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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 The family physician, who has loyally treated three generations of De Blancheville, has been replaced by strapping young practitioner Dr.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.

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Plot: all-girl boarding school in Germany is beset by monstrous assailant

Before Spanish director Amando de Ossorio cemented his cinematic immortality with the lauded Blind Dead franchise, a series of highly atmospheric zombie movies, he was responsible for a number of respectable genre offerings. In 1969 he directed Malenka (released internationally as Fangs Of the Living Dead) and in 1974, just before the directing the final installment of his flagship franchise, he wrote and directed The Loreleys Grasp. Las Garras de Lorelei is an overlooked and little known entry into the director’s modest filmography, and whose other body of work is often ignored in favor of his more known Blind Dead franchise.

Las Garras de Lorelei was distributed internationally, somewhat haphazardly, as The Loreleys Grasp while the Claws of the Loreley is closer to the original Spanish title. In The Loreleys Grasp every fullmoon night Lorelei transforms into her scaly, reptile form, tearing out the hearts of victims, female and male alike. The movie is a delicate balancing act between fast-paced bloody kill scenes and slow-burning, tension building atmospheric sections. It was released in the US as the nonsensically titled When the Screaming Stops that insultingly tried to pass it off as, of all things, a slasher movie. Rising above budgetary limitations and stilted dialog is the likeable cast of Tony Kendall, the delectable duo Helga Liné, and Silvia Tortosa, along with exploitation regulars Luis Barboo, Luis Induni, and Betsabé Ruiz.

Leading man Tony Kendall had starred in a number of Eurocrime, spaghetti westerns and horror movies before appearing in The Loreleys Grasp. Prior to starring in The Loreleys Grasp, Helga Liné was an experienced horror veteran at this point, having starred in Nightmare Castle (1965), Horror Express (1972), León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973), and Terence Young’s campy peplum The Amazons (1973). Silvia Tortosa had done mostly TV work before her appearance in Horror Express (1972). Helga Liné, who has the same seductive pale complexion here as she had in the delirious The Dracula Saga, spents much of her screentime in the skimpiest of outfits. Betsabé Ruiz, appearing only in a pre-title cameo as a bride, was in The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Return Of the Blind Dead (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), and The Dracula Saga (1973). Many of the shocks, if there are any to be had, come from the economic and efficient practical effects. The scaly monster suit - which bears some resemblance to the Gill-Man from the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) - is obviously rubbery, but sufficiently scary when obscured in shadow. The head, despite being cloaked, is unintentionally funny-looking and less than monstrous no matter from which angle it is shot. At its core The Loreleys Grasp is more of a tragically romantic love story than a horror, all overlaid with a Germanic folkloric concept.

The Loreleys Grasp is set in an unspecified German town near the Rhine where everybody inexplicably speaks English. Sigurd (Tony Kendall), a hunter described as a man who has “a great deal of experience!”, is set on the case when a young bride-to-be (Betsabé Ruiz) is bloodily killed. In a nearby tavern the Mayor (Luis Induni) tries to keep the story under wraps, while a blind Hungarian violinist (Francisco Nieto) will tell the legend of Lorelei to anybody willing to listen, including the tavern patrons. As these things tend to go none of the murders instigate a police investigation. Nor does the Mayor want any kind of attention from authorities despite the inexplicable nature of the slayings. Teacher Elke Ackerman (Silvia Tortosa), who boarding school director (Josefina Jartin) insists on calling “elle-key” instead of Elke, instructs the ruggedly handsome Sigurd, much to the delight of the assorted students (each a racial stereotype of themselves), to guard the premises.

Sigurd spents much of his time skulking around the boarding school, visibly having a great time at the faculty as he’s flirting with the student body (all of whom have delectable bodies), making a pass on head mistress Elke Ackerman, and throwing longing looks at the enigmatic Lorelei. He, of course, fails to connect the dots when Lorelei mysteriously turns up near bodies of water, and bodies of recently-slaughtered victims. Lorelei, true to her folkloric origins, is a Siren. When he runs into Lorelei again he follows her to a derelict building. There, lying down in a mildly suggestive manner that emphasizes her curves while wearing minimal of fabric, she practically admits, mostly through deflecting answering his questions directly, that she’s the Loreley of legend. Sigurd is either too distracted by her lovely curves, or not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and fails to connect the dots. In the meantime Sigurd has apprehended Professor Von Lander (Ángel Menéndez) who fills him in on the origins and possible ways to defeat the mythological monstrous adversary. Interestingly, Lorelei doesn’t get a name until after claiming her fourth victim.

Once Sigurd has become romantically entangled with both Elke Ackerman and daytime Lorelei, he is motivated to do that what he was actually contracted for. A submarine investigation of a nearby lake leads to the discovery of Loreley’s underground lair. Loreley lives in a well-lit and ornately designed grotto, complete with bikini-clad servants, her trusty man-servant/bodyguard Alberic (Luis Barboo) and an opulent throne room. A nearby chamber holds the Rhinegold, vast treasure from Loreley’s father Wotan. When Sigurd emerges at the grotto’s entrance Alberic intones, “my lady awaits you!”. Three bikini-clad servant girls emerge from shadows closely behind, representing the Rhinemaidens protecting the gold. In the throne room Loreley informs Sigurd of her origins, and tries to sway him with her very skimpy bikini, or by hypnotizing him with a luminescent magic crystal. The intruder is brought deeper into the grotto's bowels, and chained to a wall by Alberic. Once bound Loreley’s three bikini-clad servants fight over who likes Sigurd the most. Their quarreling allows Sigurd ample time to figure out an escape.

Of the two leading ladies Elke Ackerman starts out as a bun-haired, suit-wearing uptight headmistress but as the movie progresses she, quite literally, lets her hair down, as she longingly looks from her bedroom window at Sigurd and starts wandering aimlessly around outside in her nightgown. Ackerman, who in the third act addresses Sigurd as “Sirgurd” for some reason, becomes the requisite damsel-in-distress archetype when she’s abducted by Loreley. Not until it is too late does Sigurd realize that the bodacious Lorelei is the Loreley of folkloric legend. Things get murkier for Sigurd when he discovers that the object of his affection is the very same monstrous threat is he hired to kill. Sigurd is torn between his affection for day-time Loreley, and headmistress Elke Ackerman. Always the pragmatist, Sigurd rescues Elke from Loreley with Professor Von Lander’s dagger. This causes Lorelei to lose her nocturnal monster form. As her spirit form imposes, “we shall meet again in Valhalla! Sigurd, I’ll be waiting!” her corpse dissolves to smoldering remains soon after. With Lorelei waiting for him in the eternal halls of Valhalla, and Elke Ackerman as his present paramour, Sigurd reaps the most benefits of the situation.

Central to The Loreleys Grasp is the Germanic folklore tale Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter by Clemens Brentano. In 1824 the tale was reworked as the poem Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine. It also is influenced by the four-part Richard Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. Filmed on location in El Carcán, Torrelodones, the river Alberche in Madrid, Spain and in Rhine, Germany The Loreleys Grasp offers atmosphere and spectacle in equal measure. For the time The Loreleys Grasp was suggestive and risqué (it never lowers itself to the sort of tactless smut that comprises much of output from Jesús Franco and Joe D'Amato alike) in its depiction of nudity and violence. Much of the nudity is implied rather than flat-out shown. When nudity does occur directly, it is part of a grotesquely violent and overly bloody kill scene. Like the Blind Dead movies before it The Loreleys Grasp is at strongest when its atmosphere is at its thickest.

Among Spain’s horror directors the work of Amando de Ossorio isn’t quite as unhinged and haphazardly written as some offerings from stalwarts Paul Naschy, or León Klimovsky. Infusing a part of his filmography with mythical properties de Ossorio’s work for the most part tends to be high on atmosphere. What The Loreleys Grasp lacks in practical effects prowess is complemented by its lovely cast, and the somewhat tragic love story at its center. Both leading ladies excel at the parts they are given. Silvia Tortosa was magnificently cast as the initially uptight and demure Elke Ackerman. Helga Liné, in her dual role as the titular character, isn’t given a lot to do early on. Her introduction is only in brief glimpses, and completely bereft of dialog. Once the plot is set up Liné occupies herself by cavorting around lakeside marshes in the skimpiest of bikinis. The Loreleys Grasp is a movie that calls for a certain level of class of its leading man. Tony Kendall, a typical rugged and fearless 1970s man, was cut for the part – as he exudes the same kind of aristocratic sophistication as Ángel del Pozo, Miguel de la Riva, or Bill Curran. There truly is no better place to start exploring the world of Amando de Ossorio than The Loreleys Grasp. It has plenty of atmosphere, a monster, and a lovely cast.