Thursday, August 9, 2007

Castle of Blood (1964)

Exquisitely creepy and essentially gothic, Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood is the perfect moody film for dark, stormy nights. Heck, I watched it while the sun was still shining and it still made my apartment feel like a dank, dark crypt. Much like Mario Bava’s classic Black Sunday, Castle of Blood is full of foggy cemeteries, beautiful damsels in distress, cursed ghosts and a very gloomy yet suspenseful atmosphere.

Journalist Alan Foster is planning to meet with great author Edgar Allan Poe at a pub. When he arrives, Poe is regaling a group of men with one of his fantastical tales. After the tale is finished, Poe goes on to tell Alan that his tales are based on truth. Poe’s friend, Lord Blackwood, agrees with him and he and Poe challenge the scoffing Alan to stay at a supposedly haunted castle overnight. It is a special night, the night of the dead, where the ghosts of the castle supposedly come back to reenact their last moments on earth. According to Blackwood, no one has ever been able to last the entire night in the castle.

Alan begrudgingly agrees to the proposition and the three take a two hour carriage ride to the isolated and seemingly abandoned castle. Poe and Blackwood drop Alan off and tell him they shall return at dawn to see how he fared. Alan opens the creaky iron gates of the castle, creeps through an overgrown cemetery and is spooked by a little black cat before heading into the dark castle. Here he does some exploring and finds that he is not alone. A woman named Elisabeth appears and soon she and Alan have fallen in love. Trouble is, Elisabeth is a ghost and soon the other inhabitants of the castle appear. Alan starts to wonder if he is going mad but soon discovers that the apparitions are after more than his sanity…they want his blood!

For fans of old, black and white, atmospheric haunted house movies, Castle of Blood is a must-see. If, on the other hand, you need constant gore and action to keep your attention during a movie you may want to skip this one. The first 10 minutes alone show Alan just making his way into the castle and poking around. I love these kind of movies, though, the kind that are full of creaky doors, black cats, overgrown cemeteries, eerie fog, nefarious mysteries and murders!

The acting is quite well-done, though perhaps a bit over-dramatic for today’s audiences. Still, Barbara Steele shines as the doomed Elisabeth Blackwood and Georges Riviere is excellent as the unbelieving Alan Foster. The rest of the cast does a spectacular job as well and each character helps create a foreboding atmosphere as the movie progresses to the finale.

Margheriti’s direction is excellent. Everything is in the chiarcoscuro style and very Gothic-inspired. Scenes of rolling fog in between gnarled trees and broken tombstones look gorgeously creepy and the cramped, dark corners of the castle are truly claustrophobic. Margheriti builds on the dread with each scene and really delivers at the end.

The Synapse DVD release of Castle of Blood has previously unreleased scenes, such as a lesbian scene, a nude scene and a few extra scenes that add further explanation. These scenes were so rare to find that the only prints that existed were French. Therefore, you will notice that when these scenes pop up they have French audio with English subtitles. After getting over the language switch, you’ll find that these never-before-seen-scenes add a lot to the overall movie. Synapse has done a great service to movie fans by adding these “lost” scenes back into this film.

Castle of Blood is a must-see for fans of old haunted house films. The Synapse DVD is highly recommended for its restoration of “lost” scenes, but I recommend seeing this film any way you can!

Available on Amazon!

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