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The Castle of the Living Dead (1964)


There are a number of interesting things about The Castle of the Living Dead (1964), but they didn't add up to a pleasurable experience for me. I sat watching, occasionally smiling or checking IMDb because of something familiar, but I was otherwise uninterested and, quite frankly, a little bored with the overall film.

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Compared to his other films of this era, I don't think Christopher Lee was as good in his role. Maybe I was distracted by his raccoon-like makeup, but he sometimes spoke so quickly I didn’t even catch what he was saying. He’s best in a scene where he bursts into laughter and applause following a deadly performance by visiting entertainers.

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Lee plays Count Drago. He’s lord of the land in post-Napoleon France but fancies himself a scientist. When he offers three gold pieces to a band of gypsies to perform their act in his castle, it’s really so he can collect specimens for his experiments in glorified taxidermy. He’s trying to preserve the most lifelike appearance at the moment of death. I think.

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This was Donald Sutherland’s first movie! He and American director Warren Kiefer were supposedly so fond of each other that Kiefer gave him two roles and Sutherland named his son after Kiefer. I didn’t know this ahead of time, so believed I was quite clever when I recognized the old lady/witch as the actor hiding beneath some hideous makeup.

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Other familiar names are involved in the production. Michael Reeves, who would later direct Witchfinder General, is credited for writing “additional material” and may or may not have done some second unit directing. Kiefer denied it, but Reeves got an assistant director credit.

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You won’t see it anywhere on screen, but The Castle of the Living Dead was released in the UK by Tigon Pictures, technically qualifying it to be grouped with other Tigon-produced films like The Blood Beast Terror, Curse of the Crimson Altar, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw. I’d say it fits with their limited, but eclectic output.

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I always have to note when Luciano Pigozzi, the Italian Peter Lorre, appears in a film. He plays a brief, but pivotal role as Dart, an ornery member of the troupe that gets into a fight with its leader, Bruno (Jacques Stany), and steals the horse of Eric (Phillippe Leroy), causing Eric to hitch a ride with them and become part of the act. I think.

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Of all these, though, the standout character is Sandro, portrayed by Mirko Valentin. Not only does he look the part of Count Drago’s evil henchman, but gleefully plays it. He had only 20 credits within seven years. He wasn’t familiar to me; I haven’t seen any of his other movies, although he appeared with Lee a year earlier in Horror Castle.

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I can’t pinpoint why the film didn’t work for me. Although simple, it has a decent plot. It’s not too talky; there's action. Maybe I was tired or I was still in the afterglow of rediscovering Crypt of the Vampire and it just doesn’t compare to that. I wouldn’t even call its cinematography “glorious” like I often do black-and-white movies. Maybe it’s not bad, but it’s mediocre.


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