Monday, July 26, 2010

The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963)

The Virgin of Nuremberg was a medieval torture device that most of us know as the Iron Maiden. It was an upright sarcophagus with metal spikes on the inside. The victim was tied inside and when the doors were shut their body would be penetrating with the strategically placed spikes. These spikes were designed to not penetrate any vital organs, therefore extending the agony of the victim and ensuring they died a slow death.

In The Virgin of Nuremberg (aka Horror Castle), a 1963 film directed by Antonio Margheriti, this torture device plays an integral part of the plot. Max (Georges Rivière) and Mary (Rosanna Podesta) Hunter are staying at a castle in Germany Max has inherited. One night, Mary is awoken with screams…and sees a mysterious figure in a red cloak kill a maid. It seems that the original owner of the castle has returned…and is back killing innocent victims with the castle’s old torture instruments! Who is this madman, what are his ties to the Hunters and how can he be stopped?

The Virgin of Nuremberg is a decent gothic horror tale. While not as good at Margheriti’s later effort Castle of Blood, it is still an elegant and atmospheric film. Plus, Christopher Lee stars in a small role as the castle’s disfigured man-servant!

The story of the castle’s owner and his sordid history were interesting. You were never quite sure whether he was back from the dead or if it was just someone posing as him, which kept me in suspense until the final “unveiling” of the killer (whew, and what an unveiling it is!). The castle’s inhabitants and servants also did a nice job of creating enough red herrings to keep me guessing. The character of Rosanna wasn’t that developed, but Podesta did a good job of playing the stereotypical “damsel in distress” in her white flowy nightgowns that faints away at any sign of trouble.

The setting of the big, dark castle was appropriately creepy and I especially liked the shadowy torture room filled with steel cages, surgical implements and various torture devices. The eye-popping color red is used throughout the film (as accent colors in rooms as well as the killer’s red robe and, of course, the blood!) and really pops against the rest of the dark castle. The gothic visuals really add to the film’s ambiance and made me enjoy it even more.

Quite a bit of blood is spilled in the film, surprising for its time. It is certainly not a gorefest, but there are some nice deaths throughout the film. Memorable scenes include a woman with her eyes gouged out impaled within the ubiquitous iron maiden, a cage with a hungry rat inside place over a living woman’s head and, as previously mentioned, the unveiling of the killer.

The Virgin of Nuremberg is a stunning Italian gothic horror film and while it isn’t appreciated as much as other films in the genre, I believe it definitely deserves a look!

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