Updated: Jan 7
With its plot happening within the span of a couple days, much of Horror Castle, aka The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963), plays like one of those movies that’s supposed to unfold in real time. Counterintuitively, when you think that should make a film more suspenseful, it really just drags it out. If not for its terrific climax, I wouldn’t have been very fond of the pace.
There’s no doubt it drips with atmosphere. When Mary Hunter wakes up hearing moans, there’s also thunder and lightning. She uses a candle to navigate the dark hallways. Wind blows open the windows, curtains billowing inside. She enters the “museum” (torture chamber), bumps into a cage, and it spins around to reveal a skeleton.
The problem is that this pre-credits sequence burns nearly six minutes of an 84-minute film. It felt too long and drawn out to me. The same type of sequence occurs a couple other times, I assume because of the threadbare story. This doesn’t have a complicated set-up like The Whip & the Body. It’s barely enough upon which to build a movie.
On the other hand, I must give it credit for not force-feeding us everything up front. Director Antonio Margheriti tosses a few morsels our way along the way, but with a simple, three-phase approach. First, there’s someone in the house (castle.) Second, this someone may be a ghost or actual resurrected torturer from the past. Third, we learn the truth. There’s nothing else to it.
If we’re paying attention, we may discover some crumbs about Mary and her husband, Max (Georges Riviere.) The creepy characters of Erich (Christopher Lee) and Martha (Laura Nucci) make so few appearances, they don’t even qualify to be red herrings. The Hunters have just returned from a trip to Germany. If we were told why, I missed it.
Then there’s that climax! The slower first part was actually a snowball just getting started rolling. The pace increases, but with the final extended sequence of people wandering through the castle, we now know enough about what’s going on to care. The big reveal is indeed shocking, if not in the identity of the “monster,” then in its appearance.
I do like Horror Castle, but I’d have to be wide awake to watch it again... maybe on a rainy afternoon when my environment can be part of the mood it sets. The last third of the film almost made me forget how long it felt like it took to get there. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to make the journey again.
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, Edmond T. Greville, Antonio Margheriti
From the novel The Virgen of Nurimberg by Frank Bogart
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Rossana Podesta, Georges Riviere, Christopher Lee, Laura Nucci
RT 84 min.
Released Aug. 15, 1963 (Italy), Jan. 10, 1965 (US)
Home Video streaming on Amazon Prime
Rating 6 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)