Saturday, September 29, 2018

Castle of Blood (Italy, 1964)

"My heart isn't beating. It hasn't beaten for 10 years. 
I'm dead, Alan. Dead."
Elisabeth Blackwood

Aka The Castle of Terror, Coffin of Terror, Tombs of Terror, Tombs of Horror, The Long Night of Terror, Dimensions of Death, Dance of Death, Danse Macabre, Danza Macabra and…. 
 Trailer to
Castle of Blood:
Many, many years ago, as a wee, peach-fuzz lad in Alexandria, VA, we caught a version of this movie late one night on the local Creature Feature hosted by the great Count Gore de Vol (he who also introduced us to the uncut version of Night of the Living Dead [1968 / trailer]). As of today, we now know that the version we caught must have been a version of the color remake, Web of the Spider (1970 / trailer), which, like this movie here, was directed by that master of multiple genre forms, Italian director Antonio Margheriti (19 Sept 1930 – 4 Nov 2002) aka Anthony M. Dawson. Margheriti was inspired to do the remake because he always felt dissatisfied with the original version, entitled Danza Macabra in Italy, but he also later admitted that doing so was a mistake. Whatever.
Castle of Blood has long been in the public domain in the US, and probably exists in as many (mostly butchered) versions as it has titles. Our version was a cheap-ass and seemingly cut DVD release —  82-minute running time compared to imdb's listed 87 minutes — from Westlake Entertainment, which, interestingly enough, claims that the movie is based on Edgar Allan Poe's Night of the Living Dead. In the credit sequence of the movie itself, however, it is claimed that the movie is based on Edgar Allan Poe's Dance Macabre. In turn, the credits of the 1970 color remake Web of the Spider claim the tale to be based on Poe's story Night of the Living Dead. In real life, however, Poe never wrote a tale entitled either Dance Macabre or Night of the Living Dead, nor is this film based on anything he ever wrote. Poe's name, in all likelihood, was used only for the commercial drawing power it had gained by all the Roger Corman Poe films. (See, for example, Corman's The Masque of the Red Death [1964].) And what does that prove?
Well, it is all yet more proof that the Rothschilds, together with the Illuminati, the Masons and the Knights Templar, were the secret financers of Lenin and Adolf Hitler and also planned and financed the Russian Revolution, WWI, and the subsequent rise and activities of the National Socialists so that the gold standard would be dropped and the American Democrats could open pizza parlors as fronts for a child-sex ring and thus distract the general public from the irrefutable fact that the world is flat. (You're blind if you don't see the direct links. In fact, to hide the fact that the moon landing never happened, they had JFK assassinated because he planned to reveal the truth and reintroduce the gold standard. Take that goddamned red pill, why don't you?)
The DVD release we watched — bought 2nd hand, natch — had crappy sound, was bleached and scratchy, and was shrunk to fit the screen. In turn, however, the image appeared to be un-cropped at any side and, although there were obvious cuts in the movie, the "lesbian scene" was seemingly there as was a discreet and quick semi-nude scene (and we're not talking about the breathing, topless skeletal corpse that is seen in one scene — that corpse was very much that of a muscualr, shirtless and dead male).
Seen on a small screen, Castle of Blood screamed the need for a large screen — and, at the same time, wailed the fact that even if the screen were large, the bleached and scratchy B&W photography of the movie probably was not as masterfully used as in the unarguably superior Barbra Steele film, Mario Bava's almost expressionistic Black Sunday (1960 / trailer). Which is not to say, however, that Margheriti's Italian gothic horror lacks mood and atmosphere; just not quite as much, and what there is was greatly hampered by the quality of the print we watched.
Castle of Blood is entertaining in its own way, but for all its B&W cinematography, great sets, relatively bloodless violence, racy sexuality, and horror elements, it was and is a flawed movie that most adults of today will probably find far less satisfying or entertaining than, say, a wee, peach-fuzz lad (or training-bra lass).
But then, the pubescent might also be less than impressed: while, in the days prior to the Internet and Smartphone, the movie would have been a great introductory flick for kids to Italo Gothic horror, nowadays, inured on a diet of instantly available WWW distractions, even the supposed young and tender might also find this movie slow. Indeed, it is entirely possible that even fans of old movies — as we are — might likewise find the 82-minute running time a noticeably slow 82 minutes. And that is due to more than just the quality of the print: Castle of Blood's somewhat loopy script is blemished by one too many long dry spell, an inconceivably quick and underdeveloped love story, and a lead character with the seeming intelligence of a brick.
The basic plot of the version we saw* sees Alan Foster (Georges Riviere of The Virgin of Nuremberg [1963 / trailer]), an erudite and impoverished and exceedingly practically-minded writer of The London Times in desire of an interview with the touring American author Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli [23 Aug 1925 – 10 May 1997] of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock [1962 / Italo trailer], Smile Before Death [1972 / music], The Legend of Blood Castle [1973 / trailer] and so much more), ends up entering a 10-pound-sterling wager with Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho [4 June  1922 – 9 Jan 2016] of The Long Hair of Death [1964 / trailer], The Last Man on Earth [1964 ], The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave [1971 / trailer, Satanik [1968 / trailer] and so much more) to spend the night at his haunted castle. Once alone in the castle and following a few spooky incidents, Foster is surprised to learn that the decrepit and dirty manor is seemingly inhabited after all, and not just by Lord Thomas Blackwood's beautiful sister Elisabeth (the exquisite Barbara Steele, seen below from one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite websites, Wikifeet)…
* It should perhaps be noted that these basic narrative elements change in the given version of the film you watch. Cf.: All Movie, which says: "Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), an American tourist visiting England, takes a bet from a Lord Blackwood and his guest, Edgar Allan Poe, to spend the night in a haunted mansion. […]"
As mentioned before, Alan Foster, the main hero, is pretty much an idiot. He enters the castle that he knows to be deserted, is confronted by a variety of minor supernatural events — a clock that ticks and chimes and then doesn't, a dance party in the next room that disappears, etc. — but doesn't bat an eye when suddenly the house is populated not only by Elisabeth, but the coldly beautiful Julia (Margaret Robsahm* of The Young Racers [1963 / trailer], with William Campbell) and, soon thereafter, a long-missing scholar, Dr. Carmus (Arturo Dominici [2 Jan 1918 – 7 Sept. 1992] of Hercules [1957 / trailer], Caltiki, The Immortal Monster[1959 / trailer] and more).
* From Wikipedia (Date: 08.15.2018): "Margarete Robsahm (born 9 October 1942) is a Norwegian model, actress and director. […] To an international audience, she is best known for her role in Castle of Blood […], but she has also starred in Norwegian movies, among these Line [The Passionate Couple] from 1961 (full movie). The movie was based on a novel by Axel Jensen [12 Feb 1932 – 13 Feb 2003] and caused a minor scandal in Norway at the time, as Robsahm was the first actress ever to expose her breasts in a Norwegian movie. In March 2008, Robsahm came in the media's spotlight for having received NOK 2.3 million over sixteen years in government funding for the arts, without having produced a single movie. Though no criticism was levelled at Robsahm, questions were raised about the government stipendiary system."
Worse, even after Foster realizes Elisabeth has no heartbeat, and she says she is dead, and he sees a dead man disappear into thin air, he still continues to deny the existence of ghosts instead of saving his skin by hightailing for them-thar' hills, 10 pounds sterling be damned.
Indeed, his continual denial of the obvious truth throughout the film transcends believability — unless, of course, you keep something in mind like the number of people who actually think Trump is a good president, and then his inconceivable idiocy achieves a level of veracity and is easier to swallow. Still, it does take some difficulty to accept how Foster, time and again, simply denies the obvious: that the ghostly — if extremely tangible — reenactments transpiring before him of the past deaths in the castle are indeed ghostly.
Then lets talks about the love angle, which is integral to the entire resolution of the movie. Foster has a mouth of honey, one which drips compliments and smoothly pleasing phrases as quickly as a Republican approves tax cuts for the rich or is willing to accept a fellow Republican's denial of past sexual transgression. Indeed, he verbally oils Julia as much and quickly as he does Elizabeth, which severely undermines the believability of the concept of him falling head over heels in love with Elisabeth in a matter of minutes. And while the love between the two, which is integral to the narrative, proves sincere, the flashback to the events leading to Elisabeth's death* reveals her to be a capricious, sexually active woman of little common sense who above all simply wants her fickle whims and short-term desires satisfied. (Hmm — sounds like almost everyone we know.) Thus, one is initially tempted to view Foster as little more than yet another plaything for her — it is only towards the end, when she tries desperately to save him, that her professed love finally achieves total sincerity.
* Here, the version we saw was obviously cut: while all those around her die, the scene abruptly cuts away as a crazed, screaming Elisabeth pulls at her hair. How she actually dies is not shown.
Speaking of the ghostly (if extremely tangible) reenactment of Elisabeth's demise, it does reflect a doozy of a sex crime: not only does Elisabeth's hunky and possessive lover Herbert (Giovanni Cianfriglia*) kill her husband William (Benito Stefanelli [2 Sept 1928 – 18 Dec 1999] of A Fistful of Dollars [1964], Transformations [1988 / love theme] and so much more) and then try to rape her, but after Julia saves Elisabeth by killing Herbert, Julia promptly goes all aggressively scissor sister on her. (In the world of this movie, murdering men seems to turn lesbians on.) Unluckily for Julia, Elisabeth is less than turned on and a knife lies close by….
* The hunky and handsome Giovanni Cianfriglia — see image below, from the great blogspot Pleplum — who had begun his film career six years earlier as the body double for the delicious Steve Reeves (21 Jan 1926 – 1 May 2000) in Hercules (trailer), was still in full, hot muscular prime when he played this movie's kill-happy bad guy. Indeed, the combined hotness of he and Steele and Robsahm and the soon-to-be-mentioned Sylvia Sorrente, are the stuff that fantasy orgies are made of…. Hand us that box of Kleenex, please.
The twist to the ghosts that inhabit this movie is that they are, in a way, dead-alive. They only appear once a year, on All Hallows' Eve, and to survive another year until their next appearance, the vampiric ghosts require the blood of the living, which is why Lord Thomas Blackwood sends a poor sucker to the castle every year. It would seem, however, that the urge to drink blood only truly arises as the night draws to a close, for throughout much of the movie the ghosts either leave Foster completely alone (as do William, the newlyweds Elsi [the pulchritudinous Sylvia Sorrente, below] and her husband and, for the most part, Herbert); are friendly and informative, like Dr. Carmus; or initially actively suggest Foster should leave, as does Julia. But as the night ends, and their ghostly mortality increases, so does their bloodlust — perhaps beyond their control. But for Elisabeth, whose love conquers all…. except for the threshold to the world outside.
In that sense, as Dr. Carmus flatly states at one point, and as is underscored by the way Lord Thomas Blackwood unflinchingly and coldly collects the debt due at the end of the movie, Lord Thomas Blackwood is perhaps the most cold-hearted and evil entity found in Castle of Blood. Even the murderous Herman — while alive, at least — was driven more by passion and a lack of control than evilness, and the ghosts themselves merely want to survive another year and only truly give in to their bloodlust as the night draws to a close. Blackwood, on the other hand, sends a new sacrificial victim to the castle once a year, and not even because he is forced or has to, but simply because he can.
Somewhere along the way in Castle of Blood, it is even revealed that the ghosts, who cannot leave the castle, need blood to survive another year, and that without it they would be no more. Were Blackwood not evil, he would merely make sure that no one goes to the house one All Hallows' Eve — two, if he really wants to play it safe — and then the ghosts would be gone. One need not be a capitalist to see that, financially, the return from the rent or sale of the castle would surely bring more money than an annual wager — ergo: Blackwood does his annual wager for the hell of it, making him the real amoral killer of the movie.
OK, so after all that is written above, one might assume that we don't find Castle of Blood a good movie. That, however, is wrong. We think it a great film, a fantastic film, and will surely watch it again someday (though hopefully a better transfer). It is, however, a flawed film and age has not been all that kind to it, and in today's Smartphone-driven world in which western society has the patience and attention span shorter than Trump's Mario toadstool, it is not a movie that will appeal to many.
Castle of Blood is, perhaps, comparable to some of the more subdued baubles in your grandmother's jewelry box: it is a real jewel, a beautiful jewel, but it looks and feels of another age. If you are one who can appreciate such beauty, then you will surely find this movie worth watching. If, on the other hand, you need the speed and superficiality of today's perfected flashiness, you won't be able to appreciate the beauty that this B-film offers.
The Castle of Blood
full movie:


Herb stryker said...

I really loved this film. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on it. Thanks for posting.

Abraham said...

Someday, when and if I ever do a review that you completely disagree with, I invite you to do a counter-review... we could cross-publish them, even. BTW: Coming up soon (2-3 weeks), a review of Steele's last film in which she plays the lead, The Butterfly Room.

Anonymous said...

Cianfriglia still around @ almost 90, hundreds of credits on IMDb, moved on to Spaghetti Westerns (rancher Reeves taught him how to ride when they worked together).