The recurring vision of the staring blonde child comes from Flemish painting, the early image of sundry crucifixes like mushrooms on a mossy boulder comes from Mario Bava and no mistake. The small village "forgotten by God" has a crumbling Gothic palace and a slew of corpses with silver coins in their hearts, the square-jawed coroner (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) steps off the stagecoach and is promptly stonewalled by superstition. "I know, it's difficult for a man of science to understand..." Feudal dread rules the land, the Bürgomeister (Luciano Catenacci) confers in private with the local sorceress (Fabienne Dali), through it all drifts the spectral moppet with flaxen tresses and a baleful bouncing ball. (Bava combines a zoom with a rising and falling crane to give the phantom's view from a playground swing, merely one stroke amid a hundred atmospheric inventions.) This arcane poem of tolling bells and colored mist has its Baudelairean side ("Sì, evviva a morte!"), the Baroness (Giana Vivaldi) is steeped in enough tormenting voices and festering dolls to excite the admiration of a Visconti (cf. Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa). A note from The Virgin Spring is adduced for an exceptional long take culminating in the witchy healer wielding thorny branches to exorcise a village girl's fears, the same terrified lass is later stalked in her bedroom by the prowling camera in what could be a lost passage from Tourneur's The Leopard Man. The self encountered and the divided donna, stuffed birds in the woods and howling curtains in the mansion: "These are not legends but a terrible reality," Bava works it out via a sumptuous dilation of the Hammer style. Choked matriarch and pierced heart lift the curse at last and yet there's the lady again impaled in the iron gate in Bertolucci's 1900, a different circle of pastoral horrors. Cinematography by Antonio Rinaldi. With Erika Blanc, Piero Lulli, Micaela Esdra, and Franca Dominici.
--- Fernando F. Croce