Halloween Endurance Test: Nightmare Castle (1965)

Nightmare Castle was made by Roger Corman.  I’m assuming it was at the end of his ‘Poe’ cycle.  The story sounds like a smorgasbord of Poe story portions all jumbled together.  The glue holding this mess together is Barbara Steele, who, I’m continuing to assume, was some sort of star.  Not an actual bona-fide movie star, mind you, but most likely one of those B-movie stars.  (If she doesn’t earn a mention in Hollywood Babylon then how famous could she be?)  Steele must’ve been akin to what was called a ‘scream queen’ in the eighties, only she doesn’t scream, act, or even look pretty.  I surely hope Poe wrote his female roles better than this.

My distaste for this film runs deep.  I first saw it when I was twelve and just starting my B-movie ‘phase.’  (A ‘phase’ that has never actually stopped.  It takes an occasional break, then comes right back; stronger than ever.)  My mother bought me a huge box set of what turned out to be public domain horror movies, one of which was Nightmare Castle.

(Which, to my knowledge, shouldn’t have been included seeing how Corman usually kept a short leash on his movies.  I’ll refer you to an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where Steve hosts his own Roger Corman marathon to pick up a few quick bucks and gets a visit from the man himself looking for his cut.  Surely a show like 90210 wouldn’t play fast and loose with reality.  Plus I’ve heard tale of fellow B-movie maestro Russ Meyer doing the same to people who tried to step on his copyrights.)  
At the time I didn’t know who Corman was; my discovery of Deathrace 2000 was still a few years away.  I certainly didn’t know who Barbara Steele was, and I still don’t.  Nightmare Castle was in a bad spot to begin with, sandwiched between Night of the Living Dead on one end, and White Zombie on the other.  Considering that the first is the most influential zombie movie of all time (so far), and the other the first zombie movie doesn’t leave Nightmare Castle with much room to work with.

A typical Corman production, i.e. produced extremely cheap.  One set, the, uh, well…castle, is used extensively throughout.  Steele plays two roles (sisters), as both a blond and brunette.  Giving you the viewer a chance to decide which flavor of mildly attractive, wholly untalented starlet you prefer.

There’s a bit of ‘the Tell-Tale Heart’ involved, a couple dashes of ‘the Masque of the Red Death,’ and strangely enough, a few drops of Corman’s own Wasp Woman mixed in.  Inexplicably the final ‘shocker’ comes from fellow exploiter David Friedman’s She Freak.  Though if you didn’t see that coming you obviously haven’t spent your life watching these things.

Truth be told I’m not too disappointed with the feature since it too has been disappointing my entire life.  I only bought it ‘cuz it was paired up with the Creature from the Haunted Sea which is one of my favorite movies of all time.  So I didn’t expect much from Nightmare Castle, and it managed to deliver even less than that.


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