Review: Castle of Blood (1964)

Written by Sergio Corbucci, Giovanni Grimaldi
Directed by Sergio Corbucci, Antonio Margheriti
Starring Barbara Steele, Georges Riviere, Margrete Robsahm, Arturo Dominici, Silvano Tranquilli
Released July 4, 1964 (Italy)
RT 87 min.
Home Video Synapse Films (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)castle_of_blood_poster_01 (1)

With foreign films, you often have to specify which version you’re watching. For Castle of Blood (1964), originally known in Italian as Danza Macabra, I actually watched the French cut of the film, called Danse Macabre. This is significant because it features actress Sylvia Sorrente in a nude scene that the others do not. She plays Elsi Perkings, a newlywed, who, along with her husband, meets her fate in the titular castle.

They’re seen in a flashback that plays in front of Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), a reporter who accepts a wager from Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho) to spend a night at his castle. It’s not just any night, though; it’s “the night of the dead.” On this night, every death is repeated and everything Foster sees actually happened in the past. We (and Foster) eventually learn that these “ghosts” need his blood in order to return again next year.

Except for that last bit, I’m not really spoiling anything. Blackwood tells Foster at the beginning of the movie that this is what happens. Foster just, of course, doesn’t believe him. He’s more interested in interviewing none other than Edgar Allan Poe, whom he finds at the Four Devils Inn telling Blackwood that every story he’s written has also really happened. Castle of Blood is supposedly based on a Poe story. Except for the tale the character is telling at the beginning, I don’t think it really is.

There’s quite a bit I like about Castle of Blood. The screenplay by Sergio Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi is clever in the way it introduces us (and Foster) to the various characters that have died in the castle. They all seem to be perfectly alive and, at any time, you think they could be alive. That is, until their deaths in the past are revealed. Until the very end, I thought Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele) might be a lone survivor helping Foster escape.

The plot is not complex, but the trappings of the gothic setting are. When Foster enters through the huge iron gate in front of the castle, he walks through a foggy graveyard. He becomes momentarily tangled in some tree limbs while the camera provides a close-up of a cat’s eyes. The interior of the castle is covered in cobwebs and includes a suit of armor, dusty candelabras, blowing curtains in front of an open window, and a clock that chimes even though its pendulum doesn’t swing.

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Castle of Blood leans perhaps a little too heavily on its atmosphere. Early in the movie, it generates a perfectly creepy mood. However, late in the movie when Foster treks back through the house looking for anyone whose fates he has just witnessed, the same slow burn becomes tedious.   Luckily, it’s followed by a terrific ending so that the entire movie doesn’t feel like a bore. On top of that, the epilogue splashes some dark humor on top of everything that’s happened.

Besides the aforementioned nude scene, I was surprised at the overall sexy nature of Castle of Blood. When Foster first meets Elisabeth and declares his love for her, the camera pans slowly around the bedroom to the soundtrack of their lovemaking. In the next scene, we see them lying in bed. Later, in Elisabeth’s flashback, we see a close-up of her face in ecstasy as the man with whom she’s having an affair does.. something to her in the garage during a party.

On top of that, the killer is a muscle-bound hunk that always appears without his shirt. He’s played by Giovanni Cianfriglia, who debuted on screen as the body double of Steve Reeves in Hercules. I shouldn’t be surprised to find a little sex in a Euro-horror movie; however, I didn’t really expect it in a movie as early as 1964. Of course, it’s not explicit here. In a few years, there would be less left to our imaginations in the horror movies from Italy and Spain.

Castle of Blood is credited to two directors, Sergio Corbucci and Antonio Margheriti. The movie was supposedly Corbucci’s idea, but he ended up having time to film only a scene or two. Therefore, Margheriti was hired to complete it. He’s the reason I chose this as one of the movies to represent Italy in the Countdown to Halloween. He’s a familiar name in Italian horror, but I had sadly never seen one of his movies before now. I enjoyed it.

Today’s passport stamp:ItalyPart of the Countdown to Halloween.  Tomorrow… more Italy!

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