CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (IL CASTELLO DEI MORTI VIVI) (director/writer: Warren Kiefer/Herbert Wise; screenwriter: Michael Reeves; cinematographer: Aldo Tonti; editor: Mario Serandrei; music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino; cast: Christopher Lee (Count Drago), Gaia Germani (Laura), Philippe Leroy (Eric), Jacques Stany (Bruno), Donald Sutherland (Sgt. Paul/Old Hag/Old Man), Luciano Pigozzi (Dart), Antonio De Martino (Nick, Dwarf), Mirko Valentin (Sandro, Servant), Ennio Antonelli(Gianni); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Maslansky; Serena Films; 1964-Italy/France-in English, partially dubbed)
“Mad scientist horror pic that never amounts to much.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mad scientist horror pic that never amounts to much. It marks Donald Sutherland’s film acting debut in a triple role and is served well by the presence of Christopher Lee, in a macabre role he can play in his sleep. The unremarkable low-budget horror film is flatly co-directed and co-written by Warren Kiefer (“Defeat of the Mafia”/”Next of Kin”/”Juliette de Sade”) and Herbert Wise (“Witchfinder General”). The other co-writer, the Britisher Michael Reeves, supposedly shot the atmospheric climax and was uncredited but took over the directing duties from the principal helmer Kiefer as he proved to be the filmmaker with the most imagination. Reeves, because of his good work in this film, went on to become for a brief period a cult director of note until the emotionally troubled 25-year-old’s death from an overdose of barbiturates.
The muddled production was undoubtedly hampered by having at least three different languages spoken on the set, and no one person in charge of the production.
A traveling by wagon gypsy theatrical acting troupe, somewhere in eastern Europe, accepts the three gold pieces offered them by Count Drago (Christopher Lee) to perform in his remote gothic castle their popular roadside fake hanging act. The troupe leader Bruno (Jacques Stany) is unaware that the count is an evil madman who made a deadly potion from a tropical plant that when imbibed or introduced as a serum gives the individual immediately eternal life as a statue. The hospitable count only invites visitors over so he can add them to the castle museum collection of the living dead, and his creepy, scythe-wielding servant, Sandro (Mirko Valentin), enjoys gathering the vics for his relentless master.
The count relishes that he worked out in his basement lab the kinks in his potion, as he once screwed up and left a beautiful woman as an old hag (Donald Sutherland) and she now seeks revenge–placing a curse on the castle.
The most spirited troupe member is the dwarf, Nick (Antonio De Martino), who acts as the heroine Laura’s protector after her former protector, her soul brother Bruno gets immortalized. Laura’s bland lover, the coachman Eric (Philippe Leroy), who replaced the traitorous clown in the act, Dart (Luciano Pigozzi), can’t protect her even though he’s the one she chooses to be with.
We’re left to wonder if anyone in the troupe will survive their eerie castle stay, as if anyone really cares.
REVIEWED ON 10/31/2013 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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