Old 03-31-2013, 04:53 PM
The Ghost ( Lo spettro ) 1963

Directed by Riccardo Fredda
Starring :
Barbara Steele...Margeret Hitchcock
Peter Baldwin...Charles Livingstone
Elio Jotta...Dr. Charles Hitchcock

The 60s were without a doubt a fruitful and productive time for gothic horror made in bella italia. Mainly inspired by the international success of Mario Bavaīs seminal Mask of Satan fellow italian filmmakers like Antonio Margareti and in the case of The Ghost Riccardo Fredda got a chance to shine on similar projects. WIth Fredda the story is slightly different than most of his peers, when the gothic-boom started he was already an old dog in the biz, having famously deserted the sets of I Vampiri and Caltiki - The Immortal Monster and thus allowing Mario Bava to step in. Sources agree that Fredda never had a personal relationship to his work in the field and actually disowned a lot of his own movies. With that said, his best works still represent euro-horror at itīs most atmospheric and evocative with a gift to conjure up atmosphere parallelled by Bava only. Although he didnīt leave a canon the size and quality of his former protegé the quality and influence of his work is obvious.

The Ghost
was Freddaīs follow up to The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hitchcock , quite a special film in itīs own right, and reunited the director with goth-horror goddess Barbara Steele, who gave performances for some of the best films in the genre. It bears zero relation to the earlier film however, hoovering over some character names only which might as well be a matter of distribution and international re-titeling I assume. The story finds Steele again up to no good as she plans to murder her paralyzed husband with her lover (hubbies doctor, rather conviniently). Unfortunatly for the couple, old Dr. Hitchcock who had a knack for seances and the world beyond in general comes back to haunt them in vicious ways.

What makes Riccardo Freddaīs work special is hard to define. Thereīs always something "off" about his films, the editing is clumsy, plot ends are left for dead in the blink of an eye (no uncut version of The Secret of Dr. Hitchcock revails the fate of a key character ), special effects are often rather crude (check out Tragic Ceremony and The Inguena with the Tongue of Fire) and in general it seems like his often quoted desinterest for the acutal quality of his work. That brings him closer to the likes of Jesse Franco in terms of attitude and style, only a good few years earlier. The fascinating thing is that there are parts and aspects to all his films that feel absolutely overwhelming in how skilled they are worked out. In The Ghost many of the described atributes can be found: The combination of photography, music and atmosphere are definitely one of a kind - compared to Mario Bava or rather, any other horror movie from that time. The Hitchcock household looks beautiful and bleak at the same time and the characters reflect their surroundings, there are no positive figures to identify with and once the story gets going itīs pretty clear that there wonīt be a happy ending. On the surface, this kind of film is more "Corman" than "Bava", like in Secret, the movie takes place in great britan rather than the more obscure eastern european flavor of Mask of Satan. If I may compare the two directors work one last time in this review I would say that Fredda turns the romantic ambiance of Bava into a darker, more subtile form where terror comes less flashy but more creeping. The Ghost is carefully structured visual wise, turning the regular goth formula into something much more "human" and "closer to home" during the final minutes. This said, this isnīt a movie to watch for the plot. Itīs not hard to tell how things will turn out and in the big picture, youīve seen all this before in other movies from that period.

This is a mood film, one that either gets you or doesnīt depending on your state of mind. It requires some time to get going but if you look carefully there are little things that make this rather special. Upon my recent viewing I found lots of scenes that later made their way into much-later american films like The Changeling or Two Evil Eyes, lest we forget the films of Dario Argento. The Ghost wouldnīt be half as enticing without the presence of Barbara Steele, though. While this isnīt my favorite performance of her she has some unforgetable moments just check out both scenes featuring a shaving blade. Her presence alone makes the movie worth seeing, for my money no other actress then and now embodies the beauty in the devil more than her. Harriet White Medin appeared in many euro-horror films and is always good to see, sheīs like a pendant in italian horror to Hammer Studioīs Micheal Ripper. Elio Lotta plays a character much like the ones type-written for Vincent Price in the Corman-Poe series and does a good show at that. I also mentioned the score - itīs dark, classical horror-movie music that belongs to may favorite works in that genre, bringing to mind requiem masses and fits the funeral ambience like a glove.

Itīs a shame that Freddaīs work is hard to come by in decent versions - in the case of The Ghost the english dubbing hurts the experience quite a bit. Itīs cheesy as fuck in parts and doesnīt do the overall positive "off" feeling any favours. Watching this one canīt imagine how striking some of the shots would be with better picture and in scope. Hopefully in the future someone will go the extra mile and put together a proper release for it but as it is, Dr. Hitchcock will be limited to haunt 50-movie boxes at your favorite electric market. Still I say itīs worth the effort for serious euro-nuts and Barbara Steele worshippers. A neat and mean little film thatīs a lot meaner than you think.
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