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Castle of the

Walking Dead

a/k/a Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel a/k/a Blood Demon a/k/a The Snake Pit a/k/a The Pendulum a/k/a The Snake Pit AND the Pendulum a/k/a The Torture Room a/k/a The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (...whew!)

     "Time makes no difference to the dead."

--- Count Regula     

 

     

Reviews:

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This is the scenic route?

 

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AMAZON

DVD

 
Sights &
Sounds:
Castle of the
Walking Dead
(1967)
 Constatin Film
 Produktion /
 Hemisphere
 Pictures

Continental
Terrors:
More Macabre
Euro-Shocks.

Eyes without a Face

Black Sunday

Castle of Blood

Castle of the Walking Dead

Tombs of the Blind Dead

Baron Blood

 

We open with a condemned man, his features hidden behind a large golden mask, heading for his just reward. Now, this strange and somewhat hideous mask resembles the one nailed onto Barbara Steele face in Black Sunday, meaning it's probably there for a reason, and while the guards remove the prisoner from his cell and lead him through a seemingly endless succession of corridors, the credits start to roll...

And I have to pause already to point out that even though this film may look Italian, and it may smell Italian, and it may be dubbed horribly like it was Italian, but, no, this gleefully gothic creepfest is of German origins. Also, the soundtrack doesnít fit the action very well at all, and sounds a lot like the old Magic Organ 8-Track my Grandma Shaw used to have and played, a lot, which kinda derails things -- for it's hard to be frightened to the tune of "The Beer Barrel Polka." Now, back to the review already in progress...

When the armed escort finally gets the prisoner out into the courtyard, we see a hooded, ax-wielding executioner waiting patiently; but we then pan over and witness the condemned being secured to four horses heading in four equally and opposite directions. Obviously about to be drawn and quartered, we barely have time to wonder what the prisoner did to deserve such a grisly fate before we crash-zoom over to two observers; both with a keen interest in these proceedings and have all the answers we need. One of them is the judge who passed sentence, while the other is the star witness, whose testimony damned our doomed prisoner to this current predicament. You see, the man about to be executed is the evil Count Regula, who kidnapped and killed 12 young girls at his secluded castle for some nefarious purpose. And the witness was to be the 13th victim before she escaped and brought the hammer of justice down on our mad villain. And now that itís all over, the judge thanks her again; for without her, they would never have caught Regula and proclaims his reign of terror is now over. But the witness takes no comfort from this, and ominously fears this will only be the beginning. 

Then, before we get an answer as to what that cryptic statement means, the executioner waves his axe, the horses are whipped, the ropes pull taught -- and we quickly jump ahead in time as a singing minstrel tells the bloody tale of Count Regulaís and his horrible deeds complete with a slide-show. (Well, sort of. Heís got paintings of the murders and the Countís execution.) A small crowd has gathered to hear his macabre song, and when he spots a man disembarking from a coach and enter a nearby building, the show is quickly wrapped up. After night falls, when the same man comes out of the building, the peg-legged minstrel follows him around for awhile, giving the Foley-man some work, until finally catching up and asking the man's name. Identifying himself as Roger von Elise (Lex Barker), the minstrel hands over a sealed envelope and a promise that all the answers to the lawyer's clouded past can be found inside. 

I find it odd that Barker, an American actor, is also dubbed -- and so help me, it sounds like the voice of Leonard Nimoy!

Before breaking the letter's wax seal, Roger notices it bears a strong resemblance to his own family crest. Once broken, inside is an invitation to the Castle Andeline at the behest of Count Regula. (But isnít he dead?) When Roger asks the minstrel who really sent it, he is startled to realize that while his nose was in the letter, the cripple has mysteriously vanished without a trace. Intrigued, he returns to his office and tells his partner heíll be leaving for a while ... We then jump to another town, where the minstrel is at it again, spreading the nefarious legend of old Count Regula, until spotting a lovely young woman and her chambermaid watching him out of a hotel window. Recognizing them, he then pulls another, similarly sealed envelope from his breast pocket.

We then crash-cut again to Rogerís coach as it races across the countryside, and when they stop at the next town to feed the horses, he asks around for directions to the Castle Andeline. But the locals quickly shy away (-- uh-oh), and the few that will talk call Andeline a cursed and evil place, and that the man who sent him the invitation has been dead for over 35 years. When a solemn religious procession marches past, led by a monk bearing a cross, Roger asks a local girl what the pilgrimage is all about. Told itís a ritual to help keep evil spirits away, she also adds the lead monk is the only one who knows the way to Adeline. Catching up with the parade, Roger quickly brings it to a crashing halt to ask for directions. The monk obliges but also notes the castle is in ruins, and then warns the young man to just stay away from that profane place as "A great danger awaits you there." Another priest, a Father Fabian (Vladimar Medar), steps in, pokes fun at the local zealots, and asks Roger if heís really going to Andeline because thatís also where the Baroness Lillian von Brabaut (Karin Dor) and her maid, Babette (Christiane Rucker), are headed. Seeing the ladies in question as they load up on their own coach and depart, the plot thickens when we recognize them as the same women the minstrel was interested in.

Saying he has a baptism to perform in the next town, Fabian manages to hitch a ride with Roger, but with his uncouth demeanor, you get the feeling this priest is not what he appears to be ... Several miles outside of town, when seven riders dressed in black pass them, Fabian refers to the mob as the Seven Deadly Sins and fears they may be robbers setting up an ambush. As the carriage draws closer to Regulaís old haunts, we also notice the slow deterioration of the countryside from lush farmland to a hellish landscape of swirling fog and dead trees. And turns out Fabian was right, but the robbers werenít after them -- they were after the Baroness! Catching up, Roger and Fabian manage to run the bandits off but not before they kill the driver of the womenís coach. But since theyíre all going to the same place, Roger offers the services of his carriage.

And here is where the movie starts to get more interesting and really, really bizarre.

As the sun sets and the fog grows thicker, the trail keeps getting worse, and so does the scenery as the coachmen (Carl Lange) starts to see dismembered body parts littered about in the tree branches; and when they pass a tree where three ravens call out his name, the rattled driver stops and abandons the coach. Wanting to know why theyíve stopped, the others spill out. (Notice how all the body parts are now gone.) Rounding up the driver, who begs them to just turn back -- seems that seeing three ravens together on Good Friday are a bad omen. (Plot point!) But when Roger orders him to mount up, the poor guy climbs back on and the trip continues. (And I mean "trip.") Inside the coach, as the passengers complain about the rough terrain theyíre riding over, when Fabian claims it must be tree roots, we cut outside and see that itís not tree roots at all but DEAD BODIES! the coach is bouncing over. The driver doesnít see this either because heís too busy looking at the multitude of cadavers hung from the trees. And all of this proves too much for the poor soul, who quickly succumbs to a fatal heart attack and falls off the wagon.

Again, the written word does not do this sequence justice.

With no one at the reins, the horses bolt, shaking-up the passengers rather violently. But after Roger pulls a nice Yakima Kanutt maneuver, he manages to get outside and stops the stampede. Revolted by what he sees -- the entire forest is filled with dead bodies, hanging from the trees and littering the road -- he asks Fabian to get out but orders the women to stay inside. One of the victims appears to be still alive, and when the men rush to cut him down, Roger notices several of the hanged men are dressed like the bandits who tried to rob Lillian. But upon closer inspection, they are nothing but skeletons. Then, from out of the fog, a mysterious stranger slinks to the coach and steals it -- with the girls still inside! Whipping the horses on, they disappear into the mist, leaving the men behind. They give chase on foot, but quickly lose their way in the soup until they hear a bell ringing. This leads them to a cemetery where all the gravestones read Regula, and then a metal gate creaks open, revealing the ruins of Castle Adeline. (Man, this is some genuinely creepy stuff.)

Entering through the gate, a cellar door opens up revealing a set of stairs. When they enter, the spiked door -- that looks like the teeth of some great beast -- slams shut behind them, and in a sense, devours the two intruders. After a few more phantom doors open and close, herding them into a large chamber filled with strange murals depicting all kinds of torture and body-dismemberment painted on the walls, another door opens allowing our mysterious coach-thief to join the party. After Anathol (Deiter Eppler) introduces himself as the deceased Countís trusted servant, Roger demands to know where the women are. Suddenly, music fills the chamber and Anathol opens another room, where we see the Baroness playing an organ. When Anathol announces they have guests, Lillian doesnít seem to remember them. Obviously in some kind of trance, she welcomes Roger and Fabian to her castle, and, in her deluded state, she mistakes a snake as a gift of jewelry. Before Roger tears him apart, Anathol admits that he drugged Lillian after abducting her to calm her down. And when a nervous Babette arrives with drinks for everyone, she silently warns Roger not to drink the wine before accidentally spilling Fabian's glass onto the table. As the liquid eats through the wood like the acid it obviously is, a startled Fabian rips off the preacherís tunic and reveals his true profession as dastardly highwayman (-- I knew it!), who had meant to rob them all before the creepy butler got involved. Now, pulling his two flint pistols, he tries to bargain with Anathol but gets nowhere as the servant takes the cup with the deadly liquid and shot-guns the rest of it -- and then laughs if off as he herds Babette out of the room, the heavy door slamming shut behind them. 

And we, as an audience, ask Okay ... What the hellís going on, here?

With the effects of the drug wearing off, Roger tries to talk Lillian down. And while Fabian sneaks off into another passage, the other two take in one of Regula's macabre murals depicting the horrible murder of the 12 virgins; but it's the two intact characters in the painting that draws their attention the most. Resembling the judge and the witness -- from way back at the beginning, remember? -- the figures also bear an uncanny resemblance to our couple. Before they can explore further, Fabian comes back, screaming that something awful is happening to Babette, and leads them to the locked door of a small chamber, where Babette is bound to the crossbeams of some nefarious contraption inside, held upright by a chain; and as water slowly drips into a bucket, the increasing weight will eventually release the chain and trigger the deathtrap, causing the helpless girl to fall onto a bed of spikes!

Luckily for Babette, after a few tense moments, Fabian and Roger manage to break in and save her before she goes splat. But after releasing the girl, the group is then herded deeper into the castle, where the hallways quickly becomes lined with skulls. Her nerves shattered already, Babette turns back and flees in terror. Fabian goes after her, but Anathol catches Babette first and tries to strangle her. Catching up, Fabian threatens to shoot. Again, Anathol only laughs at the robber even after Fabian fires both pistols. His aim is true, but both bullet holes quickly heal themselves as Anathol reveals that "You canít hurt me. Iíve been dead for years." With that revelation, Fabian and Babette run away -- in opposite directions. Meanwhile, Roger and Lillian turn another corner and find some vultures doing a number on some fetid corpse. (Man, this place is better than Disneyland!) When Fabian catches up with them, a voice calls from another chamber: the actual torture chamber where Regula did his dirty deeds -- and the strange thing is, the murdered virgins are still in there, and the corpses are looking mighty pristine for being dead for 35 years. Anathol is already there, waiting for them, and reveals a glass sarcophagus. Inside are the severed parts of the late Count Regula, who left his servant orders to resurrect him on this Good Friday. And being a good servant, Anathol slits his wrist and bleeds on the glass. But something isnít quite right, and he senses something holy in the room, meaning somebody is probably wearing a crucifix. Lillian had one -- stress on the had, because Fabian stole it. When Anathol orders the bandit to leave or face the consequences, right on cue, another door opens and the cowardly Fabian beats feet -- only to find himself trapped in a small cell. And he isn't alone: the body of the minstrel is in there with him.

With the crucifix gone, Anathol continues the blood rite, and after the corpse slowly snaps back together, he rises from the coffin and removes the mask, allowing us to finally get a look at Count Frederick Regula (Christopher Lee). Turns out the Count was/is an alchemist who discovered the secret of immortality; and since the formula involves a massive amount of virginal blood explains away all the dead bodies lying around. But what really makes the elixir cook is that the women must be in a highly frightened state before the formula will be effective. (Thatís why he tortured them first.) Needing the blood of a thirteenth virgin to complete the formula and gain full immortality, when the last victim escaped his clutches, Regula managed to ingest some of the incomplete batch before he was caught and put to death, allowing him to be resurrected for a short spell to complete his work. Nodding to Anathol, he reveals an hourglass and flips it over; apparently, Regula has that much time to find another virgin and gain immortality, and if he fails, the Count takes a permanent dirt-nap. As we've already guessed, Regula then reveals that the judge who sentenced him to death was Rogerís real father, and the victim who escaped was Lillian's mother. Vowing vengeance on everyone involved with his trial and execution (-- including their families), Anathol obeyed this last request and informs his master that everyone is dead -- except for these two.

I believe this explains the multitude of dead bodies scattered around the castle and all those back in the forest. Anathol must have been busy guy. He got sloppy, though, and was caught killing someone and hanged for it. But he also took some of the Countís elixir, which explains his zombie-like state and the neck brace he wears.

Told that Lillian has been pegged to be the 13th victim, when Roger protests, heís dumped down a trap door. Drawing a knife, Anathol herds the girl toward an iron maiden until Regula stops him, saying itís not enough. She must be more terrified. To help work her into a tizzy, they tie Roger to the floor below a swinging pendulum and allow her to watch as it slowly lowers and threatens to chop our hero in half. They even let her escape, to try and help him, but this was just another ruse so Anathol can run her through a few more morbid features of Castle Andeline. And as the pendulum drops ever closer to Roger, Lillian runs into more dead bodies, vultures, spiders, scorpions and lizards, and in an attempt to get away from them, she runs across a narrow catwalk, but the door at the other end wonít budge. From above, Anathol lowers a light into the pit below her, revealing a few more bodies and bunch of deadly snakes; he then throws another switch, causing the catwalk to withdraw into the wall. Trapped, Lillian pounds on the door as her foothold grows smaller and smaller, and faints as the catwalk completely disappears from underneath her -- but the door opens before she slips and Anathol catches her.

Meanwhile, back under the pendulum, Roger manages to free himself by knocking the blade off course by throwing a rock at it. (Yeah, I called "No way!" too.) Fabian has also managed to escape his cell, and they both head back to the main torture chamber to rescue Lillian. But they may already be too late as Regulaís chemistry set is all a bubble, and Lillian is finally ready. Just as Regula orders Anathol to slit her jugular to get the blood they need, Roger breaks in and orders them to stop. But Regula throws a switch and a portcullis* drops between them.

* Portcullis ~ noun ~ a sliding grille of iron or wood suspended in a gateway or a fortified place in such a way that it can be quickly lowered in case of an attack. 

Ė The American Heritage Dictionary.

With eternal victory within his grasp, Regula is about to gloat until Anathol points out that his chemicals have petered out. Why? Because Roger has Lillianís crucifix, and it has rendered the evil equipment powerless. With the hourglass almost empty, Regula and Anathol writhe in pain at the sight of the cross. And as Regula pleads with Roger to get rid of it, he gladly obliges by tossing the medallion onto the chemistry set, which causes it to explode! With his time up, both Regula and Anathol keel over and disintegrate (-- the twelve virgin bodies also turn into skeletons). With the villains vanquished, Roger manages to get to Lillian but Andeline is angrily coming apart at the seams, and they barely manage to get outside before it completely collapses.

Happily finding Fabian and Babette safe, sound, and waiting for them, they all pile into the nearest carriage and leave this profane and evil place far behind them.

The End

Wow.

Castle of the Walking Dad has got to be one of the creepiest movies Iíve ever seen. In fact, itís downright disturbing. The plot is pretty generic, and the acting is modestly adequate -- except for Dieter Eppler's Anathol, who was one of the vilest screen heavies I've encountered in a good long while; but what really sets this thing apart are the incredible set-pieces and the eerie atmosphere it creates and, somehow, manages to sustain for the entire film. Obviously, Mario Bava's Black Sunday and Roger Cormanís Poe pictures had a heavy influence on German director Harold Reinl -- probably most famous for his Dr. Mabuse vehicles and cementing the euro-western trend, who also helmed several Edgar Wallace krimis before hopping on the ancient astronaut bandwagon in the 1970's with Chariots of the Gods and Bill Shatner's Mysteries of the Gods. I hesitate to call his work here brilliant, but it took me a while to shake this film the first time I saw it. And just like Floyd Crosby and Danny Haller, whose contribution to Corman's movies can't be underestimated, a lot of the credit for the lasting impression Castle of the Walking Dead makes must go to the filmís cinematographer, Ernst Kalinke, and the art and set-direction of Will Achtman and Gabrielle Pellon, as Iíve never seen a spookier gothic castle than Andeline. Then again, the Germans were always good with gothic horrors. (Iíd love to see this thing in letterbox to get the full-effect of their work.) Picked up by Eddie Romero's Hemisphere Pictures, the film was imported to the states and released as Blood Demon on a double-bill with The Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

Chock full of many stunning visuals, none are greater than that scene of the carriage approaching the castle, with all the dead bodies scattered everywhere -- and as a point of fact, if the movie has one flaw, itís that this phantasmagorical sequence comes too early, and though the rest of the film is creepy enough, it just canít top what happened along that fog-enshrouded road. 

What I always find fascinating while watching one of these foreign jobs is that thinking about the film logically seldom works -- especially when they lose something in the translation. If something canít be translated, the distributor usually lets it slide, allowing the horror to become even more illogical.  What this does is mess up the logical progression of what transpires -- or what we believe to be a logical chain of events if we got trapped in a gothic castle with a homicidal madman. And if we can't explain it, to me, the scarier the movie becomes. If nothing else, it helps keep the audience off balance.

The film is a brief 75-minutes, but not a one of them is wasted. Once the plot is laid out, the dread builds until the climax. Which is why I highly recommend Castle of the Walking Dead, or whatever they're calling nowadays. So track down a copy and prepare to be highly entertained, but also brace yourselves to be really and truly creeped out -- even though the damned thing makes no sense whatsoever!

Castle of the Living Dead (1967) Constantin Film Produktion :: Hemisphere Pictures / P: Erwin Gitt / D: Harald Reinl / W: Manfred R. KŲhler / C: Ernst W. Kalinke, Dieter Liphardt / E: Hermann Haller / M: Peter Thomas / S: Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Christopher Lee, Carl Lange, Christiane Rucker

Originally Posted: 02/28/01 :: Rehashed: 05/31/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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