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 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 Lillian 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 that 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 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 the sci-fi TV show, Raumpatrouille.
Daz Lawrence, SHOCKMANIA
“The entire story essentially boils down to us watching Montelise and von Marienberg journeying first to the castle, and then to the torture chamber, and while director Harald Reinl creates an appropriately creepy atmosphere — a night-time journey through a disturbing forest in which human limbs protrude from the trunks of trees is particularly effective — he can’t overcome the dullness of the script.” 20/20 Movie Reviews
” …there are moments (the climax… my God, the climax) when Lee sinks to the level of the material rather than elevating it toward his own, but Count Regula is a fairly substantial B-movie villain, and Lee’s performance is, for the most part, a worthy one […] a couple of scenes (most notably the ride through the haunted forest) have a bit of honest kick to them. I highly recommend The Torture Chamber of Doctor Sadism for any fan of European schlock and nonsense, 1960’s-style.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“Some chilling visuals (a haunted forest with corpses growing out of trees, swarms of vultures in the castle corridors, the obligatory pendulum) and assorted creepy crawlies (pits of snakes, spiders and scorpions) make this a real old-fashioned scare-fest, and it is not too bloody for horror-hungry children.” AllMovie
“The pervasive tone and mood of this movie totally takes your attention away from any of the characters including the venerable Chris Lee. It’s definitely a triumph of style over substance like a nightmarish fairy tale brought to life. If you are a fan of Gothic horror cinema, you would do well to track down a copy of this picture.” Cool @ss Cinema
“Although the storyline is fairly ordinary and predictable, director Reinl (who had previously helmed a number of trendy “Krimi” films) fills this period piece with ample doses of visual flair, paying homage to the 1960s cinema of Mario Bava and Hammer in a more exaggerated, surreal manner. The art direction and set design are so unique…” DVD Drive-In (1)
“The film’s strongest asset, besides solid performances from Lee and Barker, are its impressive sets. Quaint European villages lined with cobblestone streets set the film in a picturesque and old fashioned temperament that gradually leads into dark and ominous territory as the group must travel through a forest adorned with hanging corpses, populated by trees whose limbs include human arms and legs.” DVD Drive-In (2)
“For all its expressive trappings, the film doesn’t create a mood to match the better Italian product from Bava, Margheriti and Freda – the atmosphere is out for thrills more than dread or revulsion. It’s more efficient than memorable, but even with its pat ending (everyone who goes into the castle lives!) Reinl’s film is good entertainment.” DVD Savant
” …there’s much to enjoy here. Little touches like the hour-glass counting down Regula’s last few minutes, a corridor of skulls, subtly altered and perverted Christian iconography and the grotesque sculptures and skeletons in suits of armour that decorate the castle add up to an eerie atmosphere that never quite develops into full-on horror but which makes for a fun time nonetheless.” The EOFFTV Review
” …the best scenes stick in the memory; my favorite moment is a carriage ride through a spooky forest littered with dead bodies, and the scene where Count Regula rises from the dead (which involves his body attaching itself back together) is great. The set design is excellent; Count Regula’s castle walls are decorated with paintings that look like they were done by Heironymous Bosch.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“It’s very silly, the score is often laughably inappropriate (ranging from upbeat lounge music to jazzy saxophone interludes) and the low budget is sometimes painfully apparent, but […] Reinl, cinematographers Ernst W. Kalinke and Dieter Liphardt, and set decorator Gabriel Pellon work together to create some truly arresting visuals that still pack a punch today.” Good Efficient Butchery
” …a cornucopia of spook-house imagery that’s quite graphically gory for 1967 while still comfortably old-fashioned in its execution. The florid script by Manfred R. Köhler (with just a pinch of Poe) tosses in everything but the kitchen sink in order to give us the creepy-crawlies, and the whole thing is lavishly, enjoyably over-the-top.” HK and Cult Film News
” …screenwriter Manfred R. Kohler whips up a lively tale of resurrection, reincarnation and revenge, with Reinl’s exquisite visuals accentuating the fever-dream mood. Though Lee is very much relegated to the sidelines for much of the running time, with the stone-faced Barker and future You Only Live Twice Bond Girl Karin Dor (using up all the oxygen in the room with her hysterics) taking center stage, this sadly neglected effort is well worth seeking out.” Horror 101 with Doctor AC
“The Torture Chamber of Doctor Sadism is a fun gothic horror movie. It has very cool set design, and it has a cool atmosphere. It’s never too horrific though, which is a shame, but it’s also cool, because I didn’t want any of the seconday main characters to die-Fabian is too fun to die, and Babette is too much of a babe…” Not This Time, Nayland Smith
” …despite a few pacing issues here and there (the ending comes up very quickly!), the film is generally a very successful piece of gothic filmmaking thanks to the gorgeous atmosphere that the film contains. Performances from Barker and Lee stand out, with Barker playing the noble hero quite well and Lee doing a fine job as the macabre-faced villain (even if he’s a little typecast here).” Rock! Shock! Pop!
“The scenery at least is well used and pleasingly creepy […] Thus the filmmakers get the chance to make with the pits, pendulums, snakes, rats, preserved corpses and Mr Lee’s Count making his big comeback. Better to look at than listen to, The Torture Chamber of Doctor Sadism has an almost quaint charm that makes it worth a try for vintage horror fans.” The Spinning Image
“Director Harald Reinl paints an eerie picture and while Lee might be an imposing figure and Lange a little more than frightening, they would not be as such if they were not surrounded by horror. Castle of the Walking Dead is an underrated gem of a movie, one that perhaps gets overlooked due to more popular fare from Hammer Films at the time…” The Telltale Mind
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