A Baron who is a brilliant research scientist is working on something to do with frogs, when he finds his wife going all Lady Chatterley with the gardener. So he tortures and kills them and keeps his wife’s heart in a box so her blood can feed a plant. All his wife’s money goes to her stepsister so he marries her and tries to send her mad. And he’s using his first wife’s blood to keep his ageing housekeeper young and beautiful…
Rather muddled mid-1960s black and white Euro-Horror that plays like it’s been assembled from parts of other, better movies. However, clarity is not assisted by the English language version, which runs only an hour and a quarter and appears to be heavily cut. Presumably, the missing footage would have provided further information about the Baron’s identity, what his experiments are about, how he’s discovered the fountain of youth (at the start his housekeeper is an old woman), why he seems to have some torture devices hanging about, and what’s with that strangely fleshy plant? We get none of this; and the lack of exposition robs the characters of legitimate motivation. Instead, we fall back on the usual stereotypes; the mad scientist, the slutty first wife, the virginal second, the handsome young doctor who wants to help and Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper.
It’s all a bit of a shame really, as there are some decent performers trapped in this labyrinth of plot obscurities. For a start, our lead is the lovely Barbara Steele, who plays both wives; the second in a fetching blonde wig. Although the script gives her the opportunity to play both bad girl and good girl, it’s quite probable that the talented Steele was getting a bit tired of these type of projects by this time. She’d appeared in Fellini’s ‘8½’ (1963) after all. Matching the intensity of her performance(s) is the work of Paul Muller as the murderous medic, who is pleasingly unhinged without being melodramatic. Other members of the small cast don’t get much of a look in, but their roles appear underwritten anyway.
Apart from a few bizarre touches here and there, the plot is predictable to the extent that it’s almost formulaic, and director Mario Caiano takes little advantage of the monochrome photography or the castle interiors. Events take a supernatural turn late on, and these scenes are much better realised than what has gone before, but it’s a classic case of too little, too late.
However, before judging too harshly, it should be remembered that this is most probably not the film as it was originally released, and the English dubbing does it absolutely no favours, being slipshod at best. Another serious mark in the debit column is the musical soundtrack, which is clumsy and overpowering, and diffuses any attempt to build suspense. Of course, this may not be have been part of the original film either.
Steele only did one more gothic horror after this one; the rather fine ‘An Angel For Satan’ (1966) before pursuing a far more varied film career. It’s a pity she only tends to be remembered for her startling debut in Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan’ (1960) and the similar films that followed, but the best of those are well worth seeking out. However, this film certainly isn’t one of them.