Castle Of The Living Dead

castlelivingdeadThe difference between bad crap and interesting trash is sometimes hard to put your finger on. Savvy crap-watchers must develop instincts for telling early on in a production whether it’s going to be bad/compelling or just plain bad. Castle Of The Living Dead is not a classic, nor is it good, but it does have the elements which make horror elastic and interesting. There are problems, of course — big, gaping, glaring ones. But when it works, the film feels like a nightmare.

In and of the earth are modern horror films, mired in a vulgar sense of reality that precludes fun and, for me, involvement. Torture porn (I like the term not because it’s accurate, but because it’s deprecating, and those who like Hostel and Captivity should feel bad for it) has too much false reality. The only state of mind is that of the leering camera-eye, the mind’s eye of a sniggering, unworthy audience.

Set in post-Napoleonic France, Castle opens with startling force: highwaymen beat passersby to death. Death is everywhere, and it is the main business for a traveling performance troupe. Count Draco invites Bruno and his players to put on a show just for him (and has there been a nice Count EVER? Even the Count in The Barefoot Contessa is a dickless murderer).

The story (which is thin gruel siphoned from House Of Wax and The Most Dangerous Game) moves in fits and starts, from a strange bar fight to a weird encounter with Donald Sutherland as an old prophetic woman. Everything that happens at the castle has a sense of unreality, augmented by the always reliable Christopher Lee in voice and stature. Narratively, in terms of character and dialogue, there’s not much “there” there. Thanks to the Count’s machinations, people die and turn into perfectly preserved corpses, leading to a ludicrous and non-thrilling conclusion. But the film makes the most of its setting, including a garden filled with enormous statues of turtles and wolves in various states of disrepair — a garden where the company’s dwarf escapes from Lee’s murderous butler.

The movie’s like an AIP cheapie shot by Karl Freund.

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