Plot: will the old De Blancheville family curse claim another victim?
The Blancheville Monster isn’t a direct Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, instead it weaves together plot elements from Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, A Tale Of Ragged Mountains, Some Words With A Mummy while thematically borrowing from The Premature Burial. The Blancheville Monster isn’t a gothic horror classic as infinitely superior genre pieces as the Barbara Steele monochrome chillers Castle Of Blood (1964) or Nightmare Castle (1965). Instead it is something of a glacially paced portentous potboiler that is redeemed by its thick cobwebbed, decayed atmosphere. Doomed to be a footnote in the annals of gothic horror history were it not that the principal players of The Blancheville Monster are Gérard Tichy and Helga Liné in her first major role. If one were to look at the beginning of kitschy gothic horror pulp The Blancheville Monster is a good place to begin, although the dynamic duo of Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), both with Walter Brandi as the bloodsucker, truly started it all.
In late 19th century Brittanny, in northern France, comely blonde Emilie De Blancheville (Ombretta Colli, as Joan Hills), evidently the scion of an unspecified aristocracy, returns to her ancestral home a week before her 21st birthday. Coming along are her best friend Alice Taylor (Irán Eory), whom she met while in college in America, and her brother John (Vanni Materassi, as Richard Davis). In the interim while Emilie was away in college her father died in a fire and since then the day-to-day business of the castle has been handled by her brother Rodéric De Blancheville (Gérard Tichy). Rodéric has replaced all of the house staff with new servants. Emilie is almost immediately creeped out by stern and icy-looking housekeeper Miss Eleonore (Helga Liné) and butler Alistair (Paco Morán, as Frank Moran). The family physician, who has loyally treated three generations of De Blancheville, has been replaced by strapping young practitioner Dr. LaRouche (Leo Anchóriz).
During dinner the guests are intrigued by strange noises emitting through the castle. Rodéric assures the visitors that it are merely the guard dogs. Later that night Alice awakes from sleep and strolls through the castle bowels only to stumble upon Miss Eleonore whipping and syringing a wailing, disfigured “monster”. Overcome by the horror she witnessed Alice passes out, only to awaken back in her bed and is told that everything she saw was a mere dream. The incident forces Rodéric to gather his houseguests and to come clean about the strange things happening in the castle. As it turns out their father wasn’t killed in a fire, but he was severely burnt and disfigured – an affliction that turned him into a grotesque maniac in constant need of heavy sedation. The old De Blancheville patriarch escaped into the nearby woods since Alice’s nocturnal interruption and now The Blancheville Monster is said to be prowling the castle surroundings.
On the family tomb a prophecy is carved. According to the carvings the De Blancheville bloodline will end this generation, when its latest female descendant reaches the age of 21. Her father, now reduced to a grotesque madman, believes the prophecy will be fulfilled. A search party is mounted but the extended search of the woods proves futile. That night The Blancheville Monster pays Emilie a bedroom visit leading her to the family tomb while under hypnosis. Both Alistair and Dr. LaRouche saw Emilie leave the castle and decide to follow her to the family crypt, all of which is enough to scare The Blancheville Monster back into hiding. The next day Emilie wakes up in a muddy nightgown, disoriented and with no recollection of the previous night, which quickly results into fainting spells and her eventual spiral into depression. Believed to have expired the family inters Emilie in one of the family crypts. Alice and her brother John have their doubts about Emilie’s passing and decide to conduct their own investigation into the mysteries that hide in the castle’s towers, the blackcaped shadow that stalks the abandoned hallways and how much of the De Blancheville curse is actually true.
Outside of Helga Liné - a German former model and contortionist that debuted in 1941 and played her first role of note here - there aren’t a lot of familiar faces. Ombretta Colli was a fixture in peplum and science fiction. Like so many starlets of the day Colli became a singer after her tenure in cinema had ended. She eventually graduated into politics. In 1999 Colli was elected president of the Centre-Right Forza Italia party in the province of Milano. Irán Eory, who is of Iranian descent, won a beauty pageant in Monaco before picking up acting in continental Europe and Mexico. Upon emigrating to Mexico Eory became a singer and later theater producer. Earlier in the decade Gérard Tichy was in respectable productions as King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961) and Doctor Zhivago (1965) but his presence here is already indicative of where his career was heading. Leo Anchóriz was a regular in peplum, swashbuckling and spaghetti westerns.
The reason to see The Blancheville Monster is, of course, Helga Liné. Liné would play a similar role in Mario Caiano’s atmospheric chiller Nightmare Castle (1965), a part that solidified her position as one of the new pillars of continental European exploitation. In the seventies Liné made appearances in atmospheric genre pieces as Horror Express (1972) and Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley's Grasp (1974) as well as collaborating with with Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy on Horror Rises From The Tomb (1973) and The Mummy's Revenge (1975). Likewise she appeared in various productions from Argentinian transplant León Klimovsky with The Dracula Saga (1973) as an absolute highpoint as well the similar The Vampires Night Orgy (1973). Liné was among the star-studded ensemble cast in Terence Young’s peplum sendup The Amazons (1973). Late in her career Liné had roles in mainstream movies from Pedro Almodóvar as Labyrinth of Passion (1982) and Law of Desire (1987) where she played the mother of Antonio Banderas’ character. Even though she was fifty at the time Liné appeared in nudity-heavy exploitation titles as José Ramón Larraz’ Madame Olga’s Pupils (1981), Black Candles (1982), and the Harry Alan Towers and Playboy Channel co-producrion Black Venus (1983). Today Liné is involved with her grand-daughter’s lucrative career in gymnastics.
Suffice to say there are enough scenes of thunderstorms, lightning, shadowy corridors, mysterious figures stalkings the candlelit hallways, frightened maidens in tight-fitting lowcut transparent dresses brandishing candlelabras, eerie family portraits, dream sequences and basement-bargain Vincent Price equivalents ominously playing church organs and a book by Franz Anton Mesmer serving as a plot point. In other words The Blancheville Monster leaves no stone unturned in its slavish adherence to gothic horror convention. Ombretta Colli and Irán Eory both are serviceable enough in their respective parts, but never were big names for a reason. Gérard Tichy is given ample opportunity to do a skid row Vincent Price impression. The locations for The Blancheville Monster include the Monasterio del Cercón in Madrid that was later used in Paul Naschy’s The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and Amando de Ossorio’s Templar Knight zombie epic The Tombs Of the Blind Dead (1972). The exterior and coach scenes were shot at Castle Coracera in Madrid, Spain. Despite having all that going for it compared to the far better produced Barbara Steele gothics of the period The Blancheville Monster is torturously slow-moving and on the wrong side of cheap.
That doesn’t make The Blancheville Monster any less effective when it fires on all cylinders. Like its Filipino forebear The Blood Drinkers (1964), The Blancheville Monster is both highly atmospheric and campy in equal measure. Ombretta Colli and Irán Eory don’t leave much of an impression and the brunt of the movie is carried by Gérard Tichy, Vanni Materassi and Leo Anchóriz. It’s more than obvious that The Blancheville Monster was bankrolled to capitalize on the success of the Barbara Steele gothics of the period – and in comparison to those it is rather elegiac and slow-moving, even for 1960s standards. What little there is of story takes far too long to book any meaningful progression and when the long-awaited conclusion finally arrives it is steeped in cliché. The Blancheville Monster is nothing if not reliable when it comes to adhering to genre conventions. It is professionally directed and even custodian to a few scattered artsy shots here and there, but the indefensibly bland writing and no-name cast tend to make it rather underwhelming on the whole. You know a movie is in deep trouble when the various romantic entanglements are more interesting than the main plot. The Blancheville Monster is perfectly serviceable for what it intents to do, but it is far from mandatory viewing for fans of European gothic horror and/or Edgar Allan Poe.