A 1971 Belgian-Italian co-production, The Devil’s Nightmare opens with a sepia-toned flashback to the closing days of World War II. A child has been born to the Nazi general, Baron von Rohnberg (Jean Servais) but after the Baron learns that the baby is female, he orders that she be killed. It’s a brutally effective little opening, all the more so because there is no greater evil than a Nazi with money and a title. As with many European horror films, the crimes and sins of Hitler cast a shadow over every scene of The Devil’s Nightmare.
Years later, like many Nazi noblemen, the Baron remains free. He lives in his isolated castle, occasionally letting tourists stay for the night while he practices his experiments in the basement. A reporter comes by and pays a steep price for refusing the Baron’s orders not to take any pictures. When her body is found, she has a hoof-shaped burn on her arm. The sign of the devil, we are told.
Meanwhile, a bus takes a wrong turn and gets lost. The tourists on the bus are a typical collection of Eurohorror types: the greedy woman, the bitter old businessman who loudly proclaims his atheism, the fighting husband and wife, and, of course, Alvin (Jacques Monseau), the seminarian. The tourists meet a strange man (Daniel Emilfork) who directs them to the Baron’s castle, where they can stay until the ferry arrives the next day.
As the tourists explore the castle and get to know the Baron (who shares the story of how his family came to be cursed), a storm develops outside. And, finally, one last guest arrives. Her name is Lisa Muller (Erika Blanc) and, over the course of the night, everyone in the castle will be tempted.
The Devil’s Nightmare is a personal favorite of mine. Now, I have to admit that, to a large extent, that’s because The Devil’s Nightmare is about a redhead named Lisa and I am a redhead named Lisa. However, beyond that, The Devil’s Nightmare works surprisingly well. What it may have lacked in a production budget, The Devil’s Nightmare makes up for atmosphere. The castle is a wonderfully creepy location and, as played by Jean Servais, the Baron becomes a potent symbol of aristocratic decay. Daniel Emilfork brings an eccentric flair to his role and, even if he is basically playing the movie’s most boring character, Jacques Monseau is sympathetic and believable as the upright seminarian.
That said, this film belongs to Erika Blanc, who basically grabs hold of the movie and then dares anyone to try to take it away from her. Thoughout the film, Blanc shifts from elegant to evil and back again and she makes it all look not only easy but totally natural as well.
Finally, The Devil’s Nightmare ends with a twist that you’ll see coming from a mile away but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying.
The Devil’s Nightmare is one of those films that seems to have been included in almost every “Classics of Horror” box set that Mill Creek has ever released. So, you probably have a copy even if you don’t realize it! Track it down, turn off all the lights, and watch.