Top critical review
6 people found this helpful
“Is there anyone left who isn’t frightened of my house?” You mean apart from the audience?
on 20 January 2015
Schloss Vogelod aka The Haunted Castle is the kind of thoroughly mediocre melodrama that would be completely forgotten today if made by a lesser director. Not that F.W. Murnau elevates the material much, merely competently marshalling the hokey dramatics. The completely misleading English title doesn’t help: this isn’t a horror film in any sense of the word, despite attempts to spin a brief comic dream sequence involving two comic relief characters into a major selling point as a precursor of Murnau’s subsequent Nosferatu. Instead it’s a country house mystery with an obvious solution as a rained off hunting weekend at a country estate is shocked by the uninvited arrival of a Count (Lothar Mehnert) suspected of killing his brother the same weekend as the man’s widow (Olga Chehkova) comes to visit. And when the dour priest she starts confessing to disappears, all the guests suspect he’s up to his old tricks again…
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. There are some good elemental shots of the bad weather, as well as a strikingly obvious model of the very unthreatening looking house, but the only moment that really sticks out is Chekhova grabbing at the arm of her chair when her godbothering husband drives her to thoughts of evil just to inject some excitement into their stultified marriage. But this is thin soup, and what you get out of it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in tracing Murnau’s development as a director in one of his earliest surviving films you’ll probably be more satisfied than if you’re looking for a good story well told.
Unfortunately the DVD transfer has niggling problems, coming from the days before Masters of Cinema swore off DNR and edge enhancement, with some curious loss of focus on faces in motion in places. Unlike Kino’s US DVD the intertitles are in the original German (though some are recreated in a similar style rather than original intertitles) and there is an decent half-hour German documentary on the DVD covering Murnau’s early films that coyly refers to his male lover Walter Spies as his ‘friend.’