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The Print Quality Is Astonishing.
on 17 July 2012
CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD is another one of several Euro-Gothic horrors that I first encountered at my local drive-in theater in Greenville, South Carolina. I don't remember what I saw it with (this was over 40 years ago) but I remember it standing out because it was in black & white. I had recently seen Cocteau's BEAUTY & THE BEAST and was struck by some of the visual similarities as well as a general sense of unease about the whole film. The stone monsters on the castle grounds (a real place in Bomarzo, Italy) and Christopher Lee's collection of instantly embalmed creatures made quite an impression. So did Donald Sutherland's grotesque witch even though I didn't know who Sutherland was at the time. I later saw it a couple of times on TV but the print was terrible (16mm) and the framing was wrong but I still enjoyed it anyway.
A few years back I purchased a DVD-R version of the film but it was the same substandard American International TV print but it was all there was. Until now. Having read about this version being taken from a 35mm print was enough for me to order a copy. Even though I live in the States, I have a region free DVD player so that I can watch movies from all over the world. As soon as it arrived I popped it in and was blown away by the quality of the print. Not only is it in the proper ratio but it looks and sounds as if it were shot yesterday. This apparently is the original Tigon U.K. release and it couldn't be better. Now more than ever it resembles Cocteau's BEAUTY & THE BEAST with a little of THE SEVENTH SEAL thrown in for good measure. This time I noticed that the menacing servant walks like Max Schreck in NOSFERATU.
This film will not appeal to today's hardcore horror fans. It is creepy and disturbing in an old fashioned way without a lot of violence and no sex (this was shot in 1964). Many will find it slow and boring after the opening scene but stick with it. It has the real but unreal quality of a nightmare and you may be surprised by the number of images that stay with you. Much has been made of Michael Reeves' connection with the film (his name is listed on the cover) but just how much he actually contributed is uncertain. He can be briefly glimpsed standing by his girlfriend in the Count's embalmed menagerie. In addition to the outstanding visual quality of the print, an inside booklet gives the history of the film and its participants. Not a great movie but a strangely memorable one in a remarkable release.