After a long hot summer, the water level drops in the lake by a remote village and exposes the statue of a beautiful woman. The lord of the local manor invites a young artist to restore it, but the statue comes with a curse, and bad things start to happen…
Atmospheric Euro-Horror from director Camillo Mastrocinque, which suffers from a disappointing resolution. The set-up is nothing very original, but surprisingly persuasive and aided by some unusual and excellent locations. The story opens with the artist crossing the mist-shrouded lake, with nothing else visible but the boat, its occupants and the water. It’s an eerie sequence, heightened by superbly crisp black and white photography from Giuseppe Aquari. For once the concept of an ancient curse doesn’t seem either tired or far-fetched; the locals just black silhouettes on a washed-out beach, their small village an indistinct blur in the background. It’s understated and quite striking. Already it seems that the artist is descending into hell.
Arriving later the same evening is Barbara Steele; heiress to the local estate. The artist can’t take his eyes off her, not just because of the obvious reason, but because she bears such an uncanny resemblance to the statue. The revelation of the inevitable curse, and the fear of the villagers are familiar elements, and quite predictable, but they are rendered with rare conviction and style. The artist falls for Steele, of course, but no sooner has he declared his passions, then her behaviour starts to change. Has she become possessed by the spirit of long-dead ancestor Beatrice?
Steele was somewhat typecast in horror roles after her star-making role in Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan’ (1960). It’s a shame because she displays real talent in all her roles, never more obviously than here; skilfully conveying the rapid disintegration of a personality due to external forces. It would have been good to see her in a wider range of material, although her presence always brings a stamp of quality.
Here, using her considerable charms, she teases, taunts and manipulates her way into the minds of every man she meets; commanding eternal devotion from the backward gardener after she strips and then beats him with her riding crop for looking at her. Both the local bully and the new school teacher can’t resist her and she seduces her own housemaid in a scene that threatens to fog the camera lens.
All these plot threads converge in a succession of tragedies but, just when it seems we are cranking up to a big finish, the contrived climax arrives to deflate both credibility and chills. It’s hopelessly contrived and rather predictable, revealing perhaps that all the excellence before was purely down to the visuals coupled with Steele’s fully committed performance. It’s a shame because it relegates what could have been a great horror to merely a good one, but still a cut above most of its contemporaries.
Watch it for the atmosphere. Watch it for Steele.