Box Set Review: Danza Macabre Volume One – Severin Films Blu-ray

May 20, 2023

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Our fiendish friends over at Severin Films have gathered up four Italian gothic horror films, slapped them in a (beautifully embellished) box, and unleashed them on our arcane asses under the title of the Danza Macabre collection.

Let’s feast our putrid peepers on what this set has to offer one by fright-filled one!

Disc One brings us 1964’s The Monster of the Opera:

This flick opens with a banger of a scene in which a vampire chases a young woman in a nightgown before trapping her behind an invisible wall and trying to dispatch her with a pitchfork!

Flash forward and dynamic theater director Sandro (Marco Mariani) has moved his troupe of actors, dancers, and mimes into an abandoned theater despite being warned explicitly not to do so by the caretaker of the joltin’ joint, Achille (Alberto Archetti) by name, who witnessed the ghoulish goings-on mentioned up yonder!

As the arsty and fartsy goes on, it becomes ever more obvious that someone is sharing the space with our bohemian protagonists, and soon the vampire, Stefano (Giuseppe Addobatti), makes his presence known before immediately starts putting the horny on the troupes star performer, Giulia (Barbara Hawards), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover from centuries ago!

Everyone is naturally creeped out by the stranger in their midst, but leaving the premises is impossible thanks to Not-Quite-Drac-Attack’s magic, money-saving, invisible barrier!

Renato Polselli’s The Monster of the Opera is one crazy picture that’s equal-parts a “modern” re-telling of The Phantom of the Opera, a Dracula pastiche, and a showcase for avant-garde dance numbers… throw in some light-lesbianism, gobs of Gothic atmosphere, and a Theremin heavy soundtrack (courtesy of composer Aldo Piga) and you have a good time in front of the beastly boob-tube my cats n’ creeps!

Adding to the fun are this film’s dance numbers (yeah, I can hardly believe it either). While ostensibly present to pad out that ol’ runtime, these sequences are often surreal, energetic, and entertainingly choreographed… plus they have a point, as this film’s fang-bangin’ feller can’t get ya if you keep in motion!

Special mention must be made to the sets utilized by the production (the initial, Halloween-esque dance number with it’s skeletal figures, black candles, and cultists cavorting among dusty sets and hidden panels and Stefano’s dungeon, filled as it is with cruel, wet stone, copious fog, and chained, writhing vampire “brides” are both choice environs featured) who’s ornate-decay dichotomy adds the proper, wonderfully creepy Gothic aesthetic to the proceedings.

Speaking of “special”, there are a nice selection of special features to be found here as well, which kick off with an excellent audio commentary courtesy of author Kat Ellinger that not only details the film’s production and themes, but examines the life and career of Renato Polselli as well!

Following that we get interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, Italian cinema devotee Mark Thompson-Ashworth, and Polselli himself (via archival audio).

Also included is the film’s French theatrical trailer.

Moving on to Disc Two we are met with 1965’s The Seventh Grave

Sibs Jenkins (Antonio Casale, looking like the lovechild of Peter O’Toole and Tom Petty… Peter O’Petty) and baby-faced Fred (Gianni Dei), along with Jenkin’s mistress, Mary (Bruna Baini) head to Scotland (the Italian quarter) from their home in America to attend the reading of the will of their rich-ass relative, a scientist by the name of Sir Reginald Thorne.

Once reunited with their family at the remote estate Thorne called home, these gold-diggin’ motherfuckers (who’s other members include a priest, a military man, and a psychic, among others) are informed they must wait 48 hours for the will to be examined, as per T-dawgs instructions.

This goes over like a fart in a submarine with the greedy gang, so they decide to conduct a séance to find Thorne’s legacy; the treasure of Sir Francis Drake, but instead get the ol’ “Get the fuck out” courtesy of one specter or another!

Peace out they surely do not however, and soon the corpses begin piling up as it appears Thorne simply will not stay in his grave, which will doubtless fuck up finding that treasure six ways to Sunday!

Serving as the entire directorial output of Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo, The Seventh Grave is another Gothic tale replete with an ornate “old dark house”, occultism, empty graves, ethereal female antagonists, and plenty of god ol’ murder… all of which always earn high marks from yours cruelly!

This flick also features plenty of twists, an engaging mystery, and some flourishes of dynamite camera-work provided by cinematographer Aldo Greci (especially during the surreal séance sequence)… all elements that add to the fright flick fun to be had here!

This is all enhanced by the bonus material present here which begins with an audio commentary featuring film critic Rachael Nisbet who compares the film to it’s cinematic peers, examines the careers of cast and crew, and explores the film’s themes and legacy.

Following that we get an exploration of the mystery behind the film’s creation by film historian Fabio Melelli, and a video essay from author Rachel Knightly who examines the film’s surreal British Gothic by way of Italian cinema aesthetic.

And it’s case closed on that one boils n’ ghouls!

That brings us to Disc Three and 1970’s Scream of the Demon Lover!

Comely bio-chemist Dr. Ivanna Rakowsky (Erna Schurer) takes a job in a remote Gothic estate to work with Baron Janos Dalmar (Carlos Quiney) on his experiments… experiments Ivanna comes to find out revolve around resurrecting the baron’s deceased brother, Igor, who became extinct in an experiment gone wrong and is currently a rotten corpse floating in a bathtub of disgusting shit-water (a scientific term).

Once settled within the confines of that arcane abode, Ivanna begins having dreams of being sexually assaulted by a monster, which just so happens to match the M.O. of a killer responsible for the female corpses littered around the nearby town.

Speaking of that town, the police-force stationed there suspects the Baron’s involvement in the crimes, but is he responsible, or is there an actual monster on the loose?!

Filled with gorgeous Gothic sets, a horny monster, and beautiful women, José Luis Merino’s Italian/Spanish co-production Scream of the Demon Lover is a wicked winner through and through!

Borrowing elements of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and werewolf lore while featuring a Greatest Hits selection of Gothic thriller/mystery tropes, this fright flick keeps the pace fast n’ furious as we take a gloriously sleazy trip to the Victorian Age all realized on beautiful and opulent (though appropriately aging) sets filled with naked flesh, off-putting experiments, and a char-broiled beast who’s impotence results in a clawed glove as penis surrogate… it’s a dizzying, color-drenched, Poe fever-dream and a true highlight of an already excellent collection.

As for special features this go-around, we get a scholarly analysis of the film’s production, it’s Gothic themes, and careers of those involved via an audio commentary featuring film historian Rod Barnett and writer Robert Monell, an interview with Schurer, a video essay by genre film scholar/author Stephen Thrower which covers the film’s legacy among it’s cinematic Gothic thriller peers of the era, as well as comparing Merino’s output against the creators of the same, and the film’s trailer.

From one strong entry to what is the crown-jewel of the set, 1971’s Lady Frankenstein!

Dr. Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) is alive and well and still gettin’ up to his usual medical shenanigans, but recently has moved on from animal resurrection to human experimentation via illegally obtained cadavers.

He intends to keep that lil’ nugget a tip-top secret from his visiting daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri/Sara Bay), a scientist in her own right that is all too eager to help her father with his work as her research has lead her down a similar path.

Before you know it, the obligatory monster is up and shambling about, getting up to his normal monster biz… which naturally involves throwing rando females in bodies of water (here it’s a naked chick swiped mid-coitus instead of a little girl), but Lady F has plans of her own involving her father’s work… plans of the horny variety!

Filled with all of the usual Frankenstein story flavor and garnish, Mel Welles’ Italian-lensed Lady Frankenstein manages to inject plenty of it’s own flair into the proceedings as well resulting in a unique, pulpy, erotic yarn of a creature feature!

Among all of the patchwork creatures, graverobbing, and plentiful naked flesh we get a terror tale enriched by lavish sets (filmed with opulent panache by cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini), gorgeous women (and a few dudes too if that strikes ya fancy, gov), crazy yet effective creature make-up, gore (both courtesy of effects legend Carlo Rambaldi), and of course that age-old favorite, sexual fuckings!

Speaking of “favorite”, the special features gathered here are easily my favorite of the collection (fuck, my segues are absolutely fart)… anyway, they’re great, and there’s a cemetery’s worth of ’em too!

Kicking things off here, we get two audio commentaries; one featuring author Kat Ellinger and film scholar Annie Rose Malamet (in which they discuss the film’s themes, it’s production, and it’s treatment of gender issues all in engaging conversation that is as entertaining as it is informative), and the other with authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman (who provide a lively chat highlighting how the film plays compared to it’s peers, the different cuts that exist and how they came to be, as well as copious production info), followed by a featurette containing interviews with Neri and film historian Fabio Melelli.

After that comes a fascinating featurette hosted by author Julian Grainger, that explores the genesis of Lady Frankenstein via both scholarly tidbits from Grainger coupled with archival anecdotes straight from Welles himself… lot’s of interesting tales to be found here in a mini-doc that ends up not only covering the film at hand, but the whole of Welles’ career as well (which is further explored in a separate featurette that details Welles’ move to Australia post-Lady Frankenstein and his misadventures Down Under)!

Additionally we get a German retrospective on the film from 2004 that features an informative interview with Welles (with appearances from Neri and actor Herbert Fux… yeah, that’s his fuxin’ name… ), a series of previously unseen, clothed versions of the more nudity-heavy sequences of the film, a selection of BBFC censor’s notes to allow the film to be shown theatrically in England, and the film’s Italian opening credits sequence.

Next comes one of the coolest bonus features I’ve seen in a long time; the complete photo novel of the film from a 1971 edition of Italy’s BigFilm magazine, followed by those perennial favorites, promotional image galleries, radio spots, a TV spot, and and a selection of theatrical trailers!

To sum it all up; Danza Macabre is worth it for the love Severin has given Lady Frankenstein alone, but the other films (and excellent bonus material for each) make this an absolute must-own for lovers of Gothic thrillers done to petrifying perfection!




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