Messiah of Evil (1973): 31 Days of Horror

#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)

messiah of evil 1973Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Code Red Blu-ray. Supposed underseen classic of horror cinema.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Female Directed Horror Film

I’d watched the beginning of this film twice. Through no fault of the film itself I had to abandon each viewing. Life intervenes. This time there would be no distractions. The wife even joined me for the viewing. With her viewing alongside me that meant one fewer potential distraction to pull me away.

messiah of evil

Messiah of Evil Elevator Pitch

A young woman travels to a remote California town called Point Dume to find her artist father. She finds an empty beachfront house and a diary that details an evil overtaking the town. After meeting a philandering aristocrat and his sexy entourage (sextourage?), they attempt to put together the pieces of puzzle. What happened in this town?

In the Creepy Town of the Bloody Walking Dead

Let’s consider Messiah of Evil the hippie reaction to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. As a surrealist nightmare Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s film succeeds at crafting a kind of Lovecraftian spin on self-induced fatalistic Kafka. Sure. Let’s go with that. Pure evil invading contemporary culture. Contemporary culture staring back and saying, “Looks like we’re in a bit of a pickle. Oh well. We had a good run. Cheers, everybody.”

messiah of evil

Arletty arrives in this town to find what happened to her father. Once she tags up with this Thom, a Portuguese-American aristocrat (how is this even a character?), and his sexy wind-up harlots, it becomes readily apparent that whatever happened in Point Dune is still happening and, pretty sure, daddy’s gone, hun.

Yet these characters hang around, just to be sure. It’s becoming a bit of a bugaboo for me with horror movies. Characters find themselves in a situation that feels either terminally hopeless or abnormally unusual/frightening/unsettling. Instead of taking advantage of the flight component of our innate fight or flight instincts, they stick around because A) they won’t be bullied; B) goddammit they’re going to find out what happened to so and so; and/or C) the movie has no contingency plan for a character that makes rational decisions.

messiah of evil

So. Uh. You Mentioned Zombie Vampires?

Messiah of Evil gets a half pass on the characters refusing to leave a hopeless situation. It’s clear that Huyck and Katz want to operate in the arena of arty surrealist intellectualism. Since Arletta refuses to leave because she must find her father, she finally comes into contact with the aforementioned zombie vampire hybrid that populate Point Dume.

The movie derives it’s brand of monster from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Messiah adds a vampiric quality, probably because of the film’s proximity to Romero’s then unique take on the zombie. (The Romero zombie becomes the cinema standard in short order.) We’re directed to see vampires or at the very least cult figures, but as a result of this reading Huyck and Katz keep the viewer off balance, further contributing to this unsettling gateway to another world curse.

The standout scene in the film takes full advantage of this imbalance as one of Thom’s harlots attempts to flee (right decision, poor execution) and finds herself trapped in the town’s supermarket. Within this supermarket, the zombie vampires stand over the meat cooler and have at a pile of choice cutlets. Of course, she’s like filet mignon to their shrinkwrapped ground beef.

Vampire Zombis Can Die? Eh. #SpoilerAlert

In keeping with the surrealism, the movie never spells out the rules for these kinds of monsters. Messiah of Evil doesn’t care about rules or the possibility of vanquishing these foes. Because they’re not actually the opposition. The opposition becomes the coming apocalypse. All of the corrupted townspeople gain this hunger for “meat,” but they’re none too picky about the source. The consumption of meat is a visual trope to create relatable and more horrific monsters beyond “Waiting for Godot” idlers. They’re all just biding their time until the return of “the stranger” of legend. But, hey, every ghoul’s got to eat in the meantime, right?

messiah of evil

Not everyone seems to be particularly affected. While the entire town becomes consumed by this hive-mind cultish control, a police officer rolls up to fight off a wild, roving mob of these vampire zombies. Messiah plays fast and loose with the rules (or lack thereof) for this town and this monstrous presence. So why a cop now? Why the mob? The answer’s obvious. We needed another horror beat to keep us invested.

They bleed from the eyes, cannot feel pain, crave meat and “become shells of themselves.” Arletta sorta transforms, but doesn’t and there’s entirely no explanation for her being able to escape the curse while others seem to slide right into undeadland. Okie dokie.

messiah of evil 1973

While the hopelessness grants this movie an uncommon dread, the movie also stumbles because the characters react without clear motivation or drive. These otherwise normal characters make strange decisions, as if acting according to the will of the unseen force controlling the town itself. I don’t know if we can credit the film for this creative decision because it seems like characters act in order to keep the film rolling not to benefit a narrative.

Final Messiah of Evil Thoughts

I’m not entirely confident in my overall assessment of Messiah of Evil as a narrative film. So much of it feels odd or aimless — but it’s also this very same tenor of filmmaking that contributes to its haunting surrealism. Messiah works in individual moments. It works at the level of the image. Huyck and Katz revel in the potency of the father’s hazy, suited figures in his paintings, the isolated seaside community, the nearly abandoned town — but they can’t seem to assemble their ideas into even a reasonable nightmare scenario. The determination of Messiah being “dreamlike” resonates, but it’s also dismissive.

The best reading of Messiah of Evil takes its cue from the father’s paintings. Always in suits, always in huddled groups approaching the foreground. The stubborn, stodgy establishment coming to extinguish and assimilate our young free-spirited protagonists (a dandy and his lovers) representing the youth movement coming out of the 60’s. Romero gave his zombie movies more meaty societal criticisms upon which to feast, but that doesn’t mean other, lesser filmmakers can’t have a scrap or two as well.

Messiah of Evil Rating:

Availability:

messiah of evil code red blu-ray

Code Red DVD released a wonderful Blu-ray edition of Messiah of Evil. 

Messiah of Evil is also available to stream of Amazon Prime. The poor quality of the stream, however, doesn’t do the film any favors. It might be good for a sample, but nothing more.

The disc includes a nice audio commentary from the directors and a featurette about Messiah of Evil. Also of note (I haven’t seen them so I can’t necessarily recommend them!) are a pair of short films from the directors.

 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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The Legend of Hell House (1973): 31 Days of Horror

#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Blu-ray, I suppose. I needed a semi-scary spook flick for my wife and sister-in-law who aren’t “down for anything,” contrary to their claims.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s

A couple years ago, I made these non-horror-watching hooligans watch John Carpenter’s The Fog. They still talk about The Fog and I’ve struggled to repeat that performance. This year I presented Night of the Comet, Night of the Creeps and The Legend of Hell House as possible viewings. Much to my surprise, they picked Hell House. So here we go.

the legend of hell house

The Legend of Hell House Elevator Pitch

An eccentric millionaire hires a physicist to prove life after death by sending him into the Belasco House, “the Mount Everest of haunted houses,” for a week. He brings along his wife, two mediums and unbridled skepticism.

In the Haunted House of Bloody Narcissism

I last watched The Legend of Hell House many years ago by myself in an old Boston apartment. My wife was in law school and I spent many nights up alone watching movies. It spooked me a little bit. Not Session 9-level turn-on-all-the-lights-and-invite-every-living-person-over-for-a-nightcap grade spooked, but unnerved nonetheless.

Upon this viewing, perhaps because of the mixed company (read: any company), I paid as much attention to the reactions of the viewers as my own tingler.

legend of hell house

Based on Richard Matheson’s Hell House, The Legend of Hell House wasn’t the super straight A-to-Z ghost story and retelling of the Shirley Jackson novel that I remembered. Due in large part to Roddy McDowall, the film serves up just enough light comic relief to dull the overall fright factor. Some of it seems rather silly, like 2018’s imitation of a traditional 1970’s horror movie. This makes it a very strong choice for someone looking to dip their toe into the deeper waters of horror. The tenor and pacing of the 70’s might create distance in a viewer more accustomed to modern cinematic conventions.

So. Uh. You Mentioned Ghosts?

This is no Scooby-Doo pull-off-the-sheet style “haunted” house tale. Although Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) dismissed the possibility of life after death as a self-induced psychological manifestation, there’s no part of you, as the viewer, that sides with the skeptical doctor. It’s clear from the beginning of this film that Dr. Lionel is going to get these people killed. The only question — as Roddy McDowell suggests — is how many.

legend of hell house

Director John Hough uses gloomy skies, minor keys and ominous daily time stamps create a mood. The music (or lack thereof) contributes most effectively to this mood as there’s no sonic distinction made between the score or ambient sound effects. They are one and the same.

The house blocks out all incoming light. The rooms, cluttered and claustrophobic, convey a sense of the owner’s (and suspected haunt’s) personality without ever giving Emeric Balasco a voice. Set design and lighting suggest his voice, his backstory. As the team digs further into the history of Balasco, the sordid and previously latent details become revealed.

legend of hell house roddy mcdowall

If not for McDowall’s eccentric medium, Benjamin Franklin Fischer, The Legend of Hell House might have been too straight, too sinister. Even though Ben’s the most scarred of the characters in the film (he’s been through this experience before), Roddy McDowall can’t help but inject affability into his performances. He’s a broken man, but his nervous energy provides relief from the stoic seriousness.

Ghosts Can Kinda Die! #SpoilerAlert

Since the audience knows the truth that Dr. Barrett seeks, The Legend of Hell House’s mystery becomes not whether the house is haunted, but who’s actually doing the haunting. We’re given the run around by the sordid spook(s) inhabiting Belasco House.

legend of hell house pamela franklin

Dr. Barrett becomes the target of particular rage. His wife Ann goes on midnight lust walks and demands sex from Ben. The mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) has ghost sex. When Ben finally opens himself up to receive the ghost transmissions, we’re relieved to finally get some answers (which confirm our suspicions all along).

That said, the mystery isn’t entirely effective. Confirmation allows us to focus back on what works so well in The Legend of Hell House. Mood. The traditional haunted house scares of Hell House work because they’re back up by delicious production design and a singular focus on low-level tension. With each passing day the veracity of the ghost’s behavior increases. With each new timestamp our own expectation for violence grows.

legend of hell house

Arguably the actual events don’t even live up to our anticipation of the events. Anticipation fuels almost all of the horror in The Legend of Hell House. The curation of expectation of what might happen leads us from narrative beat to narrative beat. The best horror films understand how to build this tension so that the actual horror event serves only to punctuate the anticipation. Bad horror films focus too much on the horrific elements themselves. A punchline without the setup.

Final The Legend of Hell House Thoughts

Delivers moderate scares — and would certainly work as an introduction to another level of horror film. The Legend of Hell House finds its groove and rides it to a conclusion. Some, including those in my viewing party, felt that the ultimate payoff felt underwhelming. True. The Legend of Hell House lacks the proper payoff of other, better haunted house films like The Haunting, which parallels this film in more ways than one.

I don’t necessarily agree that it undermines the film, but I understand the point. The ending’s a bit bonkers at face value. I won’t spoil the final scene for anyone idly checking in on my 31 Days of Horror progress, but suffice to say that the film concludes with a bizarro twist of character. If you let it simmer, however, I think you’ll warm to my idea that it’s an abstractly disturbing moment of humanization. It speaks to the power of myth and legend — the power of a deranged man to endure long after his death.

legend of hell house

The Legend of Hell House Rating:

Availability:

Shout Factory released an excellent Blu-ray of The Legend of Hell House back in 2014.

Some  scenes look rather soft, but Hough used so much soft focus and diffusion filters throughout the film that I’d be surprised if the film *could* look better than this. The film grain remains and looks remarkably natural.

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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The Kiss of the Vampire (1963): 31 Days of Horror

#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

kiss of the vampireNature of Shame:
Unseen Hammer Horror!

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s

While I can’t consider myself a Hammer Horror completist, I’m certainly an aficionado. Anything unseen is worth watching. Anything recommended by THE Hammer authority on Twitter, @CushingLee, requires immediate attention.

This may or may not be my homework for an upcoming episode of the Cinema Shame podcast. Okay it is. We have a Hammer Horror Shamedown scheduled for release the week of Halloween. If we can just get our schedules aligned to record the damn thing. Here comes the Hammer. Insert obligatory MC Hammer gif below.

hammer gif

The Kiss of the Vampire Elevator Pitch

When car trouble strikes a pair of honeymooners motoring across a small “southern European” village, an aristocratic local family offers assistance… with dire consequences! The dire consequences, of course, is that the patriarch an overly cool cat by the name of Dr. Ravna becomes smitten with the new bride and wants to have her over for lunch.

In the Honeymoon of Bloody Desires

Hammer titles outside the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises don’t seem to get much attention, no matter the quality of film. If pressed to give the name of my favorite Hammer Horror films I don’t think I’d offer either a Dracula or Frankenstein in my Top 5. Is that shocking? I’d go as far to say that Hammer’s best horror work comes about as the result of the absence of these iconic monsters. They’re unencumbered by the source material and free to be thoroughly…. Hammer. Gothic scenery, busty women and languid pacing with a central focus on character, set design and broaching the aesthetic norms.

kiss of the vampire title

There’s an ideological clash at the center of the best Hammer films. The dated, Victorian-era settings coming into conflict with the studio’s desire to push the contemporary envelope regarding on-screen depictions of sex and violence. As a result, even the most lurid depictions of Hammer sexuality feel, however, like a gleeful reaction to an easement of stuffy patrician repression.

By the time Hammer hit the 1970’s, their cinematic sexual revolution felt entirely unencumbered. Films like Vampire Lovers (1970), the regrettable Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971) — known collectively as the Karnstein Trilogy — positively reveled in “bloodshed and bosoms.” The out-there Hammer of the 70’s replaced the barely-veiled, but still subversive Hammer of the 1960’s.

vampire lovers
Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith in Roy Ward Baker’s Vampire Lovers (1970).

So. Uh. You Mentioned Sex?

Sexuality comes part and parcel with any vampire film worth its weight in salt(y blood). Kiss of the Vampire didn’t get its name based on all the rampant cuddling. Kiss of the Vampire proves to be as much about sex as the far more lascivious Karnstein trilogy.

Consider the basic premise of the film. Newly married couple Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) arrives at a aristocratic home housing a vampire cult led by a charming Dr. Ravna. Dr. Ravna abducts Marianne and thrusts Gerald into a Kafka-esque nightmare. His wife’s existence has been erased; Gerald had been traveling alone.

kiss of the vampire 1963

Marianne has been emancipated from the shackles of her marriage. The biggest threat that these vampires pose to a button-down British society is the sexual liberation of their women. Dr. Ravna’s vampiric cult suggests no threat to Gerald other than disorientation and the expectation that he’ll just away.

Gerald enlists the help of a Van Helsing figure in Professor Zimmer. More so than other vampire films of the era, the viewer notes the lack of imminent danger. The Kiss of the Vampire pulls no punches; it’s all about power and sex. Power goes to the patriarchy that controls the women and has the sex. Gerald represents the prudish British status quo, while Dr. Ravna represents sexual transgression, polygamous, free, unencumbered.

kiss of the vampire 1963

“Vampires” Don’t Die (Kinda) #SpoilerAlert

The Kiss of the Vampire stands out because of the viewer’s ability to question his/her allegiances. The Ravnas appear face value creepy, but the seed for Marianne’s little transgression appears to have been planted long ago. The Kafka-esque puzzle in which Gerald finds himself feels curiously underscripted, but no less interesting.

There seems to be no reason for Dr. Ravna to engage  in such a plot unless he hope the weakminded everyman (as a stand-in for the Institution) would just wander away in a stupor, leaving the cult to enjoy their sexual deviancy without the prying eyes of outsiders.

kiss of the vampire 1963

Final The Kiss of the Vampire Thoughts

Whether or not you support the above interpretations, The Kiss of the Vampire offers plenty of those aforementioned Hammer pleasures. Immaculate, overstated set design, vibrant colors and heaving vampire bosoms populate the landscape. If it were just another vampire movie from Hammer Films, The Kiss of the Vampire would still entertain like a cozy Halloween blanket. As it is, however, Don Sharp’s film offers plenty of throat-sucking (read: food) for thought as an eccentricity in the broader vampire genre. Plus you’ll wonder how you lived this long without the gleefully low-budget bat attack finale.

kiss of the vampire 1963

The Kiss of the Vampire Rating:

Availability:

kiss of the vampire blu-ray

The 8-Film Hammer Horror Collection contains The Kiss of the Vampire plus a bunch of other mismatched titles. 

Tracking down all the best Hammer Films weights quite heavily on completists. Because of their distribution eccentricities there are a number of collections and individual titles for sale from Universal and Warner Bros. Nevermind that two of Hammer’s most notable releases, Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein remains unavailable on Blu-ray in the United States while very nice editions have been released in the UK.

Other Hammer collections of note:

Warner Brothers Horror Classics Vol. 1 
Mill Creek Double Feature: The Revenge of Frankenstein / The Revenge of the Mummy’s Tomb
Mill Creek Double Feature: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / The Gorgon
Indicator Hammer Volume One – Fear Warning

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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Chopping Mall (1986): 31 Days of Horror

#10. Chopping Mall (1986)

chopping mallNature of Shame:
I’m at a loss. We’ll just go with Barbara Campton Shame!

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Barbara Campton
Inanimate Object Comes to Life

I recognize that a robot isn’t letter-of-the-law inanimate, but gaining sentience is on the same wavelength. I wasn’t thrilled with my other options for the “inanimate object come to life” category and this satisfied the Babs Crampton requirement as well. Bonus Babs!

chopping mall

Chopping Mall Elevator Pitch

Mall security robots go haywire and terrorize the janitorial staff and a group of frisky teenagers who’ve locked themselves in the mall to, you know, fornicate after hours.

In the Mall of Bloody Desires

I don’t know if anyone’s following along with my 2018 31 Days of Horror odyssey, but if you are, you may or may not have noticed that I’m editing the sub-headings organically. Okay. I don’t even know what that means. Practically, it means that I’m using the subheadings from my prior bl-g post to reflect the new movie. My last writeup subheadings for In the Castle of Bloody Desires have shifted to accommodate the horny teenagers in Park Plaza Mall. For example “In the Castle of Bloody Simple Pleasures” became simply “In the Mall of Bloody Desires.” Just something to look forward to. It pays to subscribe.

Also, this is called word padding. Here’s my ID. Don’t revoke my license to bl-g.

Chopping Mall reflects a beautiful filmmaking simplicity. Introduce obviously bad robots. Lock teenagers in a mall. Unleash robots. You need something else out of your horror movie? While the film starts slow, like a cheap sex comedy, it quickly becomes a low-budget Dawn of the Dead with Johnny Fives instead of zombies once lightning strikes the mall and scrambles the robots’ digital brains.

So. Uh. You Mentioned Gog?

Well, no. I didn’t, but thank you for the segue-way. The kitschy robot design in Chopping Mall doesn’t reflect 1980’s technology. It seems that the filmmakers and legendary special effects man Robert Short wanted to pay homage to the robot design aesthetic of the 1950s. These particular Chopping Mall models, however, have the kind of firepower Reagan wanted to develop for his Star Wars space defense program.

(Reagan-era reference. CHECK.)

So that brings us to Gog (1954), a science fiction gem that I first saw in 3D at midnight at the 2016 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. Documentation below:

Our rowdy row before the Gog (1954) in 3D midnight presentation on Saturday night.

Gog concerns the haywire central control system of a state-of-the-art space station. The central brain sends the station’s robots out to do its murderous bidding. It seems entirely likely that Chopping Mall director Jim Wynorski had absorbed and appreciated the robotic malice of Gog. Unfortunately flame-throwing Herbert Marshall seems to have slipped through the cracks.

not chopping mall's herbert marshall with a flamethrower
Not Chopping Mall’s Herbert Marshall with a flamethrower.

So what does Chopping Mall have, if not Herbert Marshall?

chopping mall dick miller

I’m so glad you asked. Chopping Mall has electrocuted Dick Miller. It also has one of the best exploding heads this side of Scanners (poor Suzie Lynn aka Babs Crampton) and a terrifically banal robot voice punchline, “Have a nice day.”

The “Virgins” Don’t Die #SpoilerAlert

Chopping Mall doesn’t stray especially far from Slasher 101. The robots pick off oversexed teenagers one by one until the final virginal girl… or in this case, couple… manage to fend off their mechanical menace. This excess of robot-killing guile apparently stored up alongside their raging, unsatisfied libido.

Being untethered and unsexed also prevents the final girl and final guy from doing idiot things like driving a motorized cart into a robot pulsing with deadly electrical current in a Shakespearean suicide in the name of love. Hey, it happens.

Chopping Mall’s Simple Pleasures

As I’ve suggested, this is not a complicated film. It does, however, roll along at a breakneck clip and delivers a number of inventive kills along the way. The production quality of a film like this also seems undeserved. I say that, but the first time someone gets electrocuted you’ll question my sanity.

The mall setting provides plenty of opportunity for Wynorski to play with space and framing. While Chopping Mall refrains from becoming a broad horror comedy, it’s certainly not without a sense of humor. The dire sincerity of the robots as they execute their victims should be good for at least a few laughs.

Final Chopping Mall Thoughts

If you don’t care to take a robot slasher 80’s slice of life mall comedy too seriously, I bet you’ll have a good time with Chopping Mall.  Wynorski sets the right tone and just let the good times roll. Get it? Because the robots are on rolling treads. It’s a joke. Whatever, you guys. Have a nice day.

chopping mall final duo
The unlikely final duo of Kelly Maroney and Tony O’Dell.

Chopping Mall Rating:

Availability:

chopping mall blu-rayThe resuscitated Vestron Video line of Blu-ray releases released Chopping Mall as its very first offering. 

Why not?

I say this a lot, but it bears repeating. This movie looks better than it ever should and the care taken to produce a Criterion level package for Chopping Mall cannot be overlooked. It might be unwarranted, perhaps, but it can’t be overlooked.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Please follow and like us:
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Facebook
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In the Castle of Bloody Desires: 31 Days of Horror

#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)

VHS artwork for In the Castle of Bloody Desires, aka Castle of the Creeping Flesh. This image has nothing to do with anything that happens in the film.

Nature of Shame:
Shame! and Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde are not exactly bedfellows. I purchased the Blu-ray because Germany’s Subkultur label released the Blu-ray and why would anyone do that? Therefore, I must view it.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Pre-1970’s
Anniversary Film (’68)

Imagine if Mario Bava produced a Jesus Franco joint on a Roger Corman budget and you’ve have something resembling Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde aka In the Castle of Bloody Desires aka The Castle of Creeping Flesh aka The Castle of Bloody Lust aka The Castle of Unholy Desires. Buy five names and get a guy in a bear suit for free!

(This will make sense momentarily. Or not. It’s out of my hands.)

in the castle of bloody desires

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Elevator Pitch

A mad scientist/grieving father conducts unholy experiments in order to bring his dead daughter back to life. [Insert ECU of inanimate statue here.] When he runs out of body parts, he runs out of hope… until a group of drunken assholes stumble across his castle! Part supply problem solved?

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Nobody Can Hear You Lust

Every so often a movie flummoxes me. I mention this now because I am, indeed, flummoxed, but not unable to carry on describing the things I’ve witnessed… Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde!! (It’s more dramatic to say it in German.)

In the Castle of Bloody Desires boasts about 45 minutes of actual narrative film. The rest is padded with extreme close ups of gothic statues and surgical footage. Yes. Surgical footage. Like this garish, latex torso:

in the castle of bloody desires

Around the art history and the grotesque subplot about rearranging a poor girl’s innards, In the Castle of Bloody Desires displays some of the most profoundly banal innuendo you’ve ever heard. James Bond’s crack about Christmas Jones doesn’t even hold a candle.

My personal favorite takes place while the group of drunken aristocrats joy ride through the forest on horseback. The six beautiful and extraordinarily wealthy humans talk idly and discuss their “romantic” ride. Two of them, the Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine) and Elena (Elvira Berndorff), race ahead, giggle pompously, and utter things like “You ride harder and much more vigorously!” The playful mood then turns rapey as the Baron forces himself upon Elena. (She resists his advances by calling him a “dirty swine” but does very little to actually discourage the event.)

Even though I wrote only that one line down in my notebook, this was the sequence that caused me to make my “whoa” face. In lieu of actual footage of my “whoa” face, I’ll recreate it below with the help of Keanu Reeves, who probably helped inspire the vague lip curl and open-mouthed disbelief.

hold the phone

So. Uh. You Mentioned a Bear?

I said, we’ll get back to the bear momentarily.

It’s no wonder this film was called In the Castle of Bloody Desires because that’s some amazing cinematic pleasure and pain all mixed together. On one hand, you can’t help but enjoy the terrible freeform innuendo, but on the other, even absurd rape-based narratives are hard to stomach when handled incompetently. This unfortunate aspect of the narrative becomes a motif.

Once the rest of the party catches up, they arrive at Camp Exposition. They have s’mores (they don’t) and talk of the crazy Earl of Saxon and the legend of his raped and murdered daughter. Then the talk turns, obviously, to a circus bear that the Earl once released into the woods to hunt and kill the rapist. We’ll call the bear Chekhov and move on. Okay, maybe we won’t movie on because I can’t get over this plot twist. The crazy mad doctor / Earl of Saxon (played by Howard Vernon, regular stock player for Jesus Franco) released his pet bear. To catch his daughter’s killer. There’s no way that could go sideways!

In the castle of bloody desires
Howard Vernon as the Earl Who Releases Bears to Kill Those That Wrong Him.

After talking at length of the daughter’s rape and murder, Elena flies into a tizzy and rides off into the night in order to escape her own shame. Still no plan. Everyone follows along behind because Elena’s riding off into the woods, alone, at night. In case you’re not following the highly logical A-B-C’s of this particular story, they all wind up at the crazy Earl’s castle and need to shelter there for the night. (But what about the bears?!?)

But but but wait! There’s more! The Earl notes a strange resemblance between his unexpected guests and some of his own ancestors. This digs up the supernatural tentacles old the family curse, kickstarts some squirmy invasive internal surgery and presents us very detailed views of a great many different statues.

in the castle of bloody desires

The Bear of Bloody Desire is Actually a Guy in a Bear Costume! #SpoilerAlert

As is the most often the case in this low-budget gothic tales of horror and madness, the shooting locations make terrific eye candy — elevating many other shortcomings like acting and screenwriting. “Shortcomings” seems a little generous. Though I have no frame of reference for director Adrian Hoven (as Percy G. Parker), nothing he does here suggests he’s especially competent behind the camera. Whatever successes found in In the Castle of Bloody Desires come from clumsy shot juxtaposition, tone-deaf scripting and Nino Borghi’s set design and art direction.

There’s at least an attempt to marry the darker, rape-based elements with an elevated, if derivative, sense of humor. In one scene, reminiscent of the sexy-eating scene from Tom Jones (1963), two characters ogle each other while they chomp and slobber through dinner. In the next breath, the director tries to honestly portray the origins of the family curse through the horrors of gang rape through a hazy, distorted lens. At this point all you can do is say, “Here we go again,” and embrace this movie’s version of danse macabre.

In the Castle of Bloody Simple Pleasures

I’ve highlighted the more lascivious elements of the film, but other than a few fleeting moments, In the Castle of Bloody Desires displays an otherwise innocent fascination with topless nudity. The film reflects a simpler time when castles and toplessness represented a genre all of their own. Say what you will about their motivations, but films like In the Castle of Bloody Desires were first and foremost concerned with natural beauty. Beautiful women in exotic and gothic locales. Meticulous set design lit by candelabra. High ceilings and shadowy hallways. Also, a bounty of nipples.

If that’s all In the Castle of Bloody Desires had to offer it would have been a serviceable but forgettable footnote. German filmmakers emulating a popular genre for frugal horror filmmakers. This film, however, gains a heaping measure of infamy because it dares to intercut gonzo footage of actual open heart surgery to represent the mad Earl’s attempts to repair his dead daughter. When the film vacillates between benign gothic sexy-times and rape-revenge and legitimate OMFG IS THAT REAL? surgery it feels incredibly schizophrenic.

Equal part curious and off-putting. The surgical scenes last just long enough for you to question how a film with this kind of budget managed practical effects of that quality–oh, look more sexy times! This is proper grindhouse cinema; anything goes. It lacks competency and logic and proves intermittently very uncomfortable, but In the Castle of Bloody Desires is entirely unforgettable. And I haven’t even gotten to the bear. I won’t spoil the bear’s ultimate reveal, but suffice to say that it’s every bit as horribrilliant as you could imagine.

Final In the Castle of Bloody Desires Thoughts

Listen — I can’t recommend this anyone. Some of you just know. Watch it with friends. Watch it with a bit of extra libation, just don’t tell them about the real open heart surgery. Make them question/discover it for themselves. About the bear? Well, I’ll let you decide how best to tease a man an obvious bear suit mauling someone on a cliff as the climax of the film.

in the castle of bloody desires

In the Castle of Bloody Desires Rating:

Availability:

in the castle of bloody desiresUnavailable since its VHS release, In the Castle of Bloody Desires has received a proper Blu-ray release from Subkultur Films, a German distribution company. They’re doing magical things for movies that have no business being treated with such care, but that’s the beauty of it all.

The disc has sold out on the website of U.S. distributor Mondo Macabro and Diabolik DVD. If I locate a someone selling the disk, I’ll update my post if I happen to locate a way for you to watch this film. The effort for an indeterminate number of you would be worth it.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick