Derek M. Koch, from Monster Kid Radio, is currently hosting “Edgar August Poe” on his weekly podcast. This month, I’m taking his episodes as inspiration for my Friday Fright reviews and will be writing my opinions of the movies and posting them here on the day after his podcast becomes available. Any similarity in thought is purely coincidental… and likely.
Written by Sergio Corbucci, Giovanni Grimaldi
Based on Dance Macabre by Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by Sergio Corbucci, Antonio Margheriti
Starring Barbara Steele, Georges Riviere, Margrete Robsahm, Arturo Dominici, Silvano Tranquilli
Released July 4, 1964 (Rome)
RT 87 min.
Home Video Synapse Films (Uncensored International DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)
In modern terms, I’d call Castle of Blood (1964) a “slow burn.” Every time I watch it, just as I feel like I’m going to nod off, the climax arrives and I’m rewarded for enduring its deliberate pace all the way through the end. Therefore, the result is that I enjoy the experience. Plus, when I watched it recently, I discovered aspects of it that remind me of my beloved daytime television series that ran from 1966-1971, Dark Shadows.
It’s an insignificant coincidence, but both the movie, Castle of Blood, and the television series, Dark Shadows, feature characters named Elisabeth and Julia. More significant between the two is the gothic setting in a big, spooky house decorated liberally with cobwebs, particularly in the basement. Finally, movie flashbacks play similarly to television scenes taking place in Parallel Time… all in glorious black and white (depending on the print you find to watch).
That’s not to mention the soap opera plot points that drive both their stories. Death visits frequently at the Castle of Blood, where jilted lovers murder their rivals, jealous women betray their sisters, and vampires rise from their graves. Like a snake with its head removed, the “senses” remain in dead bodies, bringing them to life one year, collecting new blood to ensure they can return again the next.
We don’t learn that’s what’s happening for quite some time, though; hence, the slow burn. The opening establishes a great mystery. When Alan Foster (Georges Riviere) arrives at the Four Devils Inn to interview none other than Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli), Poe’s associate, Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho) goads him into accepting a bet that he can’t survive the night, “the night of the dead,” in… the Castle of Blood.
It’s a simple and familiar set-up, but screenwriters Sergio Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi provide a nice bit of background for Foster that allows his fundamental beliefs to evolve between the beginning and end of the movie. Foster attempts to discredit Poe’s assertion that all his stories really happened and the two disagree about what happens after death. Foster says, “My fear is of the living.” Again, that will change before the words “The End” appear on screen.
When he arrives at the house/castle, he meets Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele), whose beauty is “strange and unusual.” Her sister, Julia Alert (Margrete Robsahm) wants Foster for herself. There’s also a musclebound hunk running around shirtless. Foster encounters Dr. Carmus (Arturo Dominici) who finally explains that these people are not exactly what they seem to be. The two men then peer into rooms to watch scenes from the past unfold before them.
It’s no more complicated than that and you can probably put together the pieces I’ve shared here to catch a glimpse of the completed puzzle. Castle of Blood has a dark, mean-spirited ending that says, regardless of whether it was Poe or Foster that was right about death, no one really cares much about life. I prefer this kind of ending in my horror movies over happily ever after endings. This one in particular leaves me quite satisfied.