Scream of the Demon Lover Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: May 30, 2023
Audio: Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 98:19
Director: José Luis Merino
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: Renato Polselli’s The Monster of the Opera (1964), Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo’s The Seventh Grave (1965), and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971).
A young chemist named Ivanna (Erna Schurer) accepts a job at a remote castle to work with a troubled Baron named Janos Dalmar (Carlos Quiney). As she arrives, she finds a village in the grip of a mysterious serial murderer and later begins to suspect her employer, but is torn as she begins to develop feelings for him.
By the end of the 1960s, the Italian Gothic horror tradition had faded in favor of new fads, namely spaghetti westerns (which were already on their way out), gialli, and the early days of poliziotteschi. Meanwhile, Spain had a sudden influx of Gothic horror, thanks to a slight easement of Franco-era censorship and the surprise popularity of a few key films, including the first of Paul Naschy’s (aka: Jacinto Molina Álvarez) El Hombre Lobo movies, Enrique López Eguiluz’ Mark of the Wolfman (Spanish: La Marca del Hombre Lobo, 1968) and Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s The House That Screamed (Spanish: La residencia; aka: The Boarding School, 1969). Funding was still at a premium, though, and those fascist censorship laws weren’t that lax, so it was prudent for Spanish filmmakers to combine efforts with other European countries. Industry pioneer Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco famously worked with French and West German companies throughout his career and Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (Spanish: No profanar el sueño de los muertos; aka: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, 1974) was shot in England using mixed Italian/Spanish funding and crew members, for example.
On the slightly more obscure side of things is Scream of the Demon Lover (Italian: Il castello dalle porte di fuoco, 1970), a multinational chiller that was directed by a Spaniard, José Luis Merino, co-written by two more Spaniards, Enrico Colombo and María del Carmen Martínez Román, shot in Italy with an Italian crew and mixed nationality cast, then bought up by American B-movie titan Roger Corman for a stateside double-bill with Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire (1971). Despite all the money changing hands, Scream of the Demon Lover (aka: Killers in the Castle of Blood or Blood Castle, not to be confused with Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood [Italian: Danza Macabra, 1964]), was still a very low-budget affair. These limitations are most obvious in the number of out-of-focus shots (I assume there wasn’t enough money or time to do multiple takes), obvious anachronisms, and flimsy set design, at least whenever the filmmakers aren’t working from genuine castle or village locations. Merino uses a sort of mix of naturalistic and stylized visuals, which I’m pretty sure was done out of necessity, rather than with thematic/artistic purpose, but serves the material and feels somewhat unique among the typical Euro-horrors of the period.
The script leans heavily into Gothic Romance territory, snagging bits and pieces from the Brontës and Daphne du Maurier, to the point that the base plot could accurately be described as a particularly dirty combination of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and Frankenstein. To that end, the cast leans hard into full-bore melodrama, balancing out the smutty interludes and gore with delightfully soapy performances. As gialli were having their ‘moment’ by the time it was made, Scream of the Demon Lover throws in some gialli-like murder sequences, too. The killer uses basically the same bladed glove seen in Luciano Ercoli’s far bloodier Death Walks at Midnight (Italian: La morte accarezza a mezzanotte, 1972), but the closer comparison is Mario Bava’s giallo-esque Gothic thriller Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972). Sadly, Corman and New World Pictures cut the film by 20 minutes for North American distribution, deleting basically all of the nudity and violence, robbing the film of its stuffy costume drama meets exploitation horror charm. Thankfully, this Blu-ray features the complete 98-minute cut.
Merino was a prolific writer and director and pretty much every one of his best remembered films were Italian/Spanish co-productions. This included spaghetti westerns Kitosch, the Man Who Came from the North (Italian: Frontera al sur, 1967), Requiem for a Gringo (co-directed with Eugenio Martín; Italian: Requiem per un gringo, 1968), and More Dollars for the MacGregors (Italian: Ancora dollari per i MacGrego, 1970), and macaroni-combat titles, like Hell Commandos (Italian: Comando al infierno, 1969) and Slaughter on the Khyber Pass (Italian: La furia dei Khyber, 1970). He was basically a multinational ringer. His only other genuine horror movie as director was The Hanging Woman (Spanish: La orgía de los muertos, 1973) – an almost exclusively Spanish affair co-starring Señor Horror Español himself, Paul Naschy.
Thanks to Roger Corman, Scream of the Demon Lover did have US theatrical distribution and made its way to VHS via Wizard Video (under the Blood Castle title) and Charter Entertainment (probably some grey market companies, too). There were a handful of US DVDs from budget labels, but none were anamorphically enhanced. German company X-Rated Kult released the film at least three times on RB Blu-ray since 2010, but none of those collections featured English dialogue or subtitles. Fortunately, Severin’s new disc (currently only available as part of their Danza Macabra set) is English-friendly and, according to specs, created using a new 4K scan of the original negative (the only 4K scan in the set). Though IMDb.com claims it was a 35mm film, a title card verifies that Severin was working from a 16mm single strand negative. As a result, this 1080p, 1.85.1 disc features large grain and slightly slippery color qualities. While the title card warns us of deterioration, the condition is honestly pretty nice. Dark sequences with their steely blues, violets, and deep blacks arguably look better than the brightly-lit scenes, where the print damage and faded neutral hues are a little more obvious. The halo effects along the darkest edges appear to be another film-based issue, not a case of digital oversharpening.
For the record and assuming all the box art is correct, every official release since that Wizard tape has included the complete cut of the film, not the severely truncated Corman cut that was shown in US theaters.
Scream of the Demon Lover features English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. As per usual, this film was shot without synced sound, so all language tracks are dubbed. The multilingual cast looks to be speaking mostly English and Italian (or maybe Spanish – my lip-reading isn’t that impressive) and everything was dubbed in post, as per usual. Both language tracks are muffled, likely tied to the condition of the material. The English dub performances are quite good, effectively selling leads Erna Schurer and Carlos Quiney as having British accents. There is no credited composer, so I assume the filmmakers were using library tracks (mostly the same track over and over). The music sounds effectively the same on both tracks – clean, but suffering slight volume fluctuations, probably due to noise reduction processes, roughness of the original tracks, or both.
Commentary with Rod Barnett and Robert Monell – The co-host of NaschyCast, Barnett, and Monell, the writer/editor of the I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind blog, discuss Euro-Gothic movies, Scream of the Demon Lover’s modern take on Gothicism (mostly pertaining to Ivanna as a character), the logistics of the mixed Italian-Spanish production, connections to the Brontë Sisters’ work (including a rundown of shared plot-points), escalating sexual content in Italian and Spanish horror at the time, and the careers and personal lives of the cast & crew.
Scream Erna Scream! (19:18, HD) – Actress Erna Schurer chats about her career by 1970, the movies she made around Scream of the Demon Lover, the locations and costumes, her castmates, séances and pranks on set, Merino’s personality and direction, Corman’s limited participation, and her love of dogs.
In the Castle of Blood (38:59, HD) – A video essay by the author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 1999), Stephen Thrower, who looks into Merino’s larger career and favorite collaborators, then explores the making of Scream of the Demon Lover, its financing, its place among other Italian Gothic horror, its somewhat progressive portrayal of its heroine, and connections to Jane Eyre (he laments the lead’s lack of “full Byronic appeal”).
The Killers of the Castle of Blood 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.