Schloss Vogelöd (aka The Haunted Castle) [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] 
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One of the earliest (and eeriest) works by the legendary filmmaker F. W. Murnau, Schloss Vogelöd: Die Enthüllung eines Geheimnisses [Castle Vogelöd: The Revelation of a Secret, often referred to as The Haunted Castle] provides a vital glimpse into the development of the uncanny-suffused expressionistic style that became Murnau's hallmark and legacy. A party of aristocrats assemble at a country manor for an autumn hunt. But a long-lingering question threatens once more to rear its head: who really murdered the Baroness's late husband? With a riveting nightmare sequence that foreshadows the nocturnal fantasias of both Nosferatu and Phantom, and a masquerade conceit that looks backward to Feuillade and forward to Murnau's own Die Finanzen des Großherzogs, this languorous mood piece represents the latent material that will figure into a master director's later breakthroughs. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present F. W. Murnau's Schloss Vogelöd, a long out-of-circulation early work by the legendary F. W. Murnau, director of such masterworks as Nosferatu and Sunrise . Released on DVD in the UK for the first time on 22 August 2011.
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So, what of Schloss Vogelöd? It's one of Murnau's earliest surviving films since most among the number mentioned above are lost. As a self confessed Murnau addict I initially found this one hard to get into but after several plays I'm now won over. The English language title, 'The Haunted Castle' suggests a supernatural tale, but this is in fact a complex moral drama, as one would expect, from the pen of the great Carl Mayer. The schloss or castle is actually a large, isolated country house that's hosting a hunting party. Here a deception is set in motion designed to expose the true facts [and thus vindicate a suspected man] of a murder that has taken place some three years before the action begins.
Murnau and Mayer develop a brooding, almost palpable atmosphere as the moral decay and psychological trauma at the core of the narrative is exposed. This intensity of feeling is masterfully expressed in an image of two motionless figures in an empty hall during a flash-back in which the murderer is first revealed. Yet, there's also comedy, always a moot point with Murnau films, with the antics of a scared house guest, and some below stairs business in the kitchen. The odd gothic moment is played for laughs, too, but it's a wonderful nightmare sequence which is notable for prefiguring a famous image from Murnau's next film, the rather better known Nosferatu.Read more ›
Based on a serialised novel that was still running during the two-and-a-half week shoot because producer Erich Pommer wanted to combine his publishing and film production arms, it feels more like a early talkie than a silent film despite Murnau trying to convey more with cryptic looks and the odd gesture than with intertitles. The attempts to build up dramatic tension and social discomfort around the dour unwelcome guest’s presence (“I only hunt in rain and gale”) often take second place to comic relief from Julius Falkenstein’s nervous guest, with characterisation surprisingly thin. Halfway through the picture you’re little wiser as to who most of these characters are and you’re hardly champing at the bit for the twist ending. Mehnert’s fairly effective at least half of the time while Chekhova doesn’t have much of a bosom but works overtime heaving it in her dramatic scenes.Read more ›