Danza Macabra / Castle of Blood (1964) “I Was Prepared To Spend The Night With Horrible Ghosts Instead I Find You!”

Castle of Blood / Danza Macabra 1964

This is one of those films that as a little MonsterGirl, it left a lasting impression on me.

I can remember when I’d first watched this as a child in my room late one weekend night. There was an early spring breeze blowing the curtains in and out in the precious darkness of my bedroom. I had my own little black and white television set. The cool and fragrant air puffling from outside kept wafting in. I felt sensations of chills and excitement.

I hadn’t  yet seen anything quite as hauntingly mysterious as the of Gothic dark beauty of Barbara Steele and the ball room scene that almost transported me into the television set, right into the ballroom itself. Feeling part of the ghostly ball.

It remained in my psyche for days. For years now actually, as it was one of my first experiences with Gothic romantic horror. The sensations of longing, death and shadow overtook me. Back in the 60s when they used to run this film late at night, I vaguely remember seeing it in total, not having cut out the scene with Julia kissing Elisabeth, so the lesbian overtones that remained in the earlier version of Castle of Blood aired in its entirety. Though this is my memory of the experience and not necessarily a fact.

I had purchased a copy of the film from Sinister Cinema  (who really do have an impressive Catalogue) which lost some of the film’s continuity because it cuts out certain portions, perhaps because of the language inconsistency in places or the dubbing. Recently I obtained the film as it had been original released.

In particular the segment where Julia tries to convince Elisabeth that they belong together, and she makes very overt sexual advances toward Elisabeth after defending her from being killed by her lover Herbert. The edited version only alludes to the fact that Julia has an attraction toward Elisabeth which could be perceived as merely jealous rivalry. It’s the same with the newly released DVD version of Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s masterpiece,  The House That Screamed 1969 with Lili Palmer, where the lesbianism was rampant at the boarding school but a lot of the scenes have been hacked to pieces. Thank god I’ve saved all my original VHS factory releases and have a version that is closest to the one I remember from the actual movie I saw in the theaters during it’s official theatrical release here in the U.S. Mary Maude is way too hot with that whip, to hack that segment apart. And Lili Palmer kissing Christina Galbo’s back after she makes Irene (Maude) whip  Teresa mercilessly needs to come to it’s visual fruition in order to show Sra. Fourneau’s sexual repression.

Along with Castle of Blood/Danse Macabre there were a few other films that effected me so profoundly when I was really young.

Such is the case with Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971), Lemora-A Child’s Tale of The Supernatural(1973), The Haunting (1963), The House That Screamed (1969) Rosemary’s Baby of course. Silent Night Bloody Night (1974), Night of The Living Dead (1968), Curse of The Demon (1957) The Devil Commands (1941) and The Uninvited (1944) and Horror Hotel.

With Castle of Blood, It’s more about the imagery rather than the coherent story telling. Truth be told on recent viewing I found many a plot hole and unanswered questions, yet it really doesn’t matter. Antonio Margheriti has created a lasting atmosphere of yes, the macabre. A haunting shadow place, where phantoms waltz to an otherworldly melody.

The device of using Edgar Allan Poe as an active character in the play adds an interesting element to the story yet the origin of  Danse Macabre comes from French composer Camille Saint-Saëns who wrote his “tone poem” in 1874 as an art song for voice and piano and then reconfigured it for violin. It is based on a French superstition that claims that Death comes at Midnight on every Halloween night, and calls forth the dead to rise from their graves and dance for him while he plays the fiddle.

Directed by Antonio Margheriti who adopted the American name Anthony Dawson after realizing that the translation of his name was actually Anthony Daisies, thinking that it was too effeminate for his persona. The prolific Italian director, Margheriti started out in the 50s Italian film industry as a scriptwriter, but went on to direct science fiction, horror, and spaghetti westerns and cult Giallo films. Just to name a few, he directed Steele in The Long Hair of Death 1964 and Christopher Lee in Horror Castle (The Virgin of Nuremberg) 1963 Claude Rains in Battle of The Worlds 1961, Web of the Spider 1971 and the awful Cannibal Apocalypse 1980. Most of his films were directed under the pseudonym Anthony Dawson. Margheriti was the only Italian film maker that worked directly with American production companies like MGM, United Artists, 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures, to name a few.

Of interesting note:

Director Richard Morrissey denied for years that Margheriti had anything to do with directing Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Morrissey claims that Margheriti mostly worked as a technical adviser on that film only actually directing a very brief segment of the film.

Castle of Blood stars the inimitable, the iconic doe eyed Barbara Steele as Elisabeth Blackwood. Georges Rivièreas Alan Foster, Margarete Robsahm as Julia Alert. Arturo Dominici ( Henry Kruger) as Doctor Carmus. Silvano Tranquilli ( Montgomery Gleen ) as Poe and Umberto Raho (Raul H.Newman) as Lord Thomas Blackwood and Giovanni Cianfriglia as Herbert although IMDb has him listed as Killer? He did do the killing in terms of stabbing, choking, neck breaking and blood drinking.  Sylvia Sorent is the bride.

When the film’s credits roll they say Story by Jean Grimaud and Gordon Wilson Jr. From Edgar’s “Dance Macabre” screenplay by Grimaud and Wilson. Yet I am unaware of any of Poe’s short stories that this would have been based on. This is why I refer to Saint-Saëns tone poem of the same name which seems to be the preeminent and prevailing origin of this theme.

The wonderful Music composed by Ritz Ortolani  later on he must have shortened his name to Riz. Margheriti used Ortolani for so many of his various genre films. He’s known for so many earlier scores, for films such as The Yellow Rolls -Royce, One on Top of The Other 1969 Woman Times Seven 1967 with Shirley MacLaineThe Vilachi Papers with Charles Bronson 1972 and most recently for Kill Bill Vol 2 and Inglorious Bastards 2009

The short synopsis goes as follows. A young English journalist Alan Foster shows up at the 4 Devils pub to try and get an interview with Edgar Allan Poe. He finds Poe telling a ghost story to another man seated at a table inside the pub. He winds up making a wager for ten pounds with Lord Thomas Blackwood that he cannot survive the infamous “night of the dead”, which is the first midnight in November. Each year Lord Blackwood does this, with unsuspecting victims who wind up falling prey to the phantoms who dwell there in his ancestral castle. Lord Blackwood’s grandfather was The Hanging Judge of London. Alan decides to take the bet, and the 3 men take Blackwood’s carriage to the castle. Once at Castle Blackwood, Alan meets the beautiful Elisabeth and both instantly form an attraction. Lord Blackwood sends people to the castle each year so Elisabeth might walk one more year.

Also lurking in the castle is the mutually exquisite Julia whose portrait hangs in the great hall, and seems to come alive when ever Alan looks at it. Julia seems possessive of Elisabeth and warns her not to befriend Alan, but Elisabeth has fallen for the handsome young man who will “bring her life.” What Alan soon finds out after making love to Elisabeth only to find no heart beat, is that she is truly dead, a ghost, who has come forth on this night with the other inhabitants of the castle who must drink the blood of the one who has wagered their life away, in order that they might dance again the following November.

Eventually Alan succumbs and is reunited in death with his beloved Elisabeth, who not only has a ghost husband William but a lover, the gardener and stable beefcake, Herbert. Along the way, Alan is guided down a slippery path of self destruction by scientist/doctor Carmus who warns him of how the senses live on after death. Each year the dead relive their destinies, and re enact the way they each met their deaths. In the end, Alan escapes the inner sanctum of the castle’s vampiric ghosts with the help of Elisabeth only to have the great iron gate spike impale him through the neck.

I do have several questions of my own, such as, why Elisabeth Blackwood being the sister of Lord Thomas would have her grave randomly placed on the outside grounds instead of the family tomb, and if so who’s corpse was it inside the crypt, that materializes and which ghost did they become in the flesh?

Elisabeth’s husband William? Or the newlyweds, which were the last people to take the wager or Carmus? None of these people, would be buried in the underground crypt as they only chose the castle as a wager or a quiet place for Carmus to do his experiments away from doubting colleagues. It certainly wouldn’t have been Herbert the gardeners’ tomb inside. So this creates a rift in the continuity and coherency for me as a contextual spectator, although the visual narrative makes up for this confusion, at least for me it does.

Also If the last couple to die came back this night of Alan’s destiny, how,  if they hadn’t had any blood yet did they manage to materialize?

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