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Danza Macabra Vol 1 The Italian Gothic Collection

by Glenn Erickson Apr 18, 2023

Severin’s latest deluxe collector’s box gathers a quartet of ‘Gothic holdovers,’ Italo productions that persist with spooky castles, strange noblemen and aggressively passionate leading ladies. They range from the B&W ’60s to the more permissive screens of the early ’70s, when contemporary-set Giallos took over. The group includes an oddity, a rarity and a garish pair of titles imported for U.S. drive-ins — in their original versions, of course.


Danza Macabra Volume One The Italian Gothic Collection
Blu-ray
The Monster of the Opera, The Seventh Grave, Scream of the Demon Lover, Lady Frankenstein
Severin Films
1964-1971 / Color + B&W / 1:78, 1:66 & widescreen / 5 hours, 58 min. / Street Date May 30, 2023 / Available from Severin / 99.95 before discount
Starring: Walter Brandi, Milena Vucotic, Marco Mariani; Antonio Casale, Ferruccio Viotti; Erna Schurer, Carlos Quiney, Agostina Belli; Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri, Paul Müller, Mickey Hargitay.
Directed by
Renato Polselli, Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo, José Luis Merino, Mel Welles

The beautiful box art for Danza Macabra Volume One The Italian Gothic Collection is enough to grab this viewer’s attention; we confess that shelf appeal tickles our Acquisition Reflex. What helps in this case is Severin Films’ fixation on reviving — sometimes resuscitating — everything rare and arcane in Euro-horror. No knock-off transfers; the label prowls for original sources, not whatever’s available.

The experienced gathered in 20 years has paid off. I believe David Gregory, Carl Daft and company began their reign of terror in ’98 with a making-of docu on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We check out their releases even when not expecting another Black Sunday or Caltiki, knowing that in almost every case we’ll see an uncut item in the original language (my bias, admitted) in the best condition possible.

This collection gathers three Gothic horrors of straight Italian origin, and one Italo-Spanish co-production. No timeless classics emerge but all have their grace notes. The one title with star names and a fairly wide reputation is present in an excellent encoding. These review notes are for casual horror fans, although the experts that have seen everything might find something new — one title is said to be a real rarity.

 


 

The Monster of the Opera
1964 / Color + B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 84 80 min. / Il mostro dell’opera, L’orgie des vampires
Starring: Marco Mariani, Walter Brandi, Giuseppe Addobbati, Barbara Hawards, Alberto Archetti, Carla Cavalli, Also Nicodemi, Jody Excell, Milena Vukotic.
Cinematography: Ugo Brunelli
Production Designer: Demofilo Findani
Film Editor: Otello Clangeli
Original Music: Aldo Piga
Screenplay by Renato Polselli, Ernesto Gastaldi, Giuseppe Pellegrini story by Gastaldi & Polselli
Choreography by Gianna & Marisa Ciampiglia
Directed by
Renato Polselli

This first item begins on familiar ground — Renato Polselli is the director behind the fairly early Italo cash-in-on-Hammer vampire tale L’amante del vampiro, which charted the killings and possessions that occur when a ballet troupe chooses to rehearse near a haunted castle. It seemed the generic low-budget Italo horror: a few gory effects and ten or so attractive ‘dancers.’ Il mostro dell’opera just moves that formula indoors, inflicting a vampire on another troupe in the enclosed space of a run-down opera house (of which there were likely more than a few in Italy).

No nudity is teased this time around but Polselli keeps his female cast in skimpy outfits and pajama nighties for the entire running time. Some good B&W cinematography adds interest to the poky storyline, which lacks forward momentum. The many wanderings through crowded corridors and scenery lofts seem to go on forever.

The ‘ballet’ is again mostly disorganized-looking jazz dance moves. One of the leading ladies appears to have mastered an okay spin, and little else. There’s of course one ‘cute’ girl who interrupts romantic moments with impish comments. Of note are scenes in which the female dancers exhibit lesbian feelings — which amounts to a couple of embraces and a kiss — and end in carefree laughter. Meanwhile, a vampire holds the opera house in a spell that comes and goes as needed. The leading lady is at one point trapped with five ‘vampire brides’ chained to a dungeon wall. They take turns biting her, bloodlessly.

The one vampire count strikes threatening poses, but isn’t much for action. He holds his giant fanged grimace for what seems minutes at a time, as if Chris Lee had encountered lockjaw when opening wide for work on a rear molar. It’s great in stills. He also does a lot of pointless poking at squirming babes with a pair of pitchforks. Both implements have obvious non-sharp tines. One has been pre-cut in such a way as to pin sombody to the ground, without harming them.

We’re told that The Monster of the Opera was scanned in 2K from its original negative. Severin’s extras have the bases covered: besides Kat Ellinger weighing in with a serious analysis, we’ve got the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) chatting at length about this, his very first screen credit, plus director Polselli himself in a radio interview.

Special Features:
Audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
Interview Terror At The Opera with Ernesto Gastaldi
Interview Capodimonte Gothic with Mark Thompson-Ashworth
Archival audio interview Radio Polselli with Renato Polselli
French Trailer

 


 

The Seventh Grave
1965 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 77 min. / La settima tomba
Starring: Stefania Nelli, Nando Angelini, Armando Guarnieri, Bruna Baini, Antonio Casale, Germana Dominici, Ferruccio Viotti, Gianni Dei.
Cinematography: Aldo Greci
Production Designer: Giuseppe Ranieri
Film Editor: Mariano Arditi
Music: Leopoldo Perez Bonsignore
Screenplay by Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo, Antonio Casale, Alessandro Santini story by Casale & Santini
Produced by Felice Falvo
Directed by
Finney Cliff (Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo)

Most Severin boxed collections contain ‘previously unavailable’ items, and La settima tomba surely qualifies as a notable re-premiere. Online reviewers seem to agree that all that’s been available was a rough copy taken from a TV broadcast, with dodgy fan-subs. Horror dogs that have seen most everything, may not have seen this.

What we get is a creaky Old Dark House meller set in ‘Old Scotland’ with some dodgy costumes and hairpieces. Some potential heirs show up for the reading of the will. They must wait two days, leaving time for a couple of murders by a mysterious garbed figure. The deceased’s body has mysteriously disappeared, and he was working on some odd scientific experiments.

The cast and acting don’t generate much attention on their own, and the direction is just so-so, even though the locations are fairly attractive. At 77 minutes the show also feels padded. Shots of a coach approaching on the road are allowed to last for twenty seconds each . . . did the director perhaps expect them to be part of a main title sequence?

The conclusion takes place in a fairly sedate ‘mad lab.’ As mentioned most everywhere, the one sequence that gets attention is a séance. A dramatic circle of hands suddenly rates several very expressive angles, as if the director had just seen an old Mabuse movie. Just the same, La Settima tomba has ‘completist bait’ written all over it.

Severin tells us that Settima was restored with a new ‘2K scan of a recently discovered negative.’ The audio is original Italo, with no English dub. That makes sense, since the show doesn’t seem to have been exported outside of Italy. As we expected, Severin’s extras make the difference. Just about everything known on the show is covered by Rachael Nisbet, and the Italian expert Fabio Metelli offers an un-hyped analysis. Metelli doesn’t ramble on with generalities — I’ll look for his name in the future.

Special Features:
Audio commentary with Rachael Nisbet
Interview Seven Graves And A Mystery with Fabio Melelli
Video Essay English Aesthetic With Giallo Blood by Rachel Knightley

 


 

Scream of the Demon Lover
1970 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 98 min. / Il castello alle porte di fuoco, Killers of the Castle of Blood, Altar of Blood, Blood Castle, El asesino del castillo sangriento
Starring: Erna Schurer, Carlos Quiney, Agostina Belli, Cristiana Galloni, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, Mariano Vidal Molina, Enzo Fisichella, Ezio Sancrotti.
Cinematography: Emanuele Di Cola
Art Director: Francesco Di Stefanp
Makeup: Bianca Verdirosa
Film Editor: Sandro Lena
Original Music: Luigi Malatesta
Screenplay and Story by José Luis Merino, Enrico Colombo
Produced by (Roger Corman)
Directed by
José Luis Merino

The collection heats up with an Hispano-Italian picture filmed in Italy by José Luis Merino, a Spaniard known at home for action films starring the handsome Carlos Quiney. Partly bankrolled by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, this offering has more going for it, starting with a coherent script with good dialogue. A police inspector’s investigation into some mysterious killings is fairly logical, for a change.

Making excellent use of a castle location, director Merino stages his story in a fairly interesting way while delivering the gore and nudity desired for 1970 genre fare. The actors make a difference in this one too. Leading actor Quiney is passable mainly on his good looks, but leading lady Erna Schurer fully engages our interest, and Agostina Bellia and Cristiana Galloni are equally gorgeous in support.

Bio-chemist Ivanna (Schurer) is almost raped on the way to her new job at Dalmar castle, in a town were six young women have been murdered. The locals suspect Ivanna’s employer, Count Janos Dalmar (Quiney). Like all the townswomen, the castle’s maid Cristiana (Agostina Bella) and housekeeper Olga (Cristiana Galloni) swoon over Count Janos, who takes rides accompanied by his enormous dogs. Olga gives Ivanna a hostile reception and Janos tries to send her away, but Ivanna’s lab work is excellent. Janos has a strange project: he wants to revive the corpse of his dead, burned brother, which lies in an ink-black chemical bath.

Ivanna experiences wild hallucinations at night — of being strapped naked in a torture rack as a pair of scarred hands run up and down her body. Janos is alternately kind and cruel; Ivanna thinks this instability is due to the chemicals preserving the dead brother. When an inspector comes to inquire about new murders, Ivanna covers for Janos even though she thinks he’s responsible. She believes his crazy split personality can be cured; the truth is much more complicated.

The garish title Scream of the Demon Lover would look great on grindhouse marquees, and it also describes the picture well. The monster figure qualifies as sort of a ‘demon lover’ and his makeup is more than effective. The film’s exploitation angles don’t invalidate the Gothic format — women just can’t help but throw themselves at the handsome, mysterious Count Janos. Producer-investor Roger Corman likely mandated either nudity or sexual violence in each reel, but director José Luis Marino lends a romantic component for each of the actresses to dramatize.

The movie does have some major drawbacks. Uneven focus makes scores of shots barely passable, a flaw that looks like the fault of a bum lens. Although Marino’s camera positions are good, constant zooming undercut the Gothic mood. The music is uneven as well. Some effective suspense cues are heard, and then the violent finale is backed with a weak underscore that’s in no way appropriate.

Yet the movie holds together well, with moderately engaging characters that keep us wondering what happens next. The finale is a tad over-written, when a villain takes a minute or two to explain his psychological motivation. But the show improves on the obvious exploitation noodling of Monster of the Opera and The Seventh Grave. The zoom lens problem aside, Merino has a feel for blocking his images. If the camerawork were better Demon Lover might be nearer the front rank of horror pix.

We read online that New World co-billed Scream of the Demon Lover with Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire. Severin says that Corman cut this show by two reels, which if done judiciously may have improved the pace. The investigation scenes are so good, it’s too bad that the inspector doesn’t explain things at the finish, rather than have the villain offer an unlikely explanation-confession.

Stephen Thower’s video essay on this Gothic oddity is engaging; even more fun is an extended interview with actress Erna Schurer, who recalls quite a bit from the show. She describes her leading man Carlos Quiney as an odd mama’s boy, and remembers that he and several others on the picture were into spiritual weirdness with crystals and séances.

Special Features:
Audio commentary With Rod Barnett and Robert Monell
Interview Scream Erna Scream! with Erna Schurer
Video Essay In The Castle Of Blood by Stephen Thrower
Trailer

 


 

Lady Frankenstein
1971 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 99 min. / La figlia di Frankenstein
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri, Paul Müller, Riccardo Pizzuti, Herbert Fux, Mickey Hargitay, Renate Kasché, Lorenzo Terzon.
Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
Production Designer: Amadeo Mellone
Makeup: Giuseppe Peruzzi
Visual Effects: Carlo Rambaldi
Film Editor: Cleofe Conversi
Original Music: Alessandro Alessandroni
Screenplay and story by Mel Welles, Edward Di Lorenzo, Umberto Borsato, Egidio Gelso, Aureliano Luppi original story by Dick Randall
Produced by Mel Welles (Roger Corman, Egidio Gelso)
Directed by
Mel Welles, Aureliano Luppi

The only title of the four that played regularly on TV at one time or another, Lady Frankenstein is well known but doesn’t carry much of a reputation. This new 2K scan brings it up to full quality. The production can boast a genuine movie star, along with a number of interesting talents are behind the camera. Ambitious producer Dick Randall provided a basic storyline, Carlo Rambaldi some of the gore effects and Ennio Morricone’s associate Alessandro Alessandroni did the music score. The cameraman Riccardo Pallotini shot quite a few Sci-fi and horror pictures by Antonio Margheriti. Although drive-in exploitation is still the name of the game, some care was taken to make this post-Hammer effort connect with older Universal Frankenstein memories.

Although star Joseph Cotten’s name has remained associated with quality productions, but his romantic leading parts dried up in the early ’50s. As he appproached 60 he took whatever work would pay his rate: one- and two- day assignments for big movies,  a German horror tale, a  Japanese Sci-fi.

When he launched the distribution outfit New World Pictures, Roger Corman found plenty of Europeans willing to work with him. The word is that he stepped in on Lady Frankenstein when other investors bowed out. The film’s director is Corman’s old associate Mel Welles, a highly educated multi-lingual talent. Starting out as an actor, Welles had invested several years in getting his directing career going.

The rather serious storyline adds to elements in Mary Shelley’s original storyline: God’s Domain is trespassed to create life, but also to create an ideal mate . . . for the woman of the title. Baron Frankenstein and his assistant Dr. Marshall (Joseph Cotten & Paul Müller) reanimate a corpse using the services of Lynch, a body snatcher (Herbert Fux). A ‘damaged brain’ reminds us of the ‘criminal brain’ of the James Whale classic. The Baron’s daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri, billed as Sara Bay) arrives, having graduated as a surgeon, and obtains her father’s promise that she can join him in his profane experiments. Police Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay) knows something is afoot, but his efforts yield no proof.

The resulting monster (Riccardo Pizzuti) suffers a mutilated eye during his Strickfaden-like rebirth in an electrical storm. He escapes and commences a wave of murders. Tania moves ahead with plans to use ‘the power of life and death’ to create for herself a perfect lover — transplanting the elderly Dr. Marshall’s brain into the mentally handicapped but hunky handyman Thomas (Marino Masé). Thomas ends up with Marshall’s identity and speaks with his voice. The fiery conclusion comes when the murdering monster brings both the law and a mob back to Castle Frankenstein.

For a movie that quickly turns to full-on exploitation Lady Frankenstein plays fairly impressively. With sensational content in every reel, and a fixation on nude sex scenes, they movie feels tailored for Corman’s New World Pictures. The monster lumbers around, with its swelled upper head and protruding eyeball. His numerous murders are less interesting than the transplant fun back in the lab. At one point Thomas’s cranium lies open to the air on the operating table, like an engine waiting for the delivery of a new transmission.

The costumes are attractive and the sets handsome. Frankenstein’s Mad Lab setting is worthy of Terence Fisher, with similar primitive batteries in glass tanks. The name star Cotten is given a substantial role before exiting the storyline, so his presence is not a cheat. Other producers were given credit, but it looks as if Roger Corman were active in key decisions. Anticipating a future of TV distribution, alternate clothed scenes were filmed for all the ‘R’-rated nudity.

Another 2K scan from the original negative, Lady Frankenstein certainly looks the best we’ve seen it — we didn’t get far with old full frame TV prints. The image and color here are very good — Ms. Neri is quite beautiful. The lighting in the lab set is almost Hammer-quality.

As with many other Italo horrors Lady was primarily filmed in English. The dub job is good in both languages. After Joseph Cotten made his exit we switched to the Italian — just a personal bias, we admit.

This final title in the collection has the most extras, with several featurettes and a commentary from earlier releases. The newest audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Annie Rose Malamet has an expected feminist slant befitting the film’s gender reversal. Other video pieces address actress Rosalba Neri and the interesting Mel Welles; there’s even a German TV show on the film from 2007.

The ‘clothed insert shots’ are a nice addition. It looks like they may have been dropped into a dupe reel without the necessity of a new audio mix. A fairly unneccessary video piece isolates the nude scenes with British censor notes. A set of Italian-language titles opening titles are present. We thought they might bear the name Aureliano Luppi, one of the writers rumored to be the Italian ‘director of note’ for tax purposes. But the alternate title sequence instead reads ‘Montgomery Welles’ instead of Mel Welles. Welles birth name was reportedly Ira W. Meltcher, which clarifies nothing.

Special Features:
Audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Annie Rose Malamet
Audio commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman
Featurette Meet The Baroness on Actress Rosalba Neri with Fabio Melelli
Featurette Piecing Together Lady Frankenstein
Featurette The Lady And The Orgy on Mel Welles
German TV Documentary The Truth About Lady Frankenstein (2007)
Clothed Insert Shots
Video Short on BBFC Censorship Cuts
Italo Opening titles
Italian LADY FRANKENSTEIN Photo Novel, Bigfilm Magazine (1971)
Image Gallery & Home Video Gallery, Radio Spots, TV Spot, Trailers
Audio: English Stereo / Italian Stereo

 


 

Severin Films’ Blu-ray set Danza Macabra Volume One The Italian Gothic Collection delivers what the label’s loyal customer base wants, quality encodings of exotic Euro-horror, uncut and with all appropriate language options. The discs come in individual keep cases, in the pop-top hard box packaging that’s become popular the last couple of years.

This screener copy was sent out almost 45 days before street date, but we got the review out right away — Severin customers are already receiving their copies.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Danza Macabra Volume One The Italian Gothic Collection
Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Opera, Grave Good -minus, Demon, Frankenstein Good
Video: Good to Very Good
Sound: Excellent All but one with both English and Italian tracks
Supplements: (see individual titles).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (features only)
Packaging: Foure Blu-rays in Keep cases in heavy pop top box
Reviewed:
April 17, 2023
(6919danz)
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Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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