This week on my tour through Italy’s cinema, three monochrome classics: a gothic horror starring a 1960s scream queen, an unsettling psychological melodrama that earned its young star the tag ‘the new James Dean’ and the greatest biblical film ever made.
Castle of Blood (Antonio Margheriti, 1964)
One of Margheriti’s three gothic horrors from 1963-64 – the others are: The Virgin of Nuremberg and The Long Hair of Death – this is also known as La danza macabra and The Castle of Terror. It sees Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), a foolhardy Times journalist, taking Edgar Allan Poe up on a tavern wager, which results in Foster spending the ‘Night of the Dead’ in haunted Blackwood Castle. Classic cobwebby stuff from Margheriti and Steele has never been better, as she makes a spectre of herself as mysterious Elisabeth Blackwood.
Fists in the Pocket (Marcello Bellocchio, 1965)
Writer-director Bellocchio’s debut film made waves internationally in 1965, with the press trumpeting its star, Lou Castel, as a rebel successor to James Dean, but viewed today Castel’s petulant performance owes more to the young Brando. This strange and unique drama depicts a dysfunctional family living in a secluded provincial villa, where lies and selfish deceit give way murder. Castel’s performance is riveting, Bellocchio’s visuals by turns poetic and disturbing, and there’s a eerie, avant-garde score from Ennio Morricone.
The Gospel According to St Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
This is the antithesis of Hollywood’s showbiz treatment of the life of the Messiah. For a biblical film made by an atheist, this is a moving, powerful discourse on the live of Jesus Christ (as played by Spanish economics student Enrique Irazoqui). Pasolini shot his low-key religious epic on location in Italy, in Lazio, Calabria, Mount Etna and most memorably at the rock-hewn hovels of the Sassi di Matera, in Basilicata, which played Pasolini’s Bethlehem. Shot in black and white by Tonino Delli Colli, the film also features a memorable score that includes music by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, Bach’s ‘Matthew’s Passion’ and the spiritual ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’, performed by Odetta.
Castle of Blood, Fists in the Pocket, The Gospel According to St Matthew and other films mentioned here are discussed in detail in my book, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult, published by I.B. Tauris.
I also wrote a profile of Barbara Steele entitled ‘Scream Queen of the Italian Scene: The Woman Who Haunted Herself’ in issue #11 of Cinema Retro, back issues of which can be ordered here.