Lady Morgan's Vengeance Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: October 18, 2022 (as part of Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror)
Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Black & White
Audio: Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 86:00
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror four-movie set, which also includes The Blancheville Monster (aka: Horror, 1963), The Third Eye (Italian: Il terzo occhio, 1966), and The Witch (Italian: La strega in amore, 1966).
Newlywed Sir Harold Morgan (Paul Muller) endeavors to drive his wealthy young bride, Susan Morgan (Barbara Nelli), to suicide with help from his sinister maid (Erika Blanc). (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Originally specializing in documentary shorts (most of which were apparently lost to time), Massimo Pupillo’s career as a director of fiction was as impactful as it was incredibly short-lived. After writing Luigi Scattini’s Jayne Mansfield-themed mondo movie, Primitive Love (Italian: L'amore primitivo, 1964), he jumped onto the Gothic horror train with Terror-Creatures from the Grave (Italian: 5 tombe per un medium, 1965), one of eight such films actress Barbara Steele made in Italy, following the box office success Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (Italian: La maschera del demonio; aka: The Mask of Satan and Revenge of the Vampire, 1960). This, alone, would’ve put him on the ground floor for the black & white Gothic horror movement, but, later the same year, he also released the full-color combination of Gothic, body-building, fumetti neri, S&M torture mash-up, Bloody Pit of Horror (Italian: Il boia scarlatto, 1965), then returned to black & white for Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (Italian: La vendetta di Lady Morgan, 1965).
Bereft of Steele’s star-power and not nearly as weird as Bloody Pit of Horror, Lady Morgan’s Vengeance is sort of the forgotten piece of Pupillo’s little trilogy. With its allusions to Brontë-esque Gothic romance sources, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (or at least Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film adaptation), and George Cukor’s Gothic-noir amalgamation, Gaslight (1944, based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play), it is an altogether different experience right up until its last act, where the dark romance fades into supernatural horror. Pupillo still has his quirks, though, including casting another bodybuilder, Gordon Mitchell, to play a whip-happy heavy. Its reputation for rarity isn’t hurt by the fact that, according to author Roberto Curti (Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 [McFarland & Company, 2015]), it was never distributed outside of Europe. Screenwriter Giovanni Grimaldi, who also wrote/co-wrote Alberto De Martino’s The Blancheville Monster (aka: Horror, 1963) and Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood (Italian: Danza Macabra, 1964), recycles much of his and Bruno Corbucci’s Castle of Blood script after having borrowed elements of both from a favorite Italian Gothic horror source, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
Pupillo’s style is a bit rougher than some of his contemporaries, but he has a real eye for unique shots and disturbing imagery. Bolstered by cinematographer Oberdan Troiani’s atmospheric lighting, Lady Morgan’s Vengeance is often visually superior to more by-the-numbers Italian Gothic entries, like Riccardo Freda’s The Ghost (Lo spettro, 1963) and Alberto De Martino’s The Blancheville Monster (aka: Horror, 1963), despite what appears to be a low-end budget. Troiani hadn’t previously worked in horror, but did shoot a number of fantastical peplum/sword & sandal movies, which prepared him for the stylized look of Bava-esque Gothic. Chief among these was Giacomo Gentilomo’s Hercules Against the Moon Men (Italian: Maciste e la regina di Samar, 1964), made in the spirit of Bava’s own Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole al centro della terra, 1961) released the year before Lady Morgan’s Vengeance. Pupillo wasn’t interested in pursuing horror any further and followed up his Gothic trilogy with a slight, underseen spaghetti western called Django Kills Softly (Italian: Bill il taciturno, 1967) and a more serious-minded, sex-based mondo documentary, Love: The Unknown (Italian: L'amore, questo sconosciuto, 1969). He then began working in television and released his final feature, Sajana, l'audace impresa, in 1981 (according to Roberto Curti, it was shot with non-actors, making it a pseudo return to his documentarian roots).
The cast includes the aforementioned Gordon Mitchell, an American strongman, who took advantage of Italy’s peplum and spaghetti western fads, Swiss-born star of Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (Italian: Amanti d'oltretomba, 1965) and Jess Franco’s She Killed in Ecstasy (German: Sie tötete in Ekstase; Spanish: Mrs. Hyde, 1971), Paul Muller, as well as Barbara Nelli in the title character. Nelli didn’t make many horror movies, but also appeared in a smaller role in Pupillo’s Bloody Pit of Horror. The biggest Euro-cult icon in the bunch is the enigmatic Erika Blanc. Blanc was, arguably, Italian Gothic’s second most important actress behind Steele and performed in Bava’s Kill, Baby, Kill! (Italian: Operazione paura; aka: Operation Fear, also 1966), Jean Brismée’s The Devil's Nightmare (La plus longue nuit du diable, 1971), Emilio Miraglia’s Gothic-tinged giallo The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italian: La notte che Evelyn usci’ dalia tomba, 1971), and Mino Guerinni’s The Third Eye (Italian: Il terzo occhio, 1966), in which she is the one killed by a murderous housekeeper.
If you are interested in further discussion of the year that brought audiences Black Sunday and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, please check out the two-part 25th episode of the Genre Grinder podcast, where Patrick Ripoll and I take a look at the Year in Horror: 1960.
Unlike a great many of similar Italian horror movies of the early 1960s, Lady Morgan’s Vengeance didn’t end up in the public domain in the US – because it was never released here – thus making it particularly difficult to find. From what I can tell, French company Artus Films released the only official DVD in 2004, though it was in Italian with only French subtitles. A fan-subbed version of that is currently available on YouTube and, if it were the only option, it would be fine. Fortunately, Arrow has produced a 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray using a 2K restoration of the original camera negative, so fans and the curious don’t have to settle. As mentioned above, the overall look is perhaps grittier than the other three films in the Gothic Fantastico collection, but Oberdan Troiani’s black & white photography is every bit as dynamic and expressionistic, so there’s a difficult balance between graininess and subtlety going on here. Some of the darkest shots lose detail in the noise, but this rarely appears to be an issue with the transfer, rather, just the way the original material looks. The majority of images are tonally rich with far better separation than the fuzzy standard definition version.
Lady Morgan’s Vengeance is the one movie in the Gothic Fantastico set that doesn’t have an English dub option. It is only presented in uncompressed Italian LPCM 1.0 mono. As per usual, this, like most Italian films of the era, was shot without synced sound and all language versions were dubbed, though it seems that they never bothered to prep this particular movie for English language release. That, or the tracks were lost when producers opted not to release the film in English-speaking theaters. The lip sync is shockingly accurate for a ‘60s movie, leading me to assume basically every actor was speaking Italian on set. There’s a bit of hiss and the spooky sound effects (wind, thunder, et cetera) and music have a single-channel compressed quality, but there’s little distortion or obvious damage to the tracks. The nearly perpetual score is credited to Piero Umiliani, a composer whose work has continued to be archived and sampled as stock into the 2020s, despite having passed away in 2001.
Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas – In this easygoing, academic-styled track, the critic and author of 1000 Women In Horror, 1895-2018 (BearManor Media, 2020) discusses the larger careers of the cast & crew, the film’s social themes, compares Lady Morgan’s Vengeance to Pupillo’s other Gothic horror movies, and contextualizes the film under its many genre umbrella and themes, which she breaks into Italian Gothic (including a significant dive into Gothic literature), supernatural-style vengeance, and “gaslighting films.” As I did for my review, she utilizes Roberto Curti’s book and refers to it as an essential source of such information.
Vengeance from Beyond (4:38, HD) – In this introduction, Italian film devotee Mark Thompson Ashworth briefly discusses the director’s career, the film’s structure, and the cast’s other movies.
The Grudge (21:29, HD) – The editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine, author, and co-host of the Daughters of Darkness podcast, Kat Ellinger, explores the roots of ‘60s Gothic and revenge horror from an international and feminist perspective, beginning with the post-war political changes that opened the door to Italian genre movies. From here, she analyzes the specific Italian brand of Gothic, comparing the often female-centered stories of Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava to the male-centered stories of Hammer and Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle, then contrasts them with the Japanese Kwaidan film tradition that blossomed around the same time as the early Italian Gothics, specifically those films about vengeful feminine ghosts. I personally found this video essay to be vital viewing for Ellinger’s perspective, of course, but also because she briefly looks into the often overlooked Korean horror of the pre-modern era.
When We Were Vampires (24:05, HD) – Actress Erika Blanc, who, as I mentioned, appeared in a lot of these movies, sticks mostly to talking about her experience making Lady Morgan’s Vengeance, including locations, Pupillo’s direction, her affection for the cast, and her confusion at becoming a vampire at the end of the movie (a twist that really doesn’t make any sense).
Born to Be a Villain (20:03, HD) – In this newly edited interview, actor Paul Muller recalls his childhood, his education, early adventures as a starving actor, and his love of playing the “baddie.” He admits he doesn’t remember much about Lady Morgan’s Vengeance, but still shares plenty of wit and wisdom on the subject of acting.
The Pupillo Tapes (20:16, HD) – In this audio interview from 1993, director Massimo Pupillo looks back on his career, explains the mystery behind his pseudonym Ralph Zucker, recalls struggling with Barbara Steele and adoring Mickey Hargitay, and throws shade at Lucio Fulci.
Original cineromanzo, published in Suspense in April 1971 (slideshow gallery)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.