The Black Castle (1952)

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*. 1952. It’s twenty years since the glory days of Universal horror. And this is what things have come to. A collection of cinematic bric-a-brac without any strong, unifying narrative or art to the presentation.
*. The bric-a-brac make us think we’re in a half dozen different movies. First off, there’s the creepy castle, the graveyard, and the howling wolf. Then there’s what may be a premature burial. Has that young man been turned into a zombie? I only wish. Then a set-up lifted wholesale from Dracula: planning the journey on a map, and then a carriage ride that stops at an inn where dropping the wrong names sets off alarm bells. But the count in this case is not a vampire. Instead, he’s someone like Zaroff, the huntsman from The Most Dangerous Game.
*. Toss in some other odds and ends like a moat filled with alligators (a real high point in the film, for me), a villain with an eye patch, some African totems, the black leopard from Cat People (well, at least it looks like the same kitty), a bit of subterfuge borrowed from Romeo and Juliet, and even Boris Karloff, poor Boris Karloff, turning in another tired performance in a generic supporting part. And poor Lon Chaney (Jr.), turning in another tired performance in a generic supporting part, this time as a mute Igor. Or Gargon. Sheesh.
*. Throw it all in a pot, or a black castle, stir, and . . . you have this.
*. If it all sounds like a messy stew, that’s because it is. What’s remarkable is that it’s actually a flashback film, spending most of its length explaining how our heroes ended up about to be buried alive. It just takes forever before we are told what is going on. Which, it turns out, is a revenge plot so bizarre it never could be explained properly anyway.
*. Aside from the alligator room (did I say how much I liked that?), the only other thing that interested me here was the rather casual attitude displayed toward adultery. Count Karl von Bruno is married to Elga, his second wife, after having disposed of his first a la the collector in Browning’s “My Last Duchess” (I assume that’s her corpse stored in the dungeon, for no reason except to be discovered at a bad time). Despite his current marital status, he makes love openly at his castle with Therese, who is presumably the next in line. Meanwhile, Elga takes all of about twenty minutes to fall into the arms of the dashing Burton. Before long they are confessing that their lives meant nothing before they met each other.
*. I can see making the count out to be an adulterous lech, though even so it seems odd that he’d be carrying on with Therese right in front of his wife. Basically he’s telling her she’s being replaced. I guess this helps justify her quickly taking up with Burton, but in 1952 it’s all shockingly a bit like a swap meet.
*. So it’s really just a collection of leftovers from other horror movies, stitched together in a very awkward way. The potential for comedy was there — Richard Greene would have been a terrific comic lead — but that was probably seen as less profitable. Too bad.

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