Half naked women walking through dark hallways with candelabras, I must admit, this is a weakness of mine. I blame Creepy #39 for that. It was a wonderfully sinister cover featuring a beautiful blonde with candelabra welcoming you into her terrifying home. It is this cover that has led me time and again to European horror. 70’s euro horror melded a modern sensibility with gothic settings and traditional monsters. In my opinion, it never got better than that, and it has remained the back bone of all I do creatively.
When I first saw the poster for “Scream of the Demon Lover” or Il castello dalle porte di fuoco (Castle at the gates of hell), I was immediately drawn in and had to watch it. Erna Schürer is Ivanna Rakowsky, a beautiful 19th century chemist, who arrives in a small Eastern European town on edge. It seems that the Baron is dead in a fire and that his brother, the new Baron Dalmar (Carlos Quiney) may be responsible for the murder of several young women and the townspeople want him gone. Only one problem with telling her; she’s arrived to work for him. Ivanna attempts to hire a coach to take her to the castle but is turned down by everyone except the local creep, Fador. He spends the drive trying to convince her that the Baron is evil and that she is in great danger but then tries to rape her when she doesn’t heed his warning. Yep, pretty creepy.
Once inside, she is greeted by Olga, the castle housekeeper, who tries to dismiss her and throw her out. It seems that she and the Baron have a history that she isn’t quite over yet, and with Ivanna being so sexy, she is threatened. Anyway, her ousting is halted by the Baron himself, who will allow her to stay the night, but wants her to leave in the morning with 3 months’ salary. She’s not having any of that though. At dinner she challenges the Baron repeatedly and he grows more intrigued. After some posturing and threats, she stays on and is shown to her tasks. It seems that the Baron believes that he can have his seriously burned brother back and in perfect health. Isn’t he dead?
While lying in bed with a glass of milk (I could watch her just drink milk for 90 minutes), she begins to feel groggy and barley tables the glass before falling over. A burned hand reaches out and she screams. She soon awakens, naked, tied to a torture rack nipples up. A voice tells her to do as she is told or she will be hurt. She is caressed and we fade to black, only awakening in bed the next morning with no memory of what happened.
This goes on for several nights, the Baron laying down the charm before bed, then her passing out and falling into her late night kinkfest. Finally she confronts the Baron about her torture rack playtime and he freaks out. He says it isn’t him and he goes into the bowels of the castle to seek out the culprit who is secretly enjoying Ivanna!
Scream of the Demon Lover is a sweet film, part gothic romance, part mysterious castle horror. Made in the early 1970’s during the Italian/Spanish co-producing era, this film is known by many names: Blood Castle, Il Castello dalle porte di fuoco, and Ivanna to name a few. Directed by Jose Luis Marino and Produced by Roger Corman, the film premiered in various countries over a two year period. Each one giving it a different name, one even calling it a Frankenstein film!
What of our naked starlet? Erna Schurer is the star of such Giallo classics as “Satan’s Babydoll” and “Strip Nude for your Killer” and she never disappoints. She is quite believable as a doctor and I never question her motivations, even in the silly “I’m cool with being drugged and tied naked to a table” scene. She is a rarity in Italian/Spanish Cinema, a woman who could play both hero and victim, and do it with style.
Carlos Quiney as Janos the Baron is an interesting leading man. Some might say very Latin and others might just call him an asshole. Carlos was more famous for Zorro films than horror, but he had a presence that I would have liked to see more of. He did bring some of that dashing Latin ladies’ man persona with him since every woman in this film wants to ride the “Baron’s Bus of love!” By the way, his entrance in this film is a direct visual lift from “Black Sunday” and I love it!
Agostina Belli who played Christina, the hot sexy maid, was a veteran of many erotic flicks of the day including “The Career of a Chambermaid”, it is a wonder that she doesn’t really get naked in this film. Not a complaint, just an observation.
Interestingly, this is Christina Pathé’s (Olga) only credit.
The script has been accused of having the “all and nothing” approach to construction. While there are some wild red herrings thrown in, the truth is obvious, which makes all these tact on possibilities irrelevant and therefore unnoticeable.
So, worth the watch? Yes! A fun gothic tale with a nice dose of 70’s sleaze tossed in. And like I said, you really can’t go wrong when a sexy woman wanders a castle with a candelabra.