Plot: who’s the mysterious woman in Anna’s dreams? Is she dead or alive?
As with all things in life, timing is everything. Metempsyco (or Metempsychosis, released in France as Le manoir maudit or The Cursed Mansion, in Germany as Die Bestie von Schloß Monte Christo or The Beast of Monte Cristo Castle, and in the US and on the international market as Tomb Of Torture) is a minor entry in the Italo gothic horror cycle of the sixties and by no means a classic or essential. For its 1964 North American release it was put on a grindhouse/drive-in double-bill with Cave Of the Living Dead (1964). On release it had to contend with far stronger and more compelling domestic genre exercises and it understandably fell through the cracks. Over half a century of critical examination has not revealed any meaningful insights only attesting that this was rightly ignored.
No wonder that in the annals of Italian horror and Eurocult at large Tomb Of Torture is but a forgotten footnote. The sixties were an especially prolific and prosperous time for Italian horror. The decade had opened with Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), Piero Regnoli’s The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), and Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill Of the Stone Women (1960). In 1963 it was preceded by Mario Bava’s proto-giallo The Girl That Knew Too Much (1963) (Bava would codify and innovate the giallo subgenre along with Dario Argento, Luciano Ercoli, and Sergio Martino) and a few months after that, The Whip and the Body (1963); Riccardo Freda’s The Ghost (1963), the entertaining The Blancheville Monster (1963), and Antonio Margheriti’s The Virgin Of Nuremberg (1963). A year later there were Camillo Mastrocinque’s Terror in the Crypt (1964) and Polselli’s The Monster of the Opera (1964). In short, in the glory days of gothic horror competition at the domestic box office was stiff and Tomb Of Torture was swamped by better and more memorable examples of the form. While not exactly terrible or lacking Tomb Of Torture simply missed the innate starpower and visual grandeur (a few scattered artsy shots here and there notwithstanding) to become nothing more than a pleasant little genre piece overshadowed by far superior exercises in the genre.
And who produced and directed Tomb Of Torture is equally as mystifying as the movie itself. As near as we can tell this was the first thing Francesco Campitelli ever produced and on the basis of it he carved out a respectable career as a writer and production manager. Campitelli is known around these parts for co-writing the Spanish co-producton Two Males For Alexa (1971) (with Rosalba Neri, Emma Cohen, and Pilar Velázquez). Here he also doubles as director of photography. The director behind Tomb Of Torture was mountaineer, climber, and sometime pulp novelist Antonio Boccacci. Boccacci was a graduate in mathematics, a teacher, and avid alpinist. In fact he’s credited with inventing Val di Mello climbing, he was one of the first to scale the valley walls along the Luna Nascente trail at the Scoglio delle Metamorfosi, and he’s said to be a pioneer in the field of bouldering in Italy. His extensive experience in mountaineering and ski mountaineering led to a steady career in writing specialised guides of all kinds on the subject alongside the occassional fiction novel. For whatever reason somebody apparently thought that this was reason enough for Boccacci to try his hand at screenwriting. In that capacity Boccacci co-wrote the peplum Revolt of the Mercenaries (1960), the adventure film Rampage Of Evil (1961), today’s subject Tomb Of Torture, and the Alfonso Brescia spaghetti western Days Of Violence (1967) (again with LWO favorite Neri, Spanish almost-star Beba Loncar, and Italian professional warm body Bruna Beani). After this Boccacci returned to paperback writing and it’s anybody’s guess how popular (or respected, if he was at all) he was in Italian literary circles.
1910, somewhere in Europe. Schoolgirls Esther (Emy Eco) and Cathy (Terry Thompson) have taken to invading a local grand castle where Countess Irene (Annie Alberti, as Annie Albert) disappeared under mysterious circumstances some twenty years earlier. The countess is presumed dead but her body was never recovered. The two girls are spooked when current inhabitant Countess Elizabeth (Flora Carosello, as Elizabeth Queen) materializes out of the shadows and warns them of the horrors the castle holds. The two girls try to make their escape but they are stalked and murdered by deformed, droopy-eyed hunchback Hugo (Bernard Blay or Fred Pizzot). First on the scene of the crime is inspector Dobson (Bernard Blay or Fred Pizzot) and he’s mystified. For the last several weeks 20-year-old ingénue Anna (Annie Alberti, as Annie Albert) has been haunted by strange dreams of a woman looking just like her dying in a shadowy torture dungeon. Doctor Darnell (Adriano Micantoni, as Thony Maky) believes that bringing Anna to the castle she sees in her nightmares will cure her of her affliction. In the castle Anna becomes transfixed by the portrait of the dead countess. Journalist George (Marco Mariani, as Mark Marian) is visiting the village to report on the disappearance and murder of the two schoolgirls. In complete happenstance he meets Anna when his car overheats and he’s in need of assistance. George not only is instantly smitten with Anna, he’s intrigued by the strange story she tells. Meanwhile, Sikh prince Raman (Antonio Boccacci) of some unspecified Hindu kingdom has returned believing Anna to be a reincarnation of his long lost Irene. Raman was romantically involved with Elisabeth but callously cast her aside once he laid eyes on Irene. As a scorned woman Elisabeth is none too happy with Raman’s return and his inquiring after his former lover. What horrors dwell in Irene’s abode? Does Anna really see ghosts, and who’s the mysterious force encased within that suit of armor? Can old man Darnell, George, and inspector Dobson save Anna from the certain doom that awaits her?
To make matters worse, not only has Tomb Of Torture the most unlikely producer and director duo, it reeks with the vile stench of good old nepotism. Boccacci not only casted his wife Flora Carosello in one of the lead roles but does the same for Emy Eco (or Emilia Eco, the sister of writer and academic Umberto Eco) in what probably could be construed as a favor from one academic to another. The biggest stars here are arguably Marco Mariani, he of The Monster of the Opera (1964) and sometime fumetti novel star Annie Alberti. Some allege that the script was co-written by Giovanni Simonelli, the son of Giorgio Simonelli. Most contemporary sources attribute it to Simonelli the elder. However Giovanni seems the more logical choice given that the Anglicised moniker listed here is Johnny (and not George) Seemonell. There’s a tendency in the blogosphere to lambast the title but Metempsyco (or Metempsychosis, the supposed transmigration of the soul into a new body at the moment of death) perfectly encapsulates what the movie’s about. The exteriors were filmed at Orsini Castle (restored and housing an exclusive hotel) in Nerola with interiors shot at Palazzo Borghese in Artena. Since Italian imports were popular on the North American market everybody hides behind Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms. It was a very common practice in Italian exploitation at the time and one that would persevere over the ensuing decades. Tomb Of Torture is not nearly as good (or as memorable) as the English-language title would have you believe, but it’s not exactly bad either. It’s just very utilitarian. "Sex or terror?", asks the Italian promotional poster. Either seems to be scarce, regardless.
That Tomb Of Torture is a relic of bygone, less enlightened time becomes painfully clear pretty much from the onset. It begins with that old chestnut of two rebellious schoolgirls (they’re more college-age rather than high school) being chased around the bowels of a creepy castle before ending up tortured and finally killed. Then there’s Antonio Boccacci in brownface and turban trying his darndest to pass himself off as a Sikh prince (and failing at it spectacularly) and Flora Carosello as his scorned former lover. Annie Alberti is an attractive enough a lead but she was no Graziella Granata and even second-stringer Hammer ladies were better on average. The first act is actually surprisingly effective and atmospheric with an extended tour through the torture dungeon. Unfortunately that’s for the most part undone by the unintentionally loopy cartoon music that Armando Sciascia insists on during the romantic scenes that could have come from a Laura Efrikian rom com. Francesco Campitelli acquits himself well enough and actually manages to line up a few artsy shots here and there. The special effects make-up is remarkably gory and well-realized (especially the hunchback) for the time and budget this was made in and on. Overall Tomb Of Torture is far from bad but it’s understandable why it was ostensibly ignored when it was originally released.