Tuesday, 7 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Ghost (Lo Spettro) (1963)

The Ghost (Lo Spettro) (1963)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Starring: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, and Elio Jotta
Running Time: 97 min

  I stumbled across this film the other day and I couldn't believe my luck.  Not only does it have the breath taking Italian scream queen, Barbara Steele (Black Sunday, Castle of Blood) but it is written and directed by Riccardo Freda, who worked with Mario Bava on "Lust of the Vampire" and also directed the cult classic "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock" under the name Robert Hampton.  So, I'm pretty jazzed to see some classic Italian ghost gore.

  Dr. John Hichcock has two professional interests, he loves seances, which allows him to try and speak with the dead and the other is working on a cure for his mysterious ailment, that will finally release him from the confines of his wheelchair.  He has enlisted the help of Dr. Charles Livingstone, I presume to inject him with a poison and then moments before it kills him to then give him the antidote.  How this helps him, it's not explained but he's a doctor and who are we to question his insane scientific methods ?  Anyway, Dr. Hichcock says that it's slowly working but let's Charles know that if he ever dies during these experiments that is was worth it and he would do anything, even give up his own life to find a cure to this mysterious illness.  Charles bids him good day and leaves Dr. Hichcock alone to rest up for the next injection of poison.
  However, as Dr. Hichcock watches Charles leaving the ground from his window, he can see his beautiful wife, Margaret talking with Charles and then they scamper off together out of sight.  Of course the two of them are sleeping together and Margaret begs Charles to kill her husband, for real, so they can be together but Charles refuses because he is too ethical and then he sleeps with his bosses wife.  Ahhhh ethics.
  Shortly after his romp in the hay, Charles changes his mind and during the experiment refuses to give Dr. Hichcock the antidote.  He lets the doctor suffocate and retreats to the parlor with Margaret, to let her know that she is now free.  After an hour they hear Dr. Hichcocks' bell that he summons the staff with and confused and a little terrified that he may still be alive, Charles and Margaret rush to the room!  However when they arrive,  they just find him slumped in his wheelchair. Charles checks his pulse and pronounces him dead.  Hooray!
  After the funeral, Charles and Margaret return back to the mansion but once inside they hear Dr. Hichcock voice in the study!  When they go to investigate, they find the spirit and voice of Dr. Hichcock being channeled through the long time servant woman Catherine!  The spirit is telling them he's coming back to haunt their asses and they should be really scared.  However, this doesn't phase them but after the will is read and Margaret and Charles discovers that she isn't the sole inheritor of Dr. Hichcock's estate and fortune, then Charles seems a little less interested in her.  That and the money from the safe has disappeared!  Barbara starts to suspect Charles of double crossing her and   to make matters worse the spirit of Dr. Hichcock seems to be popping up more and more and terrifying her at night.  When I murder you, can't you stay dead!  Can this murderous couple escape the torment for the deceased husband or are they locked in a perilous battle with a presence that will haunt them forever?

  This was a great film and it had a lot of good twists in it.  Writer/director Riccardo Freda creates a very intense Gothic mystery and keeps you guessing throughout the film.  What's interesting is that there is no "likeable" characters in this, even the priest is a bit of a douchebag in this, and the all main characters have their own malicious agendas.  However, what keeps the audience interested is finding out just how far one of them will go to collect the loot in the end.
  Also, not only does Freda give the film a fantastic Gothic look and creates an extremely chilling atmosphere but he also adds an incredibly vicious scene where Barbara Steele's character attacks someone with a straight razor.  For a ghost film there lots of blood and ferocity of Steele's attacks make this a real highlight of the film.  Not that this is completely rare and totally unexpected from a foreign horror film but this is still 1963, so it is a little surprising and an enjoyable change of pace when it comes to ghost movies. 


  The beginning of this film is a little confusing and drops the audience into a middle of a seance that is just ending and then skips over to another seance later.  It's a little jarring because there is no introduction of characters or explanation of what is going on comes until a few minutes in.  However, once Freda finally establishes in the main characters then its smooth sailing from there.  It's just a strange way to open a film.
  Also, the pacing is a little different, a bit slower and the third act seems to focuses a more on the mystery aspect of who took the money, rather than there is a crazy ghost after me.  Which is a little weird, but can be forgiven when it all ties together at the end.

  Even with that said, this is a very cool hidden gem and I'm so glad I came across it.  There is a wonderful love triangle that leads to murder and the new relationship becomes more and more fragile as the film continues on, there are some wonderful giallo mystery moments and bloodshed that shouldn't be missed.  Also, a delightful conclusion that gives all the characters the justice they deserve. So, if you're looking for an Italian Gothic ghost flick that will have you trying to figure out whodunnit, then all the clues lead to you throwing this in your disc player!

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