The Blancheville Monster: “Everything seems morose and deathlike…”

The Blancheville Monster directed by Alberto de MartinoThe Blancheville Monster directed by Alberto de Martino

The Blancheville Monster directed by Alberto de MartinoThe shadow cast by Mario Bava’s seminal 1960 film Black Sunday was indeed a long one on the Italian horror industry. Three years later, in Alberto de Martino’s The Blancheville Monster, we find its cousin, a Gothic-tinged, B&W horror outing with a familiar tone but nowhere near as much artful impact.

In the film, beautiful Emily de Blancheville (Ombrella Colli) returns to her ancestral castle, in Brittany in the year 1884, after finishing her years in college. She is accompanied by her American school friend Alice (Iran Eory) and Alice’s brother John (hunky Vanni Materassi), her soon-to-be fiancé. But it is a tough homecoming for Emily, as it turns out. Her brother Rodrigue (Gerard Tichy) is now in charge, following their father’s disfiguring injuries in a recent abbey fire; two new presences in the castle, Dr. Lerouge (Leo Anchoriz) and the housekeeper, Miss Eleonore (Helga Line), are as sinister as can be; and Emily’s burnt-faced dad has become a howling maniac in one of the castle towers. And things only get worse, when dad escapes from his confinement and sets his sights on killing Emily, before her imminent 21st birthday fulfills a long-held family curse…

Anyway, before the title The Blancheville Monster even appears on the screen in this film’s deliciously morbid opening, the word “HORROR” is flashed, unusually albeit appropriately enough. And indeed, this minor, obscure picture does turn out to be fairly creepy at times, and not a little atmospheric. The castle and tombs on view here are realistically decrepit and UNDERadorned, unlike the sumptuous displays to be found in so many other pictures of this type. There is a convincing, moldering quality to the sets in these Italian Gothics of the early ’60s that strikes the viewer as both authentic and quite evocative. The acting in the film is a bit stiff at times, but somehow charmingly so, and the three gals featured are all quite fetching. And if the character of Miss Eleonore seems a bit goggle eyed throughout … well, as is revealed, she’s got good reason for being so!

The picture boasts at least four very well-done sequences: a candelabra-wielding Alice ventures upstairs, during a raging thunderstorm, to investigate those maniacal howlings; Emily, walking entranced in a see-through nightgown, precedes her father at night to the family tomb; Emily’s surrealistic dream; and the dreary funeral procession leading to Emily’s premature entombment. Similar to another mid-’60s Italian Gothic horror film that I recently watched, 1964’s Crypt of the Vampire (starring Christopher Lee), The Blancheville Monster has a problematic, somewhat sluggish middle third (although it is never without interest) capped off by an ending that some might term weak, yet both remain qualified successes; here, largely due to some imaginative shooting by de Martino and the inspired lensing by DOP Alexander Ulloa.

I might also add that the film comes to us today via one of those substandard Alpha Video DVDs, but in truth, I have seen a lot worse from this often problematic outfit. The print in question here actually looks fairly decent, although damaged in part and with an aspect ratio that is decidedly off (there are many instances of faulty cropping!). Still, until some company decides to give The Blancheville Monster the loving restoration that it deserves, I’m afraid this one will HAVE to do…

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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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  1. “Dr Lerouge” sounds sinister as all get-out just from his name.

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