My vote for Mario Bava's best film, this is an absolutely stunning visual
feast to say the least. The colour scheme in particular appears to have
inspired Dario Argento for his seminal film 'Suspiria'. Meanwhile the
basic story, setting and foggy atmosphere evoke the days of Hammer films,
but with Bava at the helm it is quite a different experience, and more
Some of the performances and even the stock standard 'small town plagued
by curse' storyline may seem a bit underwhelming (hell, there's even a
spiral staircase), but the visuals and a few of the performances are
arresting enough to make it seem fresh and engrossing. One will never
forget young Micaela Esdra as the ill-fated Nadine as she is plagued with
the curse, or the bravura nightmare sequence involving Erica Blanc (from
one of the greatest Italian-Belgian horror films, 'The Devil's Nightmare')
that is wonderfully surreal. And then there's Luciano Catenacci (AKA Max
Lawrence) as the creepiest Burgomeister you've ever seen, looking like a
mixture of Yul Brynner, Udo Kier and Beelzebub- he doesn't need acting
ability, he's ominous-looking as it is. Also top-notch are scene-stealing
Fabienne Dali as the Sorceress Ruth (she's a dead ringer for Barbara
Steele) and Gianna Vivaldi as the Baroness Graps, a gaunt-looking woman
with many a secret, both women are given interestingly layered characters.
In terms of plot, it occasionally seems like something similar to a Gothic
version of 'Ringu' or its American remake 'The Ring', but the latter in
particular captured the Gothic atmosphere without coming close to evoking
the constant sense of dread and weirdness. In that film, you could turn
the damn TV off (duh!) or destroy the tape, but the people in this film
have no such luck, hence why the fog never seems to go away.
Bava is at his best here in scenes such as the masterful 'swing-cam'
moment, or the chase scene that probably ranks as one of the best and
weirdest (no spoilers from me), or my other favourite, the scene where
Blanc is attempting to descend the ominous-looking spiral staircase (shot
in gorgeous greens and blues that couldn't possibly be natural light, but
who the hell cares? It's just plain cool) and the camera spins around as
she struggles. And yes, like the underappreciated Jess Franco, Bava uses
plenty of zooms, and if you ask me, most of those zooms are needed.
A work of art and a darn entertaining horror film with a constant sense of
dread, and proof if nothing else that little girls (or as it were, little
boys dressed as girls) are...damn...scary.