Zombos Says: Very Good
"More hot chocolate please," I said to Chef Machiavelli.
He put down the large and very sharp looking knife he was using to fillet the eel for his incredible eel livornese and refilled my cup. His hot chocolate is exquisite; filled with little lumps of white vanilla, a little anisette, and lots of dark, sweet chocolate. It's the perfect warmer-upper. I was sitting in the kitchen waiting for the plumber to find the problem with our recalcitrant boiler. He was sure taking his time.
"I will take a cup, too," said Zombos joining us to bask in the warmth coming from the brick oven. "I wonder what's taking the plumber so long."
"You did give him the map?" I asked.
"Yes, of course. I do not want to lose another plumber down there. They are skittish as it is. Lucky for us this fellow is new." He sipped his hot chocolate.
It was so hard trying to get plumbers to come out to the mansion; even harder keeping them once they saw our basement. The labyrinthine passages and rooms below us would give even Erik, the poor suffering Phantom of the Paris Opera, a run for his money.
While we waited, I looked at the long, gleaming knife Chef Machiavelli was using. I found it fascinating that a sharp implement can slice through atoms and molecules, severing their tenuous connections so easily—and the whole concept of self-sharpening was beyond me.
"How is the time doing?" asked Zombos.
We looked at our watches.
"Merda!" cursed Chef Machiavelli. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his eel-skin wallet. He handed Zombos five dollars.
"I'm still good," I said as Zombos tucked the fiver into his shirt pocket with a grin.
"We will see about that," he said.
We had placed bets on when the plumber would be done and Chef Machiavelli's chosen time had passed. I was still on target, though. I crossed my fingers. I really hate losing a bet to Zombos: he was rich enough.
"This wagering reminds me of that horror movie, Castle of Blood, where the journalist bets he can stay in a haunted castle for the night," I said.
"I remember that movie." Zombos sipped his hot chocolate. "Barbara Steele is in it."
"Yes, and gamboling fog as the journalist enters the Poor Devil Inn—how apropos," I continued. "When he comes upon the table where Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli) and the owner of the haunted castle are discussing the reality of the supernatural, he can't help but listen and take the wager of staying overnight in that place where no one has survived the stay. Soon they're off to the castle and the journalist's misadventure with the undead begins."
Early Italian supernatural horror movies are often atmospheric and filled with dread, from the music to the melodramatic storyline, and Antonio Margheritti directs Castle of Blood with classic Gothic imagery in vivid black and white to increase the menace.
Arriving at the castle, the stalwart journalist Alan Foster (Georges Riviére), a man of reason and science, is about to have his wits reshuffled. Bad enough he has to spend a night in a decaying castle on All Soul's Eve, but after pushing his way through the tall wrought iron gate, he has to walk through an overgrown and fog-filled cemetery to make his way to the castle entrance.
What the hell is that black cat doing jumping in between the tombstones?
Playful black cats in cemeteries in the dead of night are always unsettling. The movie hasn't kicked quite into gear yet and already my pants would be flying through the air and out the gate--with me in them.
Foster continues onward and pokes around in the empty horse stable for a few minutes. Riz Ortolani's music rises and falls in strident tones from somber, foreboding strings as Foster methodically makes his way through the cemetery, the stable, and eventually into the castle. In this opening sequence, the Gothic images of death, bad luck, and wind-tossed barren tree branches merge into a dark, spook show chiaroscuro.
Ignoring all these dire portents, he finds a taper, lights it, and boldly proceeds up the front steps into the dark recesses of the castle. Doffing his cape and lighting candles, he begins to explore. The absence of music as he walks through the rooms allows his footsteps to be heard, accentuating his aloneness.
Suddenly the grandmother clock—its pendulum unmoving—chimes the half-hour before midnight. He goes to investigate and is puzzled to find no movement or ticking sound from the clock. The sounds of a party coming from the other room draw his attention, but he finds only an empty room with a dust-covered clavichord. He lights more candles. Yeah, I'd light more candles, too, at this point.
He tickles the keys on the clavichord. Why does everyone in a haunted house or spooky castle movie always insist on playing the cobwebbed piano or organ, or clavichord in this case, after some phantom melody plays? Elizabeth’s (Barbara Steele) hand on his shoulder startles him. Here begins the true art of the Italian ghost story movie: the soap-opera relationships and bawdy entanglements leading to sinister and tragic events.
She tells him about her brother, the man he wagered with, and why her brother does it—to make sure she has a companion for one night out of the year. She, apparently, is "looking for happiness with the man I love." Foster falls for her seductive charms hook, line, and sinker, then Julia (Margarete Robsahm) shows up. The women start fighting over him, so he retires to a bedroom, wondering at his newfound popularity with dead women.
Of course, he doesn't know they're dead until Elizabeth sneaks into his room and they start kissing passionately while Julia steams outside, listening to their ardor. When Foster can't find a heartbeat, Elizabeth let's him in on the secret: she's dead and has been for ten years. Before it all registers, Herbert, the strapping beefcake stable boy barges in and stabs Elizabeth to death. Foster whips out his pistol (shame on you for thinking that!) and shoots Herbert dead. The stiff upper lip of the journalist finally starts to tremble as he blinks and finds himself alone again, with no bodies sprawled on the bedroom floor. Frantically searching for Elizabeth he runs into Doctor Carmus (Arturo Dominici).
Carmus tells Foster about death and dying and the restless spirits of the castle: Elizabeth, Julia and Herbert. We and Foster see events replay themselves, revealing the macabre dance of death that has doomed the castle's over-heated ghosts to walk its empty hallways for one night every year.
Now take a deep breath. Ready? Here we go.
Herbert and Elizabeth had a love affair going on while Elizabeth's husband was away. When he returned, she told Herbert they couldn’t see each other anymore. He gets mad and tries to murder Elizabeth and her husband while they're making love. Julia barges in and murders him before he can kill Elizabeth. With two male bodies on the floor, Julia puts the moves on Elizabeth, prompting Elizabeth, who’s also been doing a little dallying with Julia, to end that relationship abruptly. Three bodies are now sprawled on the floor, but there’s still one more to go.
Doctor Carmus tells Foster he must escape before the sun rises, otherwise the dead in the castle will feast on his "fountain" of blood so they can spend another night viva la dead loco. Elizabeth, who started this whole mess, wants to help him escape. She rushes to Foster's side as the others try to trap him in Herbert's crypt, with the deadly ghosts appearing from mist entering through the gap between the locked crypt door and the floor. Will Foster escape? I wouldn’t bet on it if I were you.
"I say," said Zombos, "it is getting rather late. We better go find that plumber and make sure he has not gotten himself lost."
We grabbed flashlights from the cupboard. The basement lighting was terrible in some spots. Chef Machiavelli grabbed his biggest, sharpest knife.
"What's that for?" I asked.
"Molti ratti," he replied, swinging the knife up and down.
Zombos looked at me. We looked at Chef Machiavelli.
"You go first," we said together.
Love your reviews! They bring those classic horrors back to life. They certainly dont make them like that anymore.
Posted by: Trixie | March 25, 2007 at 07:53 PM