Castle Of Blood (1964)
By: Drexl on July 13, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Synapse Films (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English 1.0 French 1.0. English Subtitles. 89 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Starring:Barbara Steele, Georges Riviere
Screenplay: Sergio Corbucci, Giovanni Grimaldi
Music: Riz Ortolani
Tagline: 'The Living And The Dead Change Places In This Orgy Of Terror!'
Country: Italy
AKA: Danse Macabre
After many letters requesting an interview, journalist Alan Foster is finally granted an audience with master of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe. When arriving at the ominously named 'Four Devils' public house, Foster finds Poe telling one of his tales of terror to an engrossed audience. Disbelieving of Poe's claim that his tales are based on fact, Foster finds himself bullied into a wager with Poe's companion, Lord Blackwood. Blackwood owns a castle two hours journey from their current location and the bet is that Foster cannot spend one night in the building and arrive, safe and sound, at the castle gates come daybreak. Unsurprisingly enough, the castle has a somewhat chequered past - the dodgy doings of Blackwood's predecessors and the added 'bonus' that the wager takes place on the 'night of the dead' - the night when previous inhabitants of the castle re-live the last few minutes of their lives and the grisly fate that befell them.

Margheriti would, nearly a decade later, remake Castle Of Blood in colour as Web Of The Spider. '…but it was stupid to remake it, because the color 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' comments the Director (lifted from liner notes.) The man speaks the truth. Castle Of Blood is drenched in the kind of gothic atmosphere that is a haunted-house-movie fan's wet dream - creaking doors, swirling mists, a gloomy castle and dark shadows stretching out from every corner. The long scene with Foster arriving at the castle some ten minutes into the film may bore the pants off viewers who require a decapitation or car-chase every two minutes but for fans of gloomy, foreboding atmosphere it's the stuff of legend.

Comparisons with Mario Bava's masterful Black Sunday are inevitable, especially when the casting of two of Bava's leads from that film, (including legendary horror star Barbara Steele), and the romantic subplot are considered. There is a possibility that Castle of Blood may have ended up in Bava's hands had he not been engaged elsewhere but it's difficult to see how he could have improved on the film in any case. Such is the quality of Castle Of Blood, and the work done by Margheriti, that this film would compare favourably with the very best of Bava's work, it's that good a film. High praise indeed.

Castle Of Blood, like many similar movies from the same era, was tampered with by its US distributors. Many scenes, or parts of scenes, landed on the cutting room floor. Scenes were removed for sexual content (including a brief nude scene) and other scenes were trimmed to reduce the runtime. Synapse has restored the film to its complete version utilising prints from various sources, including some French language prints. The added scenes lack an English dub and are therefore presented in French with English language subtitles. I've never had a problem with subtitles, even when only part of the movie carries them, so it's not a problem for me, plus it's pretty interesting to be able to see which parts of the movie were trimmed for the reasons given above.
Video
To drag out an old cliché, this transfer is probably as good as it's going to get for this film. Blacks are nice and solid and the print carries good detail. On the downside, some minor print damage is to be seen although it's hardly the end of the world - a few white flecks here and there and some minor scratches. The image does flicker on the odd occasion also but, in all honesty, it looks great when the age of the film is considered. There is no noticeable difference in quality between the various prints used - no grubby, VHS standard inserts here. Check out the reflection in the tavern door as Foster enters BTW for a brief glimpse of a crew member waving around a dry-ice machine - his fifteen minutes of fame! (Well, five seconds..) I guess the director never figured on his movie getting a digital overhaul.
Audio
That tired old cliché above applies here also. The mono soundtrack gets the job done but nothing more. Some distortion is to be heard near the start of the movie and, when the sound is cranked way up high, a little background noise is to be found but, again, it's nothing to whine about and the audio track is perfectly acceptable considering this is a forty year old movie.
Extra Features
On-disc extras are a little shallow.

A typically unsubtle US trailer is first to be found, all booming voice over and dramatic taglines - about as subtle as a smack round the head with a baseball bat. Nice. Next up is the alternate opening sequence found on the film's initial US release. The credits are shown over some decidedly un-atmospheric shots of the London skyline with the director credited as Anthony Dawson.

Lastly we have our old friend the slide show, (screen grabs and a few poster repros), and a thanks list from Synapse.

The best extra of this release is not to be found on the disc but on the insert in the form of some background info on the film. Written by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas in his usual intelligent and informative style, the notes cover Margheriti's unusual, multi-camera shooting techniques, the production of the movie and various other snippets of information. Excellent, interesting stuff - it's pity that Tim couldn't be persuaded to record a commentary track as he has done for some of the Bava movies released on US DVD.
The Verdict
Castle Of Blood is a top-drawer example of gothic horror. The plot and romantic subplot are engaging enough but the real draw is the foggy, shadow-drenched atmosphere. Fans of City Of The Dead, the aforementioned Black Sunday and similar movies are advised to snag a copy of this release without hesitation. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
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