‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’ or — Highland Fling?
I deliberately kept my expectations low for Massimo Pupillo’s ‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’ (1965) last night and that was for one very specific reason — I was dreading it would be somewhat plodding and dull. I knew I’d get plenty of gothic atmosphere along with some nice visuals but just as long as I wasn’t bored out of my mind plot or pacing wise. The good news is I needn’t have worried because not only is ‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’ a really cool film but it’s actually quite wonderful. I think I adored this one.
Super-rich heiress Lady Susan Blackhouse (Barbara Nelli) is set to marry Lord Harold Morgan (Paul Muller) but Susan would rather marry her true love, the kind-hearted Pierre (Michel Forain), instead. When Pierre “accidentally” falls over board at sea and is presumed dead Susan agrees to marry Lord Morgan, moving into his mansion to live with him and his servants.
However, not long after the marriage her new husband, along with his servants, start psychologically tormenting the poor woman to the point of suicide, presumably to get their hands on her wealth. What horrible people! What will poor Susan do? And how long can she survive such nasty shenanigans? Watch ‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’ and find out!
So as you can tell it’s a good old gothic melodrama that’s got a touch of Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca’, a dash of ‘Gaslight’ along with a decent chunk of ‘Bluebeard’. The thing is I’ve only outlined the film’s first act because once all the above has been set-up and executed the meat of the plot really begins and it’s a delight of near constant surprises.
It kicks off when, after drying himself off, Pierre pops back on the scene to visit Susan. Yet instead of finding Lord Morgan and his servants informing him that Susan has sadly passed away after throwing herself off the highest tower it is Susan who Pierre greets whilst it’s Lord Morgan and his servants who are nowhere to be found. Hmm.
From here the film goes from gothic melodrama to horror to ghost story to supernatural revenge thriller with elements of vampirism and necrophilia also thrown in for good measure. This consistent novelty and variety, combined with a nicely brisk pacing that only gets more energetic as the film goes on, means ‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’ is an incredibly fun and addictive watch because you’re always wondering what’s going to happen next.
This fun is enhanced by some deceptively gorgeous cinematography, something which isn’t so apparent right from the start (the “death” of Pierre at sea doesn’t exactly scream technical brilliance), but as the film goes on we’re treated to some seriously arresting and captivating moments.
A great example is when Lord Morgan’s housekeeper, Lillian (Erica Blanc), leads Susan up a flight of narrow stairs by candle light. It’s a simple shot involving only two walls, two actors, some stairs and a candle but the atmosphere, play of light and shadow and increasing claustrophobia Pupillo manages to wring out of those basic ingredients is just delicious.
There’s another excellent flourish near the end involving an exploding vase that’s super cool and then a TOTALLY unexpected moment with a horse both of which made me let out a squeak of glee when they occurred. And if you want to make it all even more appealing then why not include a fantastic soundtrack by the legendary Piero Umiliani? Bliss!
Another fun aspect of the movie is that it is, surprisingly for an Italian horror, set in Scotland. Obviously there’s absolutely nothing Scottish about any of this in the slightest (I kept on having to remind myself it was taking place in Scotland and I actually live in the country) but seeing antiquated Scottish paraphernalia and costumes through the eyes of 1960’s Italian production designers only adds to the uncanny, and very idiosyncratic, atmosphere of it all.
I loved how strongly I responded to ‘Lady Morgan’s Vengeance’. I loved how I went into it expecting nothing much apart from maybe some mist, a castle, a few candles, a creaking door or two and lots of wandering about but, instead, was treated to something consistently inventive, alluring, captivating and oh so incredibly pretty to look at. It was wonderful.