Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Castle of Blood – review


Directed by: Antonio Margheriti

Release date: 1964

Contains spoilers

Some of you may recall that I recently posted a ‘Vamp or Not?’ about Margheriti’s film Web of the Spider. Castle of Blood was the original film, of which Web was the remake, and is also known as “La Danza Macabra”. The reason that this is a review, rather than a ‘Vamp or Not?’, is because there is very little of substantial difference, story wise, between this and the later film and my previous post established that these are vampire films. Because of this I am also going to forgo much in the way of a précis and will suggest if you wish to get major spoilers with regards the story you look to the Web post.

I will, however, look at the differences between the two films but before I do a couple of points. vampiric ghost feedsI said that we established that these are vampire films but, to be more accurate, these are vampiric ghosts – the dead returned, on one night of the year, to relive their violent deaths and gain blood, which will enable their return the following year. The other thing I wish to mention is that the review is of the “Uncensored International Version” released on DVD by synapse films.

Synapse have done a great job with the set and have restored footage removed for the American market. However, this makes the viewing experience slightly odd. The restored scenes were never dubbed and so you can watch the film in English and then you will hit a scene in French with English subtitles. You can watch the film all in French but the subtitles are only partial, having only been made for the restored sections, which means that most of the film, in French, would be un-subtitled.

Silvano Tranquilli as PoePerhaps the biggest difference between this and the remake is in the opening. In this version, English (rather than American) journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) goes to an inn to interview Edgar Alan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli, who would play Elizabeth’s husband, William, in the remake) and walks in on one of his stories. In Web we actually see the story, rather than just hear Poe tell it, and the scene is terrific, thanks to Poe being played by Klaus Kinski. This is one of the few areas were the remake is better and the acting superior.

Barbara Steele as ElizabethAll in all, the performances in this are much stronger than those in Web helped, in no small measure, by the presence of Barbara Steele as Elizabeth, the vampiric ghost who falls in love with Foster. Steele was born for roles such as these and her performance carries a darker edge than the later performance given by Michèle Mercier.

In this Foster is told, when he takes the wager offered by Lord Blackwood (Umberto Raho) to stay in the Lord’s castle for one night, that the night is the ‘Night of the Dead’ and warned that the dead relive their lives – in the later film the truth is revealed more slowly. We also discover that the Blackwood family changed their name from Blackblood, though I doubt there is too much in that snippet.

Margarete Robsahm as JuliaThere is perhaps a little touch, but only a little, of sexploitation in this earlier film with a little nudity and, more importantly, a hint of lesbianism in respect of the character Julia (Margarete Robsahm). In one of the restored sections Julia tries, following the deaths of Herbert and William, to kiss Elizabeth and this causes Elizabeth to stab the woman – there seemed little motivation for the murder in the remake.

There are a couple of differences that add to the vampiric flavour of the piece. In both we see, during the death memory of Dr Camus (Arturo Dominici), the vampiric ghost Herbert in his coffin. Herbert's still breathing corpseIn Web we see a skeleton that reforms to its living form but, in this, the corpse is like a husk, almost mummified, and yet breathes on and we do not actually see the corpse reform to its living state - the detail lost in thick mist. Foster also finds an inscription in this version that reads “Only blood can resurrect the dead and we shall drink at your fountain”, a nicely vampiric touch.

In the previous post I pointed out that some of the explanation of the metaphysical concepts in the film, given to Foster by Camus, seemed “a little made up on the fly and not thought through.” Strangely, whilst the detail is much the same, it didn’t feel so in this.

The biggest difference however is in atmosphere. Gone are the very close up shots, and a good thing to, and we are left with Georges Rivière as Fostera film brimming with atmosphere that is a classic example of European gothic cinema. Perhaps this has something to do with this being shot in black and white, as opposed to Web’s colour shoot. This is certainly Margheriti’s opinion as, in a quote from the DVD liner notes, he says “it was stupid to remake it, because the colour photography ruined everything, the atmosphere, the tension. I’m now convinced that the only way to make a really scary horror film, with that kind of disturbing atmosphere and suspense, is to shoot in black and white.” I also think that the sets were superior in this earlier version.

Castle of Blood is, without a doubt, a fine piece of gothic cinema and deserves a strong 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


House of Karnstein said...

I love this movie. My second fave Steele movie after Black Sunday and Castle of Blood is almost as good. I also very much enjoyed Web of the Spider, Kinski as Poe is fantastic to watch. There is one more film in this "Italian vampiric ghosts" field and it is also well worth searching out. It's not directed by Margheriti but it's still brimming with that unique European sixties flavor. Filmed in glorious black and white, it's entitled La Vendetta De Lady Morgan (1965). Actually, the act of vampirism is a bit more potent in Lady Morgan than either of the Margheriti films, but I don't want to spoil anything so I won't go into the scene. Most definitely a vampire film and very tough to find (sadly)
with the eng subs, but well worth the effort if you enjoy the Margheriti films.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Had a quick google and it certainly is difficult to pin down (Lady Morgan, that is) will keep an eye out