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DVD SAVANT

THE Faceless Monster


The Faceless Monster
Retromedia
1965 / b&w / 1:66 flat letterbox / 100 min. / Amanti d'oltretomba, Nightmare Castle, Lovers Beyond the Tomb, Lovers from Beyond the Tomb, Night of the Doomed, Orgasmo / Street Date February 25, 2003 / $14.95
Starring Barbara Steele, Paul Müller, Helga Liné, Laurence Clift, Giuseppe Addobbati, Rik Battaglia
Cinematography Enzo Barboni
Production Designer Massimo Tavazzi
Film Editor Renato Cinquini
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Mario Caiano and Fabio De Agostini
Produced by Carlo Caiano
Directed by Allan Grünewald (Mario Caiano)

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

A definitely down-grade Barbara Steele vehicle, The Faceless Monster is a hastily cobbled potboiler that appears to have been assembled from ideas recycled from the Queen of Horror's earlier pictures. The rushed and artless production doesn't manage to do much more than keep Steele on screen about 90% of the time; it is overly complicated and numbingly slow. The uncut print appears to be an excellent transfer source, but Retromedia's disc is a big letdown in terms of quality.

Synopsis:

The greedy Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Miller, aka Paul Müller) conspires to surprise his unfaithful wife Muriel in the greenhouse (Barbara Steele) as she pursues an illicit affair with handyman David (Rik Battaglia). Stephen tortures them both to death, slowly, removes their hearts, and then cremates what's left. But Stephen's expected inheritance goes to Muriel's identical sister Jenny (Steele again), forcing Stephen to restart from scratch by wooing and marrying a blonde, virtuous version of his first wife. Jenny has already been diagnosed with mental illness, so it should be no problem for Arrowsmith, with his housemaid Solange (Helga Liné) to use drugs to send her over the edge. In their very first attempt, Jenny dreams of a strange murder in the greenhouse. This all adheres to the plan, until the schemers realize that Jenny is tripping out without having taken their hallucinogens.

By 1965 Barbara Steele had already been a solid horror icon for four years, with top English critics adding their praise to that of the continental worshippers in the French magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique. But it's no wonder that Steele clung to her one Federico Fellini outing to define herself, as her horror films failed to develop beyond her first 3 or 4 chillers for Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti, and Riccardo Freda. Amanti d'oltretomba's script is a thoughtless rehash of Black Sunday (the good and evil Barbaras), Castle of Blood (a haunted house that replays murders from the past), and especially The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (the new bride tormented by her husband and housemaid, and the basic story structure).

The Deja Vu extends to the use of the same villa from the Freda film. Barbara is indeed onscreen most of the time, but her two characters are colorless and dull, and the film is lazily directed. With even the Ennio Morricone music (mostly loud organ chords) failing to generate much interest, the attention wanders. Frankly, the glossy stills reproduced in the old, adoring Mini-Minuit photo layouts were more satisfying than the film itself is now.

This is the first Steele EuroHorror I've seen that lacks a visual dimension. The other 'big three' directors managed to surround Barbara with stylish photography, enveloping her in strange mists and mysterious shadows, viewing her face through distorting windows, etc. The cinematography here is serviceable but flat, and really compelling images of Steele's beauty are few and far between. All that's left are the uninteresting details of the plot: a vindictive husband murders for profit, favoring poison and electrocution as his methods.

Steele is said to use her own voice, although the dubbing is awkward. The voices never link up with the faces - watching the film is an experience in vocal detachment. The acting is serviceable, in general. Helga Liné starts out in terrible old-age makeup that would defeat any actor, but later on shows a control and presence that transcends the lacklustre happenings around her. Frequent EuroHorror star Paul Müller does reasonably well with a character that makes little sense. Is his motivation greed or jealousy? If he's so brilliant he can restore his housemaid's youthful appearance, what need has he for his wife's money? I doubt that anyone worried about such things while going through the motions.


If the film were better, Retromedia's DVD of The Faceless Monster would be a big disappointment. The original film element looks to be in fine condition, but the disc encoding is frustratingly poor. The washed-out picture has a constant patterning that Savant associates with an inadequate bit rate, and many scenes look pixillated. Under these conditions, the black and white photography has a slightly slimy video feel to it, like a kinescope. The show has what might be video-replacement main titles. But the end credits are in Italian, and misspell the lead actress's name as 'Steel'.

The extra is a montage of stills from various Barbara Steele films. Like everything else about the disc, the quality is nothing to brag about. Menus and artwork exploit Muriel's disfigured horror-face from the picture's final scene, when the show picks up for a couple of minutes. The text blurb on the back cover has the most egregious error I've yet seen on a DVD - repeating the text of half a paragraph, by mistake.

Retromedia is being faithful to the 'retro' in its name, going against the trend of quality genre DVDs we've enjoyed, from many a humble independent company. The lowliest Wade Williams disc is by comparison a thing of beauty. Barbara Steele fans are going to want this title no matter what, but don't expect much from it - it's better than a greymarket VHS tape, only in that the picture is more stable.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Faceless Monster rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Poor
Sound: Good
Supplements: Photo montage
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 6, 2003





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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