One of the best things our favourite boutique labels are able to do is introduce new favourites. Seeing stacked editions of all of our favourites like RoboCop and True Romance has been great, but it’s the stream of more obscure titles that has been most welcome. Arrow Video is one of the labels that has been doing this well, and their latest set, Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror, continues that run.
Gothic Fantastico is about the lesser-known pictures that came about in the 1960s boom of gothic horror in Italy. Directors like Mario Bava and films like Black Sunday were responsible for that explosion, but this set concentrates on the movies in that shadow, with a quadrilogy consisting of Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (1965), The Blancheville Monster (1963), The Third Eye (1966), and The Witch (1966). Each are vivid tales of the supernatural that explore deception, betrayal, and powers beyond comprehension.
In Lady Morgan’s Vengeance, the fiancé of a young lady disappears, devastating her and forcing her to marry a rival suitor. However, the suitor really wants her riches, which he will only get over her dead body – which just happens to be wandering around. The Blancheville Monster is a Poe-influenced tale about a disfigured monster roaming around an old castle trying to kill his daughter, whose coming-of-age is prophesied to destroy the family legacy. Of course, others are out to make her believe that for their own sake, so they can come out on top.
A young Franco Nero has his first leading role in The Third Eye, where he plays a young man attached to a domineering mother who disapproves of his choice of fiancée. Coincidentally, his fiancée tragically dies in a car accident, which leaves him alone with the family maid, who has always had a thing for him. But even she’s shocked when the fiancée’s sister shows up, who surprisingly looks identical to her sibling. Finally, in The Witch, a man named Sergio answers a newspaper advert for a librarian and finds an elderly lady needing assistance to translate some literature. However, he doesn’t bank on her stunning daughter Aura showing up. But is she really her daughter – and will he find a way out of this nightmare?
These really are a corking set of films. It’s true that they vary in quality, but they’re certainly a bit more maligned than they deserve to be judging on previous writings about them, and they all have interesting things to say. The choice of films also has an interesting arc showing the diversity of the genre, with Lady Morgan’s Vengeance and The Blancheville Monster both period pieces that revel in the classic gothic horror feel, while The Third Eye and The Witch are contemporary works that take a more sophisticated and ambiguous angle on the tropes of gothic horror and the ways in which science and civilisation had evolved in the intervening times.
The latter two are really fascinating pictures, with The Witch a supremely sexy flick that’s very much about gaslighting and manipulation. The Third Eye is the best film in the set, with a manic Nero taking on Norman Bates with his own mother issues and subsequent spree of doing terrible things, exploring the effect of both childhood and accident-based trauma on the psyche.
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All of the films look and sound great, with 2K restorations from the original camera negatives and lossless mono soundtracks, with three of the four films offered in Italian or English. You can also see the English versions of the title sequences on those same three, which is neat, and it’s interesting that The Blancheville Monster is known as Horror on both Italian and English prints. Of course, there are also a ton of fascinating supplements, including audio commentaries, interviews, visual essays, and more.
Arrow have really outdone themselves with this set, not only on the choice of films but also the presentations and special features. Certainly all of the films deserve better reputations than they have, so this at least gives them a chance to get that. Highly recommended.
Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales of Terror is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.