Castle of Blood [a.k.a. Danse Macabre]

| November 8, 2004

This atmospheric 1960s horror film opens with Alan Foster, a reporter with no belief in the spirit world, attempting to procure an interview with Edgar Allan Poe in Victorian-era London. He finds Poe a haunted man, living through his fictions, recounting a fearful encounter (of Bernice and her teeth) to a wealthy nobleman named Blackwood. Upon challenging Poe on his supernatural view of reality, Foster finds himself in a wager with Blackwood; can he survive one night in Blackwood’s haunted castle?
After a carriage ride reminiscent of Browning’s Dracula, Foster takes his leave of Poe and Blackwood, entering the house on the hill through the cemetery.
The long silence begins. Foster, armed with a tiny derringer and a wooden cane, sifts through the abandoned wreckage of a giant rotting mansion. Creaking doors, dotted mantels, and shadowy black cats abound until Foster stumbles upon two beautiful women, Elizabeth and Julia, amidst the cobwebs and dust.
As is often the case in movie-world, he falls in love with Elizabeth shortly after his arrival. But their romance is short-lived; Elizabeth disappears after an act of violence sending Foster spiraling through the castle, into the lair of a strange old scientist, who lays the basis for his theories on death: a person who dies a violent death lives on through the senses.
Wandering in and out of winding passageways and unending decay, Foster realizes that the people who died in this castle are replaying their last moments, and that the spirits of the dead desire the blood of the living to return to life.
The gothic atmosphere constructs a creepy, chilling cacophony of gloom. The film looks great, with sharp shadows and moody lighting that capture the castle’s crumbling decadence. But the conventions of 1960s horror work against modern audiences. At times a little melodramatic, Castle of Blood suffers from an overwrought soundtrack and occasional William Castle-style gimmicks (not necessarily a bad thing). And, of course, the overdubbed English is never preferable to the original version.
Castle of Blood is a throwback, or homage, to the original Universal horror films – brooding camerawork, long still silences, unspeakable horror just out of sight. Instead of big jumpy scares (a la today’s horror market), Castle of Blood creeps along, building a strange lingering universe of fear.
The strangest thing about Castle of Blood is the addition of some original scenes, cut from the U.S. release. Subtitled, these scenes break the story, as the actors go from speaking English to French then back again. But the cut pieces are worth it; they offer a wider story with a risqué plot twist and the best visuals in the movie.
Chills, thrills, and titillating fun, the result is an interesting diversion worthy of fans of the genre.

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