Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Blancheville Monster (1963), or Horror, or The Fall of the House of Blancheville, or a Po’ Man’s Poe

It’s nothing unusual to see a b-movie from the past released under different titles. I remembering once renting a movie called The Seven Doors of Death! based on the interesting name, only to discover once I got it home that it was Fulci’s The Beyond, which I’d already seen under that title. Par for the course, really, especially with Italian flicks.

But seldom do you see on that presents you with ALL its titles in the opening credits! Yes, this movie opens with the title card HORROR, and then follows it up seconds later with the alternate title, THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER! Why not just The Blancheville Monster? Or The Blancheville Horror? Or even Horror of the Blancheville Monster? I guess because that just didn't sufficiently capture the horror nor the monstrosity of what we are about to witness. Or maybe they just didn't think of it. Still, questions must be asked.

What we have here is a cut-rate rendition of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as young Miss Blancheville returns home from university to find her father dead, her brother Roderick in charge of the estate, and a whole new batch of servants. We hit the buried-alive plot point late in the movie, and the brother-going-mad thing, but not before we’re treated to a fun little melodrama involving hypnosis, a family curse very reminiscent of the Karnstein curse in Crypt of Horror, and a disfigured figure who may or may not be the Blanchevilles’ father. Add one of the slimier period-piece doctors ever to wear a Van Dyke and a Barbara Steele-wannabe governess, and you’re in business!

Fun aspects here include: Roderick’s great harpsichord playing; some fantastic sets including the old manor house and the ruined abbey nearby; a great spookshow sequence with Lady Blancheville’s friend wandering through the darkened manor and finding her way to the tower with some genuinely creepy moments; and the Scooby-doo mystery of the scar-faced man, which wasn’t too hard to figure out but still fun. (Though one had to wonder why the killer didn’t just, you know, KILL THE GIRL instead of going to so much trouble with his disguises and whatnot.) And for the b-movie perv in all of us, some extended moonlight sleepwalks by Lady Blancheville with the backlit-gossamer gown shot in full effect. Rowr!

Can you ever get enough of backlit gossamer gown shots? I think not.

The melodrama is thick, and the intrusive score does a lot of the acting for the players (ominous orchestral stings signal someone’s mental unease, etc.), but that just adds to the fun. 1.85 thumbs, if you’re in the mood for a creaky old chiller with a little cold still running through its veins.

Extra credit question: where did the killer get a latex burn mask in 1884?


adrien said...

Blancheville Monster is a good one to relax with on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

May I recommend 'The Loreley's Grasp', also with Helga Liné? It's quite fun.

Pearl said...

This is one of my alltime favorite gothic horror films. Sure, it's loaded with flaws:What's Roderick's problem, anyway? Just because Dad's been left a bit unsightly by fire, does he deserve to be squirrled away in a tower room?And how does sickly Emily manage to claw her way out of a casket and sealed crypt?

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