Castle of the Walking Dead is a 1967 West German horror film originally titled Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (“The Snake Pit and the Pendulum”), directed by Harald Reinl and starring Christopher Lee, Lex Barker and Karin Dor. It has also been released as The Torture Chamber of Doctor Sadism; Blood Demon and Blood of the Virgins.
Mean old Count Frederic Regula (Christopher Lee) has been killing twelve innocent virgins in a bid to become immortal by turning their blood into an elixir, before he’s rumbled and brought to justice. A hooded executioner fits the Count with a spiked iron mask and he is quartered by four cart horses in the town square, all the time Regula vowing his revenge.
Thirty-five years later, out-of-towner Roger Mont Elise (Lex Baxter, previously seen as one of the several on-screen Tarzans and in many Edgar Wallace mysteries) is searching for Castle Andomai in a bid to learn of his heritage, though the suspicious and superstitious townsfolk deny all knowledge of such a place.
Eventually a local priest, Father Fabian (Vladimir Medar) says he is going in that direction to perform a baptism and welcomes Roger onto his coach. Also on the same path is pretty Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Karin Dor, also seen in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice and Hitchcock’s Topaz – she looks very similar to Edwige Fenech) who is off to the Castle in the hopes of receiving an inheritance of some sort; her friend, Babette (Christiane Rücker) plays gooseberry. Both Roger and Liliian have both received their invites care of the mysterious Count Regula…
Their journey takes up a full hour of the film, much of it through fog-filled forests and with cadavers draped over trees. The inn the priest was hoping to do his holy business has burned to the ground, though having already drawn a pistol and leched over Lilian, we’re already pretty sure that dog collar he’s got is just to keep him warm.
When the group finally arrive at the Castle, Babette and Lilian are spirited away by the Count’s henchman, Anatol (Carl Lange), the dodgy Rev and Rog traipsing through a maze of traps to eventually find them.
A temporarily resurrected Regula announces that Roger has been brought to his Castle as he is the son of the man who sentenced him to death, whilst Lilian is the daughter of the 13th virgin who escaped and alerted the police. Roger is condemned to death whilst Lilian is required to donate her blood for the mad Count. Snakes, spiders, a pit and a pendulum all make an appearance, will they be enough to help Regula return from the dead forever?
A Count called Regula and all but one of the cast being dubbed does not inspire confidence however, this is a prime slice of Euro-horror and it is perfectly reasonable to mention this in the same breath as Mario Bava, even if just for the sumptuous visuals. Though largely off-screen, the execution of Regula that starts the film is rather eye-poppingly vicious.
Soon after, the scenery and cinematography take centre-stage, the viewer quickly forgetting this is anything but a historical piece, despite the mythology in the plot being of the berserk Paul Naschy-kind.
The forest scenes are pure Mario Bava, misty paths leading to spooky trees and hanging corpses, the colours just leaping off the screen. The castle is perhaps even more impressive, the dank catacombs layered with skulls, Hieronymous Bosch-like wall paintings, portcullises and of course, the Count’s diabolical laboratory. A supporting cast of spiders, scorpions and house-trained vultures all add to the gothic overload, even before the good Mr. Poe’s pendulum-related drama is wheeled in to spice things up a bit.
The acting is of above-average standard for such fare, though Lex is a little wooden. It’s to the credit of the other actors that this is far from a Lee-only vehicle, appearing for only about a third of the film. If the film does suffer at all, it’s that it’s, well, not very frightening.
For all the exquisite set-design and delicious visuals, it has none of the dread of Bava and despite the heinous crimes of the Count and his horrific execution, he poses no real threat on his own patch.
The splendid score, part Scooby-Doo, part Carry On, comes courtesy of famed German composer Peter Thomas, best known for his work in Edgar Wallace and Jerry Cotton movies though all are encouraged to seek out his sensational work on sci-fi TV show, Raumpatrouille.
Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania
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