A journalist takes a bet that he can spend the night in a haunted castle on All Hallow's Eve. During his stay, he bears witness to the castle's gruesome past coming to life before him, and f... Read allA journalist takes a bet that he can spend the night in a haunted castle on All Hallow's Eve. During his stay, he bears witness to the castle's gruesome past coming to life before him, and falls in love with a beautiful female ghost.A journalist takes a bet that he can spend the night in a haunted castle on All Hallow's Eve. During his stay, he bears witness to the castle's gruesome past coming to life before him, and falls in love with a beautiful female ghost.
After having read a number of mixed reviews (including Brian Lindsey's on the Eccentric Cinema website), I did not quite know what to expect but I must say that I was genuinely surprised by this film for I liked it a lot. I may cause a stir here but I would take CASTLE OF BLOOD over most of Argento's films, though that doesn't mean that I think Margheriti is a better director.
The premise is hardly an original one and the pace is quite slow at times, but my attention was held throughout the film's entire duration. The opening sequence in a tavern reminded me of a similar scene in Jean Epstein's silent version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928). Two other scenes later on were also reminiscent of THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960): the ballroom crowd materializing out of nowhere, and the famous scene where a snake is decapitated is similar in a way to Christopher Lee's ritual killing of a parrot in the earlier film. Also, when the muscle-bound gardener attacks the newly-wed in her room, we are reminded of a similar scene between Boris Karloff and Mae Clarke in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Then again, CASTLE OF BLOOD looks forward to THE ASPHYX (1972) in their common argument about a person or thing not giving up on life unless he or it is prepared to die.
The film evokes a great atmosphere, considering that budget and shooting schedule must have been pretty tight: smooth and interesting camera-work (particularly some tilted shots used for disorienting effect), expressive shadowy lighting and the expansive yet claustrophobic sets, all of which are beautifully complemented by a fine and eclectic score by Riz Ortolani.
There are several other qualities that elevate the film rightfully to its renowned place in the pantheon of Italian horror, not least of all is the presence of two highly attractive ladies - Barbara Steele and Margarete Robsahm. Steele effectively alternates between vulnerability and aggressiveness - thus building upon her dual roles in BLACK Sunday (1960) - by giving her character a sense of inner conflict (her willingness to die at the end rather than have to repeat the castle's 'night of terror' ordeal over and over), though her thunder here is often stolen by Robsahm who manages an admirable subtlety in her (relatively) brief and enigmatic appearance. Arturo Dominici, as well, is suitably imposing as the helpful but wily Dr. Carmus. Another noteworthy aspect is the film's portrayal of a world-weary Edgar Allan Poe in the guise of Silvano Tranquilli, who captures the famed but tormented writer's essence quite well (even with his limited screentime).
Often missing in previous versions of the film is the lesbian subtext - introduced rather too abruptly into the story, but sensitively handled by the two actresses (especially in view of its shooting conditions!). On the other hand, a couple of gratuitous topless shots add nothing to the film and could easily have been avoided (though it appears these were intended for Continental versions only, much like the unnecessary striptease sequence in DEVIL DOLL ). I am also baffled by a couple of other points: what exactly did Elizabeth die of? We see the gardener stab her, but at the end of the film she perishes beside her own grave in the cemetery! And can anyone explain those hanging bodies which Alan Foster (Georges Riviere's character) passes by immediately afterwards, as he stumbles outside the castle grounds?
Where the film comes up short is in the stilted dialogue of the romantic interludes - if the Barbara Steele/John Richardson relationship in BLACK Sunday comes off as unconvincing, what about the Steele/Riviere match here? In fact, both young male leads are a detriment to the film: the he-man gardener character, especially, is laughable and breaks the mood of the piece, taking one out of the picture! Apart from this, couldn't they have picked one of the women to 'vampirize' successive victims?!
Among the film's highlights are: the snake scene I mentioned earlier, which is genuinely skin-crawling; another uncomfortable moment is when the rotting corpse in the castle's cellar starts to move (who exactly is he?); the re-enactment of the murders, and the way it vividly captures Foster's desperation at his failure to stop them at every turn, not quite believing that what he is watching has already happened; the blood-craving ghosts' attack on Foster at the end, which reaches a fine pitch of frenzy before he is led to safety by Elizabeth - and to what he believes is freedom; Foster's violent death scene, then, is quite stunning - worthy of Bava or Argento at their best.
As for the DVD presentation, I thought the Picture Quality neither better nor worse than expected; it was quite pleasant, in fact. Audio Quality, on the other hand, was pretty bad: distorted at first, then settling down to a fair Mono, which is disrupted on occasion by a weird and rather distracting hum on the soundtrack (as in the SON OF Dracula  DVD from Universal). Extras are slight for this release, but well done nonetheless (especially Tim Lucas's typically enthusiastic and informative liner notes).
Also, I did not find the English dubbing all that annoying this time around, and the transition between languages was smoothly handled overall. I was not so unprepared to this eventuality, however: I already have Max Ophuls' celebrated final film, LOLA MONTES (1955) - or rather a badly-cut version of it - on VHS (taped off Italian TV), which is presented in a similar - indeed, far more ragged - patchwork state, alternating between French (with Italian subtitles) and Italian dialogue; and the version of Jacques Tourneur's classic film noir OUT OF THE PAST (1947) that is always shown on Italian TV, also goes abruptly from the Italian dubbing to the original English dialogue! Anyway, the restored bits of dialogue in CASTLE OF BLOOD add some depth to the characters, so we must be thankful that these have been preserved in any way and have now been re-integrated into the main feature. It's a pity, however, that the alternate French-language track (reportedly in even worse shape than the English one!) wasn't subtitled in its entirety, as this dubbing is still the more natural-sounding.
I am now looking forward to watching more Margheriti from this vintage, particularly THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) - his other film with Barbara Steele - but also WEB OF THE SPIDER (1970), the director's own color (and allegedly inferior) remake of CASTLE OF BLOOD, with Anthony Franciosa, Michele Mercier and Klaus Kinski - themselves no strangers to horror films. I'm not sure about his later work, however: for example, despite the acclaim heaped upon Image's DVD of CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) - which, incidentally, I failed to catch recently on a very rare TV screening - I find extreme gore off-putting, so I seriously doubt I'll ever get around purchasing that one!
- Jun 14, 2004