ends up with the girl on the back of his bike. Then there's Mr. Tremont (Eduardo Fajardo), a calculating and thoroughly amoral lawyer who married his former partner's wife (Yelena Samarina) to get full control of their business. The obscenely wealthy and business-focused, yet mentally fragile, Elsa (Analía Gadé) has yet to fully get over the death of her beloved father and is stuck with a two-timing husband who's only with her for her money. Most of the above end up having problems while venturing down an old country road late at night. Due to an extremely thick fog bank and confusing roadways, they lose their bearings, vehicles are wrecked and they all end up at a spooky, seemingly-abandoned old mansion for the night.
Everyone is greeted by the mysterious Martha Clinton ("Evelyn Stewart" / Ida Galli), who had been bicycling through the area when the impenetrable fog rolled in. Instead of a warm welcome, Martha, who claims to own the home, fills everyone's heads with spooky stories about the area they're currently stranded in. According to legend, years earlier a mysterious epidemic killed off most of the people in the now abandoned village. Victims were found with neck wounds and drained of blood, which fueled rumors that there were vampires on the loose. Martha then adds her eccentric late aunt Julie, whose looming portrait still hangs above the fireplace, was a witch and that she had her head crushed in a car accident that also claimed the life of her hulking chauffeur.
Spectral figures matching the exact descriptions provided by Martha had already been seen prior to the guest's arrival. While trying to flag down help, Fred was almost run over by a Rolls Royce (just like one the aunt owned) and Elsa had spotted what looked like an old woman and a mangled chauffeur in the cemetery. That, along with Satanic artwork hanging all over the walls and Martha curiously forbidding anyone from going into the cellar (where loud noises that she claims are rats are heard), puts everyone on edge as they settle into their bedrooms for the night.
We learn a little more about a few of the characters. Fred and Laura aren't sticklers for waiting for that second date, while Mr. Porter is a drunken criminal with a weak heart. Mostly, however, it's all about the neurotic Elsa and her endless flashbacks.
Elsa's father (George Rigaud) was a womanizing, rich old codger who liked boning Elsa's college-aged peers. She even insinuates her father would be more than willing to go even younger than that if given the chance! Apparently suffering from some kind of weird, incestuous psychosexual disorder that would confuse Freud, the jealous Elsa decided to get back at daddy (after catching him screwing one of her friends in a car) by giving her virginity to the no good Ernest (Alberto Dalbés). That led to her current unhappy marriage; a passionless, sexless union that has driven Ernest into the arms of busty blonde Ellen (Ingrid Garbo). As for her father's passing, well, rumor has it he died of a heart attack WHILE having sex with one of her friends, which lead to a huge scandal around town. Because of all that, Elsa is extremely frigid. It's even hinted that she may actually be a closet lesbian, something Martha, who slips into her bed and makes a thinly-veiled pass at her, is interested in finding out.
The ghosts of both the elderly aunt and her chauffeur show up to terrorize the cast and start killing them off. Someone is literally scared to death, a dangling body is found in the cellar with a hook piercing the skull, a levitating severed head flies out of a closet and there are other spooky shenanigans. However, there's more to the story than meets the eye and not all is what it appears to be, with a number of twists and turns delivered in the final act.
This Italian / Spanish co-production has unfortunately been frequently (and wrongly) categorized as a giallo in recent years, which has resulted in some unfortunate, though not too surprising, backlash. (See also: CHRISTMAS EVIL). Just like slasher movie fans, many giallo fans have certain expectations for their beloved genre and this Gothic old dark house mystery won't be checking all of those boxes. For starters, exploitation elements are at a minimum here. There's a bit of blood but not a whole lot and this doesn't feature a stitch of nudity (the director seems content with bare female backs); something quite surprising for a European genre film from this time. That said, one's dashed expectations aren't a slight on the film itself, which isn't bad at all if taken for what it was intended to be.
The acting is pretty solid across the board, with Galli (well-used for a change) and Gadé in the showiest and most emotionally-charged role (the 40+ year old is even forced to unconvincingly play the teen version of her character in a bad bobbed wig!) being the standouts. The plot may be silly at times but it's really no more preposterous than many other mystery films. The best aspect is undoubtedly the great horror atmosphere achieved here. We get cemeteries and forests filled with thick fog, a series of dark catacombs extending from a cellar to underneath a graveyard and some great art direction inside the old mansion. The outdoor scenes in the cemetery and around the home were obviously filmed on sets, but it works really here as a throwback to those classic black-and-white "old dark house" studio films this appears to intentionally be trying to emulate. Marcello Giombini contributes a very good score (especially the opening theme) and the photography from Guglielmo Mancori is also excellent.
Being light on gore and sex even in its uncut, 86-minute form, this was the ideal chiller to run on late night American television in the 70s. It was sold as part of a TV syndication package by AVCO-Embassy, which is where most older viewers first saw it. That same scraggly-looking, too dark and slightly trimmed 16mm TV version (which runs about 83 minutes) was later used as the source print for most of the subsequent home video releases. This title (considered public domain, though I don't know if that was technically true or not) was well-serviced on VHS over the years by companies like Charter, Unicorn, Sinister Cinema and Something Weird, followed by its inclusion in a zillion different budget DVD box sets distributed by companies like Brentwood and Mill Creek.
One of those budget sets (I think it was called "50 Chilling Classics") is where I first saw this many years ago and, let me tell you, the restored Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome (released in 2021) will be a visual revelation to those who are only accustomed to that overexposed public domain print. Vinegar Syndrome have included it in the box set "Forgotten Gialli Volume 3," which also includes Autopsy (1975) and Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1977). Their release comes with a 20-minute interview with Galli titled Lady of the Mansion.