There aren't a whole heck of a lot of film directors who are brave enough to remake their own work (short films notwithstanding). In fact, I can only think of four off the top of my head. At the top of that very short list are A-list contenders Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much) and Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments). The quality of motion pictures change drastically, however, come the final two entries, which consists of two cult filmmakers: Dick Maas (whose remade his bizarre killer elevator film The Lift years later as Down, both of which I recently reviewed) and one of Italy's most prolific exploitation movieman, the late great Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson).
In 1964, Margheriti co-directed an atmospheric black-and-white Italo/French chiller with future spaghetti western icon Sergio Corbucci. In Danza macabra, best-known to English-speaking audience by its ghastly US title, Castle of Blood, journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) accepts an ill-fated wager from none other than Lord Blackwood and Edgar Allan Poe that he can survive a night in the former's haunted castle, only to discover the dead souls of the estate are quite active. While the original '64 gem is hailed as a Gothic horror classic today, it was not well received upon its initial release; prompting Margheriti to explore the concept once more ‒ this time on his own ‒ seven years later.
The result, 1971's Nella stretta morsa del ragno ‒ or, Web of the Spider, as most of us call it ‒ would prove to be an equal disappointment to Margheriti, as he felt the color photography distracted from the film's ethereal aura (although this version does have boobies). Nevertheless, much like its earlier counterpart, Web of the Spider has become something of a holy relic amongst fans of European horror films. This holds particularly true with those of us who happen to hail from the illustrious videocassette generation, regularly diving into the dusty realms of Margheriti's remake on VHS via horribly cropped, pan-and-scan Public Domain copies as we grew up.
Fortunately, we no longer have to wonder what we were missing from those prints, thanks to this exciting Region Free Blu-ray release from niche label Garagehouse Pictures. Immediately from the get-go, fans of the film will notice there is a lot more to be seen in this 2.35:1 widescreen presentation of the cult classic (at least 75% of the image was trimmed from the TV print used to make the VHS), which has been fully restored and mastered from an original US theatrical negative. Originally distributed stateside by Sam Sherman's Independent-International Pictures, that company's classic logo can at long-last be seen prior to the film's opening credits in this new HD release.
Sure, Web of the Spider may not have the beauty or allure of Castle of Blood's top-billed Barbara (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) Steele going for it. Here, the quintessential Euro Gothic horror queen's role is played by Michèle Mercier (Cemetery Without Crosses), while the character of journalist Alan Foster is taken over for this performance by future Search and Tenebrae protagonist Anthony Franciosa (which means there will be lots of finger pointing acting). Of course, to fans of the film, no one can hold a candelabra to the bizarre (and yet, sublimely satisfying) casting of controversial German acting legend Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu in Venice) as ‒ wait for it ‒ Edgar Allan Poe himself!
Indeed, the very presence of Kinski in the picture ‒ however brief though it may be ‒ may have been the only thing that has kept Web of the Spider from being taken out with a dustbuster throughout the years. Especially in Kinski's native Germany, where the appearance of the infamous Nosferatu actor (and Werner Herzog regular) prompted the film to be titled Dracula im Schloß des Schreckens (Dracula in the Castle of Blood)! Meanwhile, in America, where we are immune to such nefarious advertising gimmicks and would never stoop so low to shamelessly promote a movie, Independent-International's ad slicks boasted Web of the Spider was "Based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'Night of the Living Dead'."
But that's just a great side note for this fun Gothic horror/romance also starring an assortment of familiar European faces. Among them are the heavily-bearded Peter Carsten (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu), Silvano Tranquilli (whom MST3K fans may recognize from The Pumaman), Karin Field, spaghetti western regular Raf Baldassarre, and Enrico Osterman as Lord Blackwood. Sergio Corbucci's brother Bruno contributes to the script this time around, while the late great Riz Ortolani ‒ composer of the original Castle of Blood score ‒ once again conjures the soundtrack here with a somewhat conventional (but still slightly '70s) contribution.
In addition to digging up a beautiful widescreen print of this overlooked oddity, the folks at Garagehouse Pictures have gone the extra mile to pack their latest awesome Blu-ray with a heap of special features. First off, there's a marvelous audio commentary with DVDDrive-In editor George Reis and WildEye Releasing co-founder Keith Crocker. Next up is a second audio commentary (yes, this movie has a lot of fans!) by author Stephan Romano, who also designed the enticing artwork for this release. A significant portion of Web's popularity in Germany can be seen in two Super 8MM movie digests, which have ‒ fortunately ‒ been provided with English subtitles.
Like many Italian horror movies, Web of the Spider was trimmed by several minutes when put together for domestic distribution, which makes the next extra all the more exciting to the film's really devoted fans: the original extended Italian cut of the film. Presented in Standard-Definition, this edit ‒ while slightly compressed and cropped compared to the Independent-International print ‒ is nevertheless worth a look, and English subtitles are included. An additional deleted scene is also on-hand, as is an artwork gallery, an amazing assortment of trailers for a heap of additional films directed by Signori Margheriti, and the perfunctory gathering of previews for other Garagehouse releases.
All in all, Web of the Spider one has taken a small eternity finding its way to a domestic digital medium, let alone a spectacular Blu-ray offering such as this. It was nothing short of pure bliss jumping into this Web once again, and being able to see it in its untouched widescreen glory for the first time and in High-Definition was something all past, current (and perhaps, future?) fans of this ghostly flick will surely enjoy. Bravo, Garagehouse Pictures for finding, restoring, and releasing this cult classic!