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Plot: journalist accepts wager to stay overnight at a haunted castle

All through the 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations were in vogue. The movement was started by a slew of Roger Corman productions starring Vincent Price as The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Premature Burial (1962), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This in turn led to Poe-inspired productions as The Blancheville Monster (1963) and the German production The Castle of the Walking Dead (1967). The credits insist on that Castle Of Blood is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Danse Macabre” but instead it bears more of a resemblance to Poe’s 1827 five-part poem “Spirits Of the Dead”. Castle Of Blood bases itself on the French superstition that the dead rise from their graves on All Souls Eve, the subject of the titular poem by Henri Cazalis which was put to music by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874.

Castle Of Blood was helmed by versatile workhorse director Antonio Margheriti from a screenplay by Bruno Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi (as Jean Grimaud). The project was initially slated to be directed by Sergio Corbucci but he passed it on to Margheriti due to scheduling conflicts. Second unit and assistant directing was future cannibal atrocity specialist Ruggero Deodato. The production was bankrolled to make optimal usage of the sets and locations that producer Giovanni Addessi had used earlier for the comedy The Monk Of Monza (1963). British horror queen Barbara Steele was in the midst of her conquest of Meditterranean horror cinema and Castle Of Blood is graced with breathtaking monochrome photography by Riccardo Pallottini (as Richard Kramer) and a waltzing harpsichord, piano and weeping violin score by Riz Ortolani. Castle Of Blood was shot in just 15 days and Margheriti remade it on a larget budget and in color as Web Of the Spider (1971) with Michèle Mercier in Steele’s role. Castle Of Blood is a spectacular little gothic exercise that overcomes it budgetary limitations through sheer talent, perseverance and ingenuity in using the resources that it has to its disposal.

In the gloomy Four Devils pub in Victorian era London vacationing American author of weird and macabre literature Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli, as Montgomery Glenn) is reciting his 1835 novel “Berenice” to his companion Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho, as Raul H. Newman). Intersecting with the men is starving young journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) who has been trying to secure an interview with Poe. Poe insists that all of his stories were based on events he experienced. The men discuss the nature of death and Foster explains his skepticism towards the supernatural. At this juncture Lord Blackwood proposes Foster put his skepticism to the test by staying the night at his remote castle. An easy enough wager that will score him 100 pound sterling for his trouble. Foster accepts the challenge, offering ten pound sterling as collateral and soon he is being transported to the fog-enshrouded manor by coachman Lester (Salvo Randone) in Lord Blackwood’s carriage. After passing through the huge iron gate, traversing a foggy graveyard and navigating through thick foliage and long tree limbs Foster, sufficiently spooked, makes his way into the Castle Of Blood.

After walking aimlessly through shadowy, cobweb-filled corridors with dusty candelabras and metallic suits of armor, desolate empty chambers with nothing but blowing, ghostly curtains Alan at long last makes his acquaintance with Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele). Foster is immediately smitten with Blackwood but he is spooked by a clock that chimes even though its pendulum doesn’t swing and an eerie looking portrait that acts as a centerpiece in the great hall. Julia (Margarete Robsahm) seems to materialize out of the shadows whenever he looks at her portrait. Julia warns Elisabeth not to befriend the handsome stranger, but Elisabeth insists that he will “bring her back to life”. As it turns out Elisabeth not only had a husband named William (Benito Stefanelli, as Ben Steffen) but also was in a tryst with strapping gardener Herbert (Giovanni Cianfriglia, as Phil Karson) and the unwilling recipient of Julia’s sapphic affection. Along the way Foster meets house guest Dr. Carmus (Arturo Dominici, as Henry Kruger), an expert in the supernatural. According to the good doctor every year on All Souls Eve the lost souls of Castle Blackwood re-enact their fates lest they are able to claim the warm blood of the living to sustain them until the next year.

As Foster comes to grips with the realization that he is doomed Lord Blackwood has invited a couple of newly-weds on the pretext of the same wager. Before they arrive Foster first has to see how Dr. Carmus met his demise as he walks through the ancestral crypt and is eventually overcome by the walking corpse of gardener Herbert as one of the coffins disgorges its decaying cadaverous contents. By this point Elsi Perkins (Sylvia Sorrente, as Sylvia Sorrent) and her husband (John Peters) have arrived and are all over each other. Elsi is frightened by the strange noises inside the castle’s bowels and urges her husband to investigate. This doesn’t stop her from taking off her bodice and changing to a see-through hoop skirt. Elsi is choked by the hulking Herbert as she takes off her clothes in front of the fireplace. Her husband befalls a similar fate when he comes to her rescue. Having witnessed the grisly ends of all residents Alan is barely holding on to his wits. Elisabeth urges him to escape the castle premises but insists that she cannot go with him. Alan forcefully takes her with him only for Elisabeth to dissolve to ghastly skeletal remains on her own gravestone. On his way out of the premises Alan is impaled by one of the spikes of the iron fence as the wind blows. In the morning Poe and Lord Blackwood arrive at the castle. “He’s waiting, so you can see he’s won the bet,” Poe intones jokingly. “The Night of the Dead has claimed another victim” retorts Blackwood sardonically. ”When I finally write this story…. I”m afraid they’ll say it’s unbelievable,” a morose Edgar Allan Poe concludes.

As a French-Italian production Castle Of Blood boasts two stellar leads and a number of prominent supporting players. Barbara Steele had established herself with her double role in Mario Bava’s excellent Black Sunday (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962) and worked with Margheriti earlier on The Long Hair of Death (1964). Steele would continue her conquest of Meditterranean horror cinema with appearances in 5 Graves For A Medium (1965), Nightmare Castle (1965), An Angel For Satan (1966) and in the following decade in Shivers (1975), the debut feature of body horror specialist David Cronenberg. Georges Rivière had been in The Black Vampire (1953), The Longest Day (1962) and The Virgin Of Nuremberg (1963) prior. Arturo Dominici was a reliable supporting actor that was in The Labors of Hercules (1958), Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961) and the Angélique series (1964-1968). Silvano Tranquilli was in, among others, The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962), the Silvio Amadio comedy So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975) with Gloria Guida and Dagmar Lassander as well as Star Odyssey (1979), the concluding chapter of Alfonso Brescia’s abysmal science-fiction quadrilogy following the success of Star Wars (1977). Finally, Umberto Raho was in The Last Man on Earth (1964), the superhero fumetti Satanik (1968), The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and the Tsui Hark actioner Double Team (1997) with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman.

Like a lot of gothic horrors of the day Castle Of Blood is a slow-moving affair that takes its time setting up its characters and building atmosphere. The Four Devils pub scene does some excellent economic storystelling. It sets up the main characters, lays out the premise of the movie and sets the plot into motion. Each character is given just enough shading to be believable. Foster is a man of reason and logic, Poe initially comes across as a raving lunatic (but in the third act will turn out to be the most sympathetic character) and Lord Blackwood is a member of nobility that will stop at nothing to take advantage of the poor classes for his own personal enrichment/entertainment. Written not quite as well as the love arc between Foster and Barbara Steele’s Elisabeth. Within moments of their initial meet-cute the two are declaring each other their eternal love. Margarete Robsahm’s stern villainess contrasts beautifully with Barbara Steele’s wide-eyed and innocent Elisabeth. The colors of their gowns should clue anybody in as to what their alliances are. The brief topless scene from Sylvia Sorrente in the international version is worth the price of admission alone. The entire framing device in the Four Devils pub, having all three principal male leads detailing what the movie will be about, is surprisingly effective given the ridiculousness of the central premise.

Castle Of Blood was prescient of where gothic horror was headed in the ensuing decade and pushes the envelope in terms of violence and eroticism. Barbara Steele looks absolutely dashing with her pulled back ravenblack hair, huge eyes, lowcut dresses and heaving bosom. Norwegian actress Margarete Robsahm has that stern, icy Scandinavian look and Sylvia Sorrente is by far the most curvaceous of the assembled cast. Several of Steele’s love scenes are a lot more explicit than others from the period and Sorrente’s brief topless moment in the French print considerably raises the temperature. The sapphic liaison between Julia and Elisabeth was quite risqué for the decade for the same reason. It are not mere allusions that Robsahm’s character makes towards Steele’s Elisabeth but overt advances. The explanation for the castle’s curse is something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft or Nathaniel Hawthorn instead of the supposed repertoire of Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood. In the following decade gothic horror would remain a staple in continental European cinema and experience an infusion of bloodshed and erotica to make it more appealing for the new decade. Castle Of Blood, as these old gothic chillers tend to go, delivers exactly what it promises.

Plot: scientists and mercenaries battle the advance legions of ancient Atlantis

The Raiders Of Atlantis is one of the great patchworks of Italian exploitation. After a fairly standard action opening in the next 85 or so minutes it rips off all the great American properties of the day and a few exploitationers for good measure. Like Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980) the pace is absolutely frenetic and the screenplay from Tito Carpi (as Robert Gold) and Vincenzo Mannino (as Vincent Mannino) barely makes sense or does much in the way of explaining but that doesn’t stop director Ruggero Deodato (as Roger Franklin) from pulling out all the stops and creating perhaps one of the greatest Italian action cheapies in living memory. Like many productions from this period The Raiders Of Atlantis comes with a pulsating synth-rock score and through out the wall-to-wall insanity it somehow manages to push an admirable environmentalist message.

Ruggero Deodato is one of the greats of the Italian exploitation industry and while he dabbled in a variety of genres, he’s most known for his cannibal atrocity excursions. Deodato started as assistant director to Antonio Margheriti on the peplum Terror of the Kirghiz (1964) before venturing into the nascent jungle goddess genre with Gungala, the Naked Panther (1968), an obvious riff on Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) that put Kitty Swan in the role that Edwige Fenech popularized earlier. After the usual amount of commedia sexy all’italiana, poliziotteschi and spaghetti westerns Deodato arrived at Jungle Holocaust (1977) and later Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The Raiders Of Atlantis immediately followed House On the Edge Of the Park (1980), his take on American shock classic The Last House On the Left (1972). Suffice to say The Raiders Of Atlantis does not disappoint and the cast has a selection of well-known names in it.

In a non sequitur opening only there to establish that The Raiders Of Atlantis is an action movie, Vietnam veterans turned mercenaries Mike Ross (Christopher Connelly) and Washington (Tony King) complete a dubious operation for a hefty sum of money. Once the cash has changed hands the two head out to sea for a well-deserved vacation. In the open sea they are followed by a helicopter flown by port authority Bill Cook (Ivan Rassimov). Meanwhile somewhere off the coast in Miami, Florida a clandestine United States military operation, led by nuclear physicist Dr. Peter Saunders (George Hilton), is underway attempting to float a sunken Russian nuclear submarine. Preliminary exploration of the site underneath the oil rig has yielded a mysterious skull-adorned tablet of unknown origin. Just like in Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) the military brass strong-arm Dr. Cathy Rollins (Gioia Scola, as Marie Fields), an archeologist with a Ph.D. in pre-Columbian dialects, previously engaged at “a very important dig” in Mazatlán, México to decipher the artifact. The float countdown is eerily reminiscent of the inane Ciro Ippolito shlockfest Alien 2 – On Earth (1980). As the submarine is brought up a tidal wave destroys the oil rig as a landmass in a transparent dome emerges from the ocean, sort of like The Abyss (1989). The survivors of the wreckage - Drs. Saunders, Rollins and technician James (Michele Soavi, as Michael Soavi) – are picked up by mercenaries Ross and Washington who heard their cries for help in the open sea.

In a sudden twist Manuel (John Vasallo) grabs a hostage and warns them to surrender to the Atlantis Interceptors who they’ll soon meet. Manuel, of course, brandishes a tattoo delineating his allegiance with the Atlanteans. Just like in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and Zombie Holocaust (1980). After the interruption they make landfall in Little Havana and meet up with Bill Cook who has landed his helicopter there. They find the Caribbean island abandoned, desolate and burnt out. Almost immediately they run into the Atlantis Inceptors led by Crystal Skull (Bruce Baron). The Atlanteans and the Atlantis Interceptors curiously look like extras from The Road Warrior (1981). In a succession of scenes recalling Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) and The Warriors (1979) the group defends their position before taking refuge in a nearby warehouse where they happen into Larry Stoddard (Maurizio Fardo, as Morris Fard) and his daughters Liza (Gudrun Schmeissner, as Gudrun Schemissner) and Barbara (Benedetta Fantoli) who were hiding beneath some rubble. Their mother Mary (Adriana Giuffrè, as Audrey Perkins) having being killed earlier as the Dome rose.

Just like in The Night Of the Living Dead (1968) the group quarrell and decide strategy against their Atlantean enemies. At this point Crystal Skull broodingly intones, “we have come back. Come back to the world that has always been ours. You have no place in it. You cannot defend yourselves. Our civilization does not accept intruders. We have returned to re-establish our presence. You have violated our world, and therefore you must be punished. All of you will be executed!” All this wouldn’t be complete without setting up the prequisite third act plotpoint, “All of you, except one...” A plan that sounds awfully familiar to that of the Atlanteans in Alfonso Brescia's amiable The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). The group continues to search-and-destroy as they advance through the blasted ruins. Along the way they team up with George (Mike Monty, as Mike Monti) and German mercenary Klaus Nemnez (Stefano Mingardo, as Mike Miller) for extra firepower.

Cathy is then kidnapped by the Atlantis Interceptors and the mercenaries give pursuit. They find an old bus and chase the Atlantis Interceptors in a number of scenes directly inspired by War Bus (1986). The chase results in a daring beach assault lifted wholesale out of W Is War (1983) and Clash Of the Warlords (1984) and takes them to a bridge which leads into a vicious shoot-out straight out of Gold Raiders (1982). Taking a helicopter the mercenaries are inexplicably drawn to Atlantis by a radio signal. This leads into a series of exploration and battle scenes reminiscent of every cheap Italian Vietnam war movie, alternated from time to time with the kind of jungle booby-traps you’d expect in an Italian cannibal atrocity film. How else could it not? The Raiders Of Atlantis was directed by Ruggero Deodato, maker of Cannibal Holocaust (1980). As the group navigates the jungle eliminating sentries guarding the perimeter technician James is brainwashed by the Atlantis Inceptors which, as these tends to go, leads to him being killed. At this point every unimportant secondary character is killed as Deodato thins the cast for the final showdown with the Atlantean warriors.

Ross and Washington make their way to the Atlantean caves where Ross dukes it out with Crystal Skull in a vicious brawl. Crystal Skull was prescient of the design of the Iron Warrior in Alfonso Brescia’s Iron Warrior (1987). The Raiders Of Atlantis then remembers to riff on Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) again as Ross and Washington neutralize the Atlantis machinery, that suspiciously looks like something out of The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), and cross the stormblown hallways in a scene apparently that inspired the Hell scene from Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988) where Kirsty tears off Julia’s skin coat or its equivalent scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Luke Skywalker confronts Darth Vader. The dynamic duo then stumble into the heart of Atlantis, or just Central Command (it’s hard to tell exactly), where a sassied up Cathy telepathically does the Atlanteans’ bidding. Once the Tablet Of Knowledge is in position in the machinery the situation progressively turns worse for the mercenaries. Washington doesn’t like any of it but Ross is somehow able to break Cathy’s spell. In a race against time Ross and Washington make their escape in the helicopter they chartered as the Dome starts to close again and Atlantis is swallowed by the sea. For reasons inexplicable and unexplained Cathy is in the helicopter and her old self again.

Christopher Connelly was a television actor that got lost in Italian exploitation. Tony King debuted in Shaft (1971) and had an uncredited bit part as a stable hand in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime epic The Godfather (1972) with Al Pacino. King ended up in exploitation via Larry Cohen’s crime cheapie Hell Up In Harlem (1973). Gioia Scola was in Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983) and in a 1981 Pierino comedy from Marino Girolami. Bruce Baron was in Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) and Jing Wong’s Winner Takes All (1982) but through a brief excursion into Filipino exploitation ended up in Italy and from 1986 onward went to star in a number of dubious Godfrey Ho-Joseph Lai cut-and-paste ninja movies. Ivan Rassimov was a pillar of continental shlock having appeared in a couple of gialli starring Edwige Fenech with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972) before becoming a fixture in the cannibal atrocity genre through The Man From Deep River (1972), Jungle Holocaust (1977), and Eaten Alive! (1980). Rassimov also was the villain in the enjoyable Star Wars (1977) plagiate The Humanoid (1979). George Hilton was in a regular in giallo, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi with credits including the Edwige Fenech gialli The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and The Case Of the Bloody Iris (1972) as well as Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Must Kill Again (1975). The only credit of note for Giancarlo Prati was the original Man On Fire (1987), famously remade in 2004. Benedetta Fantoli and Michele Soavi both were in Alien 2 – On Earth (1980). The English language international version has voices provided by prolific dubbing regulars Nick Alexander, Susan Spafford, Pat Starke and Frank von Kuegelgen.

The Raiders Of Atlantis never bothers explaining who Crystal Skull is or what the Atlanteans plan beyond reclaiming their earthly throne. Crystal Skull only becomes hostile once the Dome and the island emerge out of the sea. Crystal Skull is apparently a guy in a suit who is never even given a name or much of a backstory. Likewise does the screenplay never explain why the Atlanteans looks like rejects and extras from The Road Warrior (1981). As in the Cirio H. Santiago yarn The Sisterhood (1988) do some of the Atlanteans wield spears, axes and swords while others brandish automatic weapons. The pace is as breakneck as in Wheels Of Fire (1985) and The Raiders Of Atlantis is custodian to a slew of very brutal kills (including incineration and decapitation-by-wire). As always does the main villain, in this case Crystal Skull, come with his own set of belles. One of the Atlantean babes looks like a very young and punkish Lisa Kudrow with the fashion sense of early Madonna. Of course it isn’t Kudrow since she didn’t start acting until 1989 but the resemblance is striking. Not that these productions were known for their complete and detailed credits anyhow.

How could The Raiders Of Atlantis not be so utterly amazing in its derivation? It was written by Tito Carpi and Vincenzo Mannino. Both were specialists in spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, and giallo. Carpi wrote a bunch of Euro war movies and commedia sexy all’italiana through the 60s. He wrote the screenplays to Jungle Holocaust (1977), Tentacles (1977), Thor the Conqueror (1983) and Alien From the Deep (1989), one of the more notorious The Abyss (1989) knockoffs. Mannino wrote the spy-action/superhero romp Argoman (1967) which, at least in part, goes to explain the sheer level of insanity that The Raiders Of Atlantis frequently indulges in. The Raiders Of Atlantis was produced by Edmondo and Maurizio Amati, who were responsible for Argoman (1967) and more post-apocalyptic action shenanigans with Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984). Amati also produced the great pandemic classic The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) and the two Agent 077 (1965) Bond knockoffs with Ken Clark. There was never any question about how insane this one would be, more of how far it would push it. Also helping are the cinematography from Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, director of photography on Luigi Cozzi’s StarCrash (1979) and a score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. It is almost as if it was envisioned as a project for Umberto Lenzi.