The Castle of the Walking Dead (1967)
“UNBELIEVABLE! Until You See It With Your Own Eyes!”
Director: Harald Reinl
Cast: Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Christopher Lee
Synopsis: In the Olden Tymes, Count Regula is drawn and quartered for killing twelve virgins in his dungeon torture chamber. Thirty-five years later, he comes back to seek revenge…
The Castle of the Walking Dead is one of those movies that underwent countless title changes depending on the market to whom it was trying to appeal and presumably whoever was distributing the movie at the time: The Torture Room, The Torture Chamber, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, The Snake Pit, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum, Blood of the Virgins, The Blood Demon, The Pendulum — this one has more identities than a schizophrenic. Christopher Lee (The Blood of Fu Manchu, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) is the headline act, but he’s just a teaser to lure you in, and appears on screen for no more than ten minutes. The real leading man is an ageing Lex Barker (Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome) who, following a name-making stint as Tarzan in Hollywood, had carved out a prosperous career for himself in Europe when the American roles started drying up. He’s pretty bland here, but then he’s given little to do other than wander around a series of tunnels like a muscular lab rat.
The Castle of the Walking Dead takes place somewhere around the mid-18th Century (probably — the screenplay isn’t really clear on this point) in Germany, and in its earlier scenes benefit mightily from its genuine Bavarian locations. A prologue shows us the grisly fate of Count Frederic Regula (Lee) who is torn apart by four horses for the murder of 12 virgins in the torture chamber beneath his castle. However, before dying, Regula issues the standard curse of vengeance on the family of the sentencing judge and the woman who provided the condemning evidence that sealed his fate. This vow of revenge is what sees Roger Montelise (Barker) travelling to the Castle of Count Regula after receiving a letter inviting him there to learn of his family history. Also travelling independently of Montelise, but with whom she will soon hook up, is Baroness Lilian von Marienberg (Karin Dor). Upon arriving at the castle — after first passing through the obligatory village in which the backward residents scurry for the shadows at the mere mention of Regula’s castle — they find themselves being corralled towards the chamber in which Regula plans to exact his final revenge while also bestowing upon himself the gift of eternal life.
Although it has a great look about it, The Castle of the Walking Dead suffers badly from a paucity of plot, despite being based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. 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.
(Reviewed 18th April 2014)