I really enjoy the films of horror director Stuart Gordon but I had never seen this film and I‘m not even sure if it ever got a release in UK before this digitally restored DVD release. It stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton who have both worked with Stuart Gordon on other films and was produced by Charles Band’s Full Moon studios. Although it has nudity and gore it doesn’t really have the dark humour of films like Re-Animator or From Beyond and the absence of any element of the fantastic makes it less memorable than those films.
A very old woman who looks like a homeless wino feeds some poor abused human creature she calls Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller) that she has locked up in the dungeon of her castle before viciously whipping it with a barbed cat-o-nine-tails. Then the real monster of this film returns to her bedroom and dies of a heart attack. This old woman was the Duchess D’Orsino (Helen Stirling) and we learn what sort of foul evil she has been up to through the film.
John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) has inherited the castle of Duchess D’Orsino and he takes his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) to see the place no that Rebecca will see much since she is blind. They get shown to castle by the lawyer Giannetti (Massimo Sarchielli) whose sister Agnese (Elisabeth Kaza) is the castle’s housekeeper. Agnese shows them to their rooms and that is first hint we have that Susan and John are not happily married when Susan asks Agnese to prepare another room for John. That night john tries to sweet talk his wife in to sleeping together but she just can’t
John has a very restless night with a nice convenient expository nightmare which gives us an insight into the reason that relations between Susan and John are frosty. John was driving with Rebecca in the passenger seat and his young son JJ in the back and while he was distracted by JJ nearly crashes into a truck but John swerves and instead hits a tree. Rebecca ended up blinded by shards of glass in her eyes and we don’t see what happen to JJ but it certainly killed him.
John wakes to sound of crying so he gets up and puts on some clothes then wanders around the castle trying to find the source of the crying, following the sound down into the cellar. He doesn’t find the source of the sound but he does find a very well stocked wine cellar. John is alcoholic but he has been dry for a while but he feels tempted by the wine but he smashes the bottle in disgust and cuts his hand. John goes to the kitchen to clean the cut. Agnese comes in and helps him clean his cut and put a dressing on it. John asks her if she heard the sound and she sits and tells him about the Duchess. She married an American and they had a son called Giorgio but her husband left her and ran off to United States with another woman leaving D’Orsino and their son behind. The son died mysteriously and Agnese mentions the suspicion that D’Orsino murdered him to get back at her husband. The Duchess never left the castle since that day until she died and local people say they hear the sound of child crying and that the castle is haunted.
No-one knows anything about the poor forgotten creature Giorgio chained up in the dungeon starving. I don’t know how long it has been since the Duchess died but since she never gave him much to eat hunger would never be far away. Clearly Giorgio did not die but has been imprisoned and physically abused by his mother for forty years but we don’t get to see the full effects of her abuse yet.
John and Rebecca decide to explore the castle a bit and Susan warns John to keep an eye on Rebecca. They pass through a nursery before they find Duchess D’Orsino’s bedroom. John finds an old photo album and while he looks through it Rebecca goes after a cat she finds stuck in a room. She follows it down to the dungeon where she falls and scrapes herself on the knee. Rebecca hears a moaning and she goes to the cell and calls out but Giorgio is too weak to respond. Rebecca goes back upstairs and Giorgio manages get his hands on the poor cat and drags it back into the cell.
When Rebecca gets upstairs Susan finds her and scolds her for wandering off which she blames on John for not watching but Rebecca protest that she has to allowed to learn how to cope with being blind without her mother fussing over her. She tries to tell Susan about hearing someone downstairs but Susan brushes it off as nothing but the strange noises the castle makes because she doesn’t think it’s possible.
In his cell Giorgio feeds on the cat and that gives him more energy. Seeing Rebecca at the grille of the cell door has given him a reason to get free. The manacles are joined by a chain fixed to the wall. He chews off his thumb and takes the manacle off his left hand which lets him free of the wall. He batters at the cell door and soon he breaks through and he’s free. Strangely no-one heard any of this. Giorgio limps up stairs on his twisted limbs until he comes to a mirror in a hallway. Disgusted by his hideous appearance he smashes the mirror and runs off.
The Reillys were in the kitchen having dinner when they hear the mirror break and rush out to investigate. They have no idea what caused the mirror to break but John suggests that old mirrors may break anytime due to the wood warping which sounds good enough for him but Rebecca suggests that it smashed because someone broke it. She’s frustrated that her parents don’t take her seriously.
That night while Rebecca is sleeping in her bed Giorgio creeps into her room. He pulls back her covers to look at her and he almost touches her hair. Suddenly Rebecca wakes up startled and Giorgio cowers away. She senses he is there asks who it is, getting more and more panicked by the lack of response. She screams and Giorgio panics, grabs a blanket from her bed and runs off. Susan and John rush in to find out what’s wrong. Rebecca tells them someone was in her room and Susan doesn’t believe her but John decides to investigate and goes into the hall where he hears the sound of the chains still manacled to Giorgio’s right wrist. He looks around a room full of covered furniture but doesn’t see Giorgio hiding plain sight as a piece of covered furniture.
John goes down the dungeon and has a look in the empty cell which should have been stinking from forty years of crap and piss and absolute proof that someone had been imprisoned in there, never mind the dead cat he fails to see. He looks around and finds the family crypt and the marker for Giorgio with a picture of him as a child and he looks exactly like John’s son JJ. This gets John very weepy. Giorgio has followed him down and is hiding and watching John mourning his son.
Next day John calls the police and the search the castle but don’t find anything which is strange when you remember that cell with dead cat, the heap of shit and stench of piss that shows this search was a very slap dash job. The police sergeant Forte (Luca Zingaretti) tells John that there is no way he can have the whole castle searched because the place is huge and he‘s not got the manpower. He doesn’t think there is anyone and doesn’t believe Rebecca. This gets John ranting a bit and that does nothing to convince the police to stay.
Rebecca is upset about being dismissed yet again and is tired since she didn’t get much sleep so she goes to bed. John wants to show Susan the picture of Giorgio but when they get down there the picture is gone but John swears it was identical to JJ. He talks about how he felt a presence like JJ was here with him. This leads to tears and hugs which John tries to take too far and then there are angry accusations and John storms off up to the roof where he thinks about jumping off and killing himself.
At the local bar John has gone back to drinking and sits all day getting incredibly drunk. In the evening the bar gets busier. A woman Sylvana () is working as a prostitute and she chats up John who orders her a drink but clumsily spills it. The barman tries to explain he’s had enough to drink and has to leave and Forte explains it to him in English and tells him to go back to his family, making it really obvious to Sylvana. Forte has an angry exchange in Italian with Sylvana who leaves with John.
John takes Sylvana back to the castle and down to the wine cellar and he opens up a bottle of wine. This is followed by quick sex up against a wall which is being watched by Giorgio who is getting very excited. Unbelievably John didn’t realise she was a prostitute until she asks for money. She gets her money and leaves while John passes out on the floor.
On her way out she walks through the nursery and Giorgio throws a blanket over head and grabs her. This leads to the scene that probably gave this film most trouble with the censors. Giorgio takes Sylvana to the cell where he tries to copy what John did but gets it very wrong. He puts the manacle on her wrist so she can’t get away. First we see that his penis has been cut off long ago so he can’t have sex and while John had gently nuzzled on her nipples Giorgio eats them off.
Next morning Forte comes to the door of the castle and wants to talk to John but Susan stays because she insists they don’t have secrets. Forte wants to know what happened to Sylvana since she didn’t go home after she went off with John. John insists that she left but Forte wants to take a look and John gets defensive since Forte had refused to search the castle the day before. The situation is very different and Forte asks if John has something to hide. He doesn’t let him and closes the door. Now John has to face Susan who very angry because he got drunk picked a woman and brought her back the castle and had sex with her while Susan and Rebecca were sleeping upstairs.
John goes to talk to Gianetti in a cafe who tells them that the police have no evidence so they can’t arrest him. Gianetti gets a phone call from Agnese who has found Sylvana’s handbag in one of the rooms. Gianetti offers to keep hold of the handbag until Sylvana shows up or the police find out what really happened to her. Of course he wants money for this and John calls him a bastard. Gianetti tells him the rest of his family history. His mother was the sister of Duchess D’Orsino and his father was her husband. They fled to America to get away from her but D’Orsino would never give him a divorce so his parents could never legally get married and with a smug grin on his face points out that means John is in fact the bastard.
At the castle Susan is getting Rebecca ready to leave. Rebecca doesn’t want to leave thinking that John is in trouble they should be with him but Susan has had enough of his drinking causing them pain.
Agnese has the handbag is taking it to Gianetti and she hears a scream from the dungeon and as she makes her way down there are more screams and cries. When she gets close she calls out and Giorgio takes his manacle off Sylvana’s hands and hides. Agnese come to the cell and finds Sylvana who is just barely alive. Agnes tries to take care of Sylvana but Giorgio comes up behind he her and smashes her head in with his chain.
Susan has the car packed and she’s about to leave with Rebecca. John comes running up from his meeting with Gianetti and tries to stop her leaving. He thinks the police are going to arrest him and if Susan leaves that will make him look guilty. Susan gets in the car and drives making a remark about John making himself a whipping boy. This remark reminds John of the whip and he suddenly realise what is going on and that Rebecca was right and he can prove it. He finds a tool room and picks up a spade. He goes down to the crypt and start smashing open Giorgio’s tomb
Outside before Susan gets to the bottom of the drive Forte arrives with Gianetti and a couple of cops to arrest John. Forte insists that Rebecca and Susan will have to stay in D’Orsino until they give their statements to the police. Inside there’s a loud noise of John smashing open the tomb. They go down to the dungeon with Susan and John has broken the tomb open. He pulls out the coffin and smashes it open and as he suspected it is empty except for rocks. He tries to convince them that Giorgio is not dead but has been kept alive by D’Orsino so she could torture him. Everyone thinks he’s crazy and John gets cuffed.
As they are about to leave with John Forte sees the bodies of Sylvana and Agnese in the cell but there’s no sign of Giorgio (apart from the stench of urine and pile of shit). Forte and Gianetti think John killed them but John tries to convince them of his innocence, pleading desperately with Susan as he gets dragged off to the police station. Forte leaves a couple of cops to watch Rebecca and Susan then he leaves with john and Gianetti.
Susan asks one of the cops if he can get them some water and he heads off to the kitchen. He gets the water but sees soot falling of the chimney over the stove. He goes to investigate and get dragged up into the chimney by Giorgio and killed.
At the police station John is being questioned by Forte who only wants John to tell him why he killed Sylvana and Agnese and doesn’t want to hear John’s story. John gets fed up with not being listened to and he gives an insensitive reply that cause Forte to flip out and attack him, forcing the other cop present to intervene and drag him off. Now he’s alone he decides to escape. He finds the truncheon Forte used on him. He hears forte coming back and when he comes in he smacks him over the head with the truncheon and knocks him then he climbs out a window in the corridor.
Susan asks the other cop about the water and he goes to look for the first cop. He sees a figure lying on the floor and when he approaches the figure it jumps at him and it’s Giorgio and he attacks him, biting his face and killing him. In Rebecca’s room Rebecca has a headache and Susan wants to give her painkillers but they have no water. She goes to see what’s happened to the cops and Giorgio reaches out from behind a door and grabs her head smacking it on the wall and knocking her out.
Giorgio goes into Rebecca’s room where she is getting undressed for bed. When he helps her take her blouse off Rebecca thinks he’s her mother but she rapidly learns that not true. He carries her off to his cell. Susan recovers and goes after him, stopping at the kitchen to pick up a knife.
In the cell puts the manacle and he put his manacle on her hands. He tries to communicate with her but he’s got no tongue and so can’t speak. He tries showing her the photograph of himself as a child but is frustrated to discover that Rebecca is blind. He realises he doesn’t have to hide his face and takes off the sheet he has covering his face and the sight of his abused face is revolting and a sign of how evil D’Orsino was. Giorgio paws at Rebecca and starts kissing her ear and neck while Rebecca screams. Susan comes into the cell and orders Giorgio to leave Rebecca alone. She offers herself in to Giorgio in her daughter’s place and unbuttons her shirt. Giorgio falls for it and comes toward her but when he’s in reach Susan sticks the knife in his back.
While Giorgio is doubled-up in pan and distracted Susan frees Rebecca from the manacle and leads her out upstairs. Giorgio isn’t very far behind them so Susan hides them in the large wardrobe in Duchess D’Orsino’s bedroom. When Giorgio comes into the room he knows the place and his memories are not happy. He finds the cat’ o’ nine tails and starts swing it round and once he gets the feel of it hi starts smashing things with it. He whips the wardrobe and wrecks it but he doesn’t discover Susan and Rebecca cowering at the bottom. He leaves to continue his search and they climb out of the wardrobe. Susan leads Rebecca down a corridor but Rebecca knocks over a vase and Giorgio spots them.
Susan leads Rebecca further up and they come to the roof and are trapped. Giorgio catches up and makes his way towards them. That’s when John arrive just in time and calls Giorgio’s name. They struggle and run about on the roof but Giorgio manages to beat John down. He starts towards Rebecca and Susan but his chain is dragging behind him and John grabs it and puts the other manacle on his wrist. He stands up and climbs on the battlement. John leaps off onto the courtyard below dragging Giorgio behind him. Giorgio is killed right away but John stays alive long enough to tell Rebecca and Susan that he loves them