Tomb of Torture: Anna-phylactic shock

Tomb of Torture directed by Antonio BoccaciTomb of Torture directed by Antonio Boccaci

Tomb of Torture directed by Antonio Boccaci1963 was a very good year for the Italian horror film. In February, cinematographer-turned-director Mario Bava started the giallo ball rolling with the release of his seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and he would follow up that August with back-to-back releases of two of his most beloved films, Black Sabbath and The Whip and the Body. Riccardo Freda’s The Ghost, starring Barbara Steele, came out in late March, Alberto de Martino’s The Blancheville Monster in June, and Antonio Margheriti’s Horror Castle, featuring Christopher Lee, also in August. Lost in the shuffle, apparently, was the late March release of Tomb of Torture, a little-known horror outing that is certainly a lesser affair than those others, but yet one that has much to offer for the modern-day fan of Gothic Eurohorror. Originally released with the title Metempsycose (Italian, I would imagine, for “metempsychosis”: the passing of the soul after death to another body), the film appeared in the U.S. several years later with its new appellation as part of a double feature alongside the 1964 German film Cave of the Living Dead. And today, the film might be getting a belated rescue from its tomblike obscurity, thanks in large part to a nice-looking print being made available by Image’s EuroShock DVD series.

In the film, pretty Anna Darnell (played by Annie Alberti) has been having horrible nightmares centered around an underground dungeon, and her father brings her back to the village where she had been born 20 years earlier … right around the time that the Countess Irene had mysteriously disappeared. Anna, apparently, is the spitting image of the presumed-dead countess, and the town locals — including the current countess, Elizabeth (Flora Carosello) — believe that she is the reincarnation of Irene herself! Anna soon meets and falls in love with visiting reporter George Dickson (Marco Mariani), who even more rapidly falls in love with her and comes to her assistance later on. And Anna is going to need all the help she can get, what with Irene’s ghostly apparition stalking her, and a hideously deformed man-creature carrying off the local women to bring to the local castle’s underground dungeon … right, the same dungeon as in Anna’s dreams…

Tomb of Torture opens with a dynamite half hour, slows down a bit for its middle third, and then picks up again for a fairly bravura climax. In that initial third, a camera prowls through the nearly deserted castle, while the outré, often electronic score by composer Armando Sciascia sets the eerie mood. Two young schoolgirls explore the castle, only to be attacked by that deformed creature (his face is fairly indescribable; a twisted mass of beard, lumps, scars and drooping eyeballs) and set up for torture in the dungeon. And shortly after meeting Anna, the viewer is privy to one of her dungeon nightmares, replete with monsters and assorted mayhem, courtesy of a mysterious armored figure. Nicely shot in B&W by DOP Francesco Campitelli, it is a tremendous double intro to the film. Unfortunately, as I say, things settle down quickly after that, with much mooning and sighing between the two lovers (it is almost ridiculous how quickly they become a couple after “meeting cute”), until the picture’s exciting dungeon climax, in which all the characters get precisely what they deserve, and in which the viewer’s questions regarding the provenance of our nameless creature are answered in a brief but stunning flashback. This deformed creature, by the way, is a memorably grotesque creation — at times, truly scary; at others, quite pathetic — but truth to tell, I have seen a lot worse in the NYC subway!

Anyway, the film is certainly nothing classic, but is generally interesting and always atmospheric, and happily, the supernatural elements in the picture are ultimately revealed to be just that; no mundane explanations for the ghostly visitations and reincarnation angles in THIS movie! Director/co-screenwriter Antonio Boccaci, who apparently never helmed another film, does a surprisingly nice job at creating a haunting atmosphere, while that unusual music previously mentioned alternates at times with an effective use of silence. Alberti herself is a likable enough damsel in distress, and a nice-looking one, although she never looks more beautiful than she does in the photographed portrait of Countess Irene that hangs in the moldering castle. Interestingly, both George and Raman (Irene’s former Sikh lover, who has searched for her for two decades) prove completely ineffectual during the film’s denouement; some fine heroes these two turn out to be! Also of passing interest to this viewer was the film’s indeterminate time period. I could not figure out if the film is supposed to be set in the 1930s (based on George’s antique car) or in modern times. In truth, with the substitution of a horse and carriage for George’s car (a horse and carriage DO bring Anna and her father to the village near the film’s opening) and a change of costume for Anna herself, the film could easily have been set in the 1800s and been made into a true Gothic, instead of the modern-day Gothic that it is. Quibbles aside, however, Tomb of Torture remains a modest albeit artfully put-together film; one that just might please the discriminating fan of vintage Eurohorror. Although the DVD in question is devoid of extras, the rescue of this film from obscurity is itself reason enough to give a Grazie to the fine folks at Image…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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