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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Monster of the Opera Blu-ray Review

Severin Films

Blu-ray Release: May 30, 2023

Video: 1.66:1/1080p/Black & White

Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 84:19

Director: Renato Polselli

Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Severin’s Danza Macabra: Italian Gothic Collection, Volume One four-movie set, which also includes: Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo’s The Seventh Grave (1965), José Luis Merino’s Scream of the Demon Love (1970), and Mel Welles’s Lady Frankenstein (1971).

A modern dance troupe sets up house in a dusty old opera house, only to discover that it is haunted by a bloodthirsty and sex-starved ancient vampire.

Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (Italian: La maschera del demonio; aka: The Mask of Satan and Revenge of the Vampire, 1960) was a watershed film that brought Italian horror to the international masses, heralded Bava as a genre leader, and introduced the world to the incomparable Barbara Steele. As was the tradition, success led to imitation and a short, but extensive series of moody, black & white Gothic horror films, including (but not limited to) Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood (Italian: Danza Macabra, 1964), The Virgin of Nuremberg (Italian: La vergine di Norimberga; aka: Horror Castle, 1963), and The Long Hair of Death (Italian: I Lunghi Capelli della Morte, 1964), Massimo Pupillo’s Terror-Creatures from the Grave (Italian: 5 tombe per un medium; 1965), Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (Italian: Amanti d’oltretomba, 1965), Camillo Mastrocinque’s An Angel for Satan (Italian: Un angelo per Satana, 1966), Riccardo Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Italian: L'orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, 1962) and its sequel, The Ghost (Lo spettro, 1963).

Hitting theaters a few months before Black Sunday and, thus, not directly inspired by Bava’s work, was Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (Italian: L'amante del vampiro). Polselli and Bava’s films can be appreciated as inherently Italian versions of Gothic horror, but the differences are key, including their tonal approach and fact that one (Black Sunday) is a period piece and the other (The Vampire and the Ballerina) takes place a in the then-modern time period. Both were borderline explicit for their era, too, but, while Steele’s unhinged sexuality challenged the very patriarchal stability of society, Polselli opted for a more cheesecake-y method, generating a completely different branch of the Italian Gothic family tree, alongside Piero Regnoli’s similarly themed The Playgirls and the Vampire (Italian: L'ultima preda del vampiro), which was released later in the same year.

Designed as a thematic follow-up, Polselli’s next horror film, Monster of the Opera (Italian: Il mostro dell'opera, 1964), was made in 1961 with the working title Il vampiro dell’OperaThe Vampire of the Opera. As indicated by both titles, Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera (French: Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, pub: 1909) is a major inspiration on the setting and basic plot, as is the central gimmick of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (pub: 1891). Despite recycling pieces of two of the most overtold stories in all of horror fiction (three if you count comparisons between Stefano the vampire and Christopher Lee’s version of Dracula) and a not particularly creative original formula, Monster of the Opera deserves reevaluation for its sometimes silly, always entertaining combination of impressionistic, Gothic-tinged horror, pop-infused modernism, and pure, unadulterated melodrama. The Vampire and the Ballerina did basically the same thing, of course, but this pseudo-sequel does everything a little bit better, including more unique and elaborate dance sequences and some truly evocative, spooky photography from cinematographer Ugo Brunelli.

Monster of the Opera’s approach to sexuality can be juvenile, but its unrelenting horniness is still worth celebrating. Polselli shores up his actresses’ affable pin-up qualities with sultry dance sequences, then underscores the perversity with boundary pushing sadomasochism and lesbianism that might appear tame by modern standards, but must have absolutely scandalized audiences and censors at the time. It’s actually a pretty early example of a sapphic vampire movie, whether you go by its 1961 production or 1964 release date. The subgenre didn’t really take off until 1969-’70, when Jean Rollins’ The Nude Vampire (French: La Vampire Nue, 1969) and Roy Ward Bakers’ The Vampire Lovers (1970) were released, and the only significantly erotic title that predates it is Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (French: Et mourir de plaisir, 1960). For the record, with exception, the male dancers are also queer-coded as impish queens. The violence is mostly imagined or off-screen, but the scary scenes still tend to work, either through well-executed dream logic or plain weirdness of its metaphysical mythology, which includes a otherworldly portal hidden within a painting, a ceremonial pitchfork (?), force fields, and dancing as a method to ward off evil.

Polselli’s vampire-dance duology wasn’t as influential as the Barbara Steele movies, but The Vampire and the Ballerina probably had some effect on Dario Argento’s ballet-themed Suspiria (1977) and Monster of the Opera has some remarkable similarities to Michele Soavi’s StageFright (aka: Deliria and Aquarius, 1987). The director completed a sort of vampire trilogy with The Reincarnation of Isabel (Italian: Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…) in 1973 and followed that up with two gialli: Delirium (Italian: Delirio caldo, 1973) and Mania (1974). He also co-wrote Rossano Brazzi’s Psychout for Murder (Italian: Salvare la faccia, 1969), but mostly stuck to sexploitation dramas and comedies as writer and director. Co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi, who also wrote The Vampire and the Ballerina, casts a larger shadow over Italian horror and thrillers, including Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg and The Long Hair of Death, and Bava’s The Whip and the Body (Italian: La frusta e il corpo, 1963), among others. He also wrote/co-wrote early gialli, like Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini’s The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago, 1965) and Ernesto Gastald’s Libido (1965), as well as almost every one of Sergio Martino’s psychosexual thrillers.

If you are interested in further discussion of the year that brought audiences Black Sunday and House of Usher, 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:


  • Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 by Roberto Curti (McFarland & Company, 2015)


Monster of the Opera is a real rarity that was never released in the United States, in theaters or on home video. There were Italian and French VHS tapes, television airings, and DVDs that fans have used for subtitled bootlegs, but Severin’s Blu-ray is the first official stateside option for a physical copy. It is available as part of the studio’s Danza Macabra: Italian Gothic Collection, Volume One and was created using a new 2K scan of the original negative. The 1080p, 1.66:1, black & white transfer gets the Danza Macabra set off on the right foot with nice textures and a clean, yet naturalistic look. There’s some print damage sprinkled throughout, but nothing excessive and some artifacts, such as upticks in grain, are usually connected to environmental choices on the part of the filmmakers, who flood the film with smoke, backlights, and harsh shadows. There’s a hint of machine noise, but no notable noise reduction or oversharpening. Black levels are pooly when darkness is required and subtle when tonal variations are needed.


As part of its rarity, Monster of the Opera doesn’t seem to have ever been dubbed in English for international distribution, so your only audio option is the original Italian dub (at some point a French dub was created and it was included with the French DVD). The film was, of course, shot without sound, so lip sync is still a bit off and effects are slightly canned, but the overall sound quality is pretty naturalistic for the period. Aldo Piga’s old fashioned score hits the spot with melancholy waltzes, jazzy scare cues, and a litany of Moog enhancements (in place of a more expensive theremin), coupled with diegetic bebop and tango songs for the cast to dance to. The loudest musical moments do tend to buzz, due both to the volume topping out and the number of elements crammed into a single channel.


  • Commentary by Kat Ellinger – The author, critic, and cohost (with Samm Deighan) of the Daughters of Darkness podcast discusses the state of Italian Gothic by the time Monster of the Opera was made versus when it was released, the genre’s obsession with doppelgangers, Polselli’s filmmaking style and relative obscurity, the careers of the cast & crew, connections to Christopher Lee’s Dracula, the film’s use of dance, and the history of sapphic vampires.

  • Terror at the Opera (30:30, HD) – Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who, as I mentioned, was a very important character to Italian Gothic and giallo films, recalls his work in novels and screenplays with emphasis on Polselli’s movies, various peplums, Eurospy films, and horror movies. He also chats about crafting characters and adapting classic tropes.

  • Capodimonte Gothic (14:22, HD) – Actor, dialogue coach, director, writer, and Italian film devotee Mark Thompson-Ashworth looks back at his experiences with Italian horror and knowing Polselli socially.

  • Radio Polselli (21:30, HD) – In this archival audio interview, director Renato Polselli discusses his career in general, the challenges of making movies in Italy on a budget, working with international casts, and adds a bit about Monster of the Opera’s difficult release (the interviewer also compares it to StageFright, as well as Giuseppe Bennati’s The Killer Reserved Nine Seats [Italian: L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone, 1974]).

  • French trailer

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.



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