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Confused, Misunderstood, But Important Early Spanish Horror Film
CAULDRON OF BLOOD is, with all it's admitted faults, in reality a very important minor entry in the early stages of the Euro Horror boom years of 1967 to 1975 or so. The film's main draw is Boris Karloff, brought in to play an aged, blind, semi-invalid artist who is unwittingly using the bones of murder victims to create his world famous sculptural works.
The reason why this is important is that Karloff's presence has lent the film a certain populist appeal that has nothing to do with the nature of the production, and indeed his performance is not only the best thing about the movie, but one of his most effective from what was sadly the twilight period of his career. Point being that thanks in part to repeated screenings on local Creature Feature Monster Movie Matinée slots during the 1970s (and of course as a home video rental era staple), a lot of people who might not otherwise be drawn to regional Euro Horror have managed to see it ... even though as most of the comments here reveal, many may have wished that they hadn't.
But the point is still valid: Mention "That movie where Boris Karloff plays the blind guy with goggles and cane who fights over the acid vat" and most fans of grade C minus horror from the 1960s/1970s will know what you are referring to. And of course for Boris Karloff fans it's a must see effort, even though it managed to languish for 3 years between it's filming in 1967 and eventual release in 1970, by which time Karloff had passed away. Further research reveals that the role of the blind sculptor was originally intended for Claude Rains who himself inconveniently kicked the bucket during pre-production, and Karloff was brought in as a replacement. And when you think about it, his casting is somewhat reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western approach, with an A list star of some caliber being brought in to a European genre film to provide that box office kick -- and in this case it worked out like gangbusters, even if the end result is a bit esoteric for many.
The film is essentially a pre-Giallo murder mystery with the requisite overcoat wearing gloved killer, red herrings, spooky overtones of psycho-sexual deviancy, kitschy fashion & pop culture references, offbeat local Spanish colorings, and a parade of supporting players who would later go on to play prominent roles in the Euro Horror cycle: Manuel de Blas, Rubén Rojo, Al Pereira, Milo Quesada, an over the top Viveca Lindfors as a sex crazed bisexual S&M freak, and most importantly Euro Sex Kitten Dyanik Zurakowska, who serves as a perversely unwitting muse to the blind artist's master work. The only member of the cast who genuinely seems out of place is the absurd jet-setting photojournalist/playboy romantic lead embodied by noted French ham actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, who apparently thought he had been cast in the movie's Maurice Chevalier role. The best thing that can be said of his work is that at least he wasn't given a chance to sing.
Shot on an appallingly low budget, oddly paced, seemingly edited by someone on Quaaludes and consisting of a dozen or so loose ends that don't seem to match up, the film doesn't have much in the way of traditional horrors (or story structure) to recommend it, beyond some wonderful Euro horror ambiance and of course the presence of Karloff. Devotees of his classic era work may be saddened to see him reduced to playing a blind old man, but without necessarily intending to the movie emphasizes that by 1967 Karloff was getting old and frail and sick. Is it wrong for a film to reflect that which is true about the people who participate? Boris Karloff lived to make movies, appears to have approached the role with a certain amount of zeal and holds his own quite well, given the circumstances. Other "big names" like Joseph Cotton, James Philbrook and Guy Madison all had their twilight era Euro genre periods, and it's high time that the snobbish Americanized manner of looking down at such work was done away with. These aren't that bad compared to 90% of the horse hockey playing at your local multiplex this weekend.
My attachment to the film is purely nostalgic: I vividly remember the movie scaring the wits out of me as a young chap sneaking in a monster movie instead of doing chores on a Saturday afternoon, and being confused by the Filmation stock music used to flavor the score that I was familiar with from shows like SHAZAM! and the animated "Star Trek" cartoon series from the early 1970s. But I admit it's a wretched movie, with about forty minutes of pretty decent Euro horror broken up by another hour of dreck that most contemporary viewers will have very little use for. Nonetheless it's historically important, actually gets better with multiple viewings as you work out the seemingly disjointed parts, has some great decrepit atmosphere in certain sections, and in the middle an overlooked Boris Karloff role that is better than the movie's detractors -- including his fans -- may lead one to believe.
5/10: By the way, all known versions currently in existence for home video are censored, though those edits may have been pre-release chops done by Franco era Spanish authorities, in which case it's probably an irretrievable loss. Further proof that totalitarianism does indeed suck rather hard.
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