Thursday, July 7, 2011

Film #71: The Black Castle (1952)

Realtor: Now here is a great medieval revival! Notice the blood and fingernail scratches in the marble dungeon floor. Obviously a well worn, but cozy place for torture, tried and true.

Count Karl: Yeah, that is nice. But I don’t see an Iron Maiden anywhere in here. The MLS listing said this castle came will all the standard appliances.

Realtor: Apparently the former owner didn’t enjoy heavy metal! Hahahaha... you aren’t laughing? Okay… well, you might have to furnish a bit, but try and contain a squeal when you see what's behind this door!

Count Karl: A deep, steep pit leading to a cauldron of rolling alligators! Why, it’s like the architect had a window into my sweetest desires! (tear from wicked eye rolls down cheek) I’ll take it!

Such was the likely conversation when Count Karl von Bruno, evil star in this week’s Victorian Era flick The Black Castle, found his dream mansion/torture cellar. Oh, how Karl loves his torture. Thing about murder though is conducting it usually pisses off others. Usually. Such is the case in The Black Castle.

Before becoming the master of an eastern European countryside, Count Karl von Bruno had lived large in Dark Africa. Through brutal force, the a-hole convinced the local savages that he was a White God, and that he should be worshiped.

Also in Africa at the time on an exhibition was the Englishman Sir Ronald Burton, who along with his two friends didn’t like Count Karl’s evil ways. Well, Karl being Karl he soon attacked Burton and his friends, but a sword duel lead to Karl having his eye injured, thereby proving to the natives that he was mortal. They didn’t like that, and ran Karl and his cronies out of the country straight away!

Angry he could no longer play God, Karl vowed to track down Burton and his friends for vengeance. The Count succeeds in murdering two of the Englishman, but Burton – who the count had never actually seen – remained out of his grasp.

Years later, Burton learns of Count Karl’s whereabouts and vows to pay him a visit. He suspects Karl may have his friends stored in that dungeon we mentioned above, or worse.

In a spy mission fitting of James Bond, Burton changes his name to Richard Beckett and schemes his way into being invited as a guest at the Count's black castle. Karl is just what Burton suspects – an evil, controlling, abusive, cheating, scum bucket that offed his buddies. Time for revenge.

His plan works perfectly, and Burton/Beckett even finds enough proof of Karl’s murdering ways to get him hung. But before he can return to England and petition the Emperor to overthrow Count Karl from his position of power, he goes and does a dumb thing like fall in love with Karl’s beautiful wife Elga. There’s always a dame!

Burton has to choose. Avenge his friends and save his own hide! Or, save the damsel Elga from the clutches of her horrible husband.
-Will Burton choose vengeance over love?
-Will Count Karl find out Burton’s true identity?
-Why did the chicken cross the road?
Find out, in the 1952 old-timey terrifier, “The Black Castle.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.5
Chris Dimick counts:
“Happy endings. In horror, they are about as rare as a White Sox fan with class. Which is why when a horror advocate gets a happy ending, they feel like they deserve it. Such was the case with The Black Castle. Not to be a spoil-dork, but the ending of The Black Caste was surprisingly white.

Now, many horror movies have somewhat happy endings. Wendy and Danny escape insane Jack Torrance at the end of The Shining. Laurie Strode out maneuvers Michael Meyers. Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott survives her murder-crazed Billy “Bubble Butt” Boyfriend’s stabs. But in these and many other films, the mere survival of the main character is nowhere near an uplifting ending.
Yeah, Sidney and Danny are alive… but they certainly aren’t happy!

They were nearly murdered by trusted loved ones, and though they survived, many of their other loved ones didn’t. Besides that, what torture they just had to endure! The mental trauma is likely just as affecting as any physical torture. Survival is not a happy ending.

Happy endings, true happy endings, when the viewer feels good about the protagonist's situations and experiences, are very rare.

Which is why it was so refreshing to watch The Black Castle. I won’t tell you exactly what occurs at the end in case you want to watch it (and you should; Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney in understated, but interesting roles; sharp writing that made the most out of tension and witty exchanges between friend and foe; stunning costumes).

But I will tell you how I felt as “The End” appeared. I felt content, satisfied, and thankful I endured the experience (please, no happy ending puns here, okay wackadoodles). In short, the ending of the film was uplifting. People got what was coming to them, on both sides of the good and evil spectrum. You felt the characters were actually better for their experience, not worse like in the case of Ms. Strode or whittle Danny Torrance, who likely won’t be staying in too many hotels again.

I understand and very much appreciate why horror movies don’t have “and they lived happily ever after, better for their experience” happy endings. They really shouldn’t, it is not in their nature. They are, well, HORROR movies after all, and should have horrifying endings, or at least endings that match the story. I typically prefer the unhappy ending… it is more true to life.

But because life can be hard, a man can use some levity and positivity every now and again in his horror.
The Black Castle provided a snuggly respite from the trials of the world. We got to root for good, and watch it triumph over evil in ways rarely seen.
Thanks for the smile.”

N-Rating: 3.2
Nick Rich counts:
“I'd have to agree with Chris on this one: The Black Castle is legit!
While it doesn't steal your heart with originality or over the top special effects, it does give you a solid plot thread, actors and overall execution (pun intended); and what's more, it does these things extremely well. Throw in Boris looking like a friar that has won the lotto and a leading man that is equally Nancy and James Bond and you have a surefire recipe for good ol' fashioned fun!

Did you see that bejeweled getup on Englishman extraordinaire above? He looks like a peacock dipped in gold then varnished with diamond dust and topped off with a spritz of Sex Panther! Phew! It's enough to make a man dream of the days he could dress better than a woman and still be manly. (I know, its hard to believe there was ever such a time when this was possible without simply dressing in a ridiculously simple, 'yet elegant', crazy expensive tuxedo.)

Back to the film though...
The Black Castle impressed me as a film that was made before its time. While in the past I've used this distinction to mean that it was advanced visually or story-wise, in this instance I would say the advancement was in the way of the overall end product. The Black Castle was just a well put together film that flowed appropriately and seemed to fall into the mold of a properly working formulaic film (I mean this in a good way - after all, how many films have you seen that weren't amazing, but nonetheless just worked?). If something is simply good, you hardly notice it as our natural tendency is to expect things to 'just work'. It's usually not until something falls short or leaps beyond our expectations that we notice it's quality; and The Black Castle was outstanding in the way it owned that 'just work' quality. Maybe I'm still ignorant of 1950s cinema (which is entirely possible) or we've had a bad row with some of the films we've encountered, but when I think of the 50s I don't think of films as polished as this one.

The Black Castle is the result of an industry that was performing at the top of its game and had mastered the ropes thereof; which, for some reason, still impresses me in spite of knowing that the film industry had been around 40 years or so. I suppose I'm just sufficiently impressed when looking back at my forebearers and the accomplishments they attained with what I would probably consider limited means (much like how one feels when looking back to any achievement in the past; part of you wonders at how it could have been done without the resources of today).

Probably the saddest thing about this film is the bit part that Lon Chaney Jr. inhabited. While he did produce a memorable turn, having him as a speechless thug seemed like an exploitative waste of his talent and an abuse of his name recognition. Such is the game and such is life, but it was still a bit disheartening to see such a vocally expressive actor chained up due to what was surely budgetary restrains (non-speaking actors traditionally earn substantially less than speaking). It didn't help that I'm sure LC Jr.'s career didn't go much further after this film... I hope he had some fun making it at least! And if not, I hope his memory can rest peacefully knowing he contributed to a solidly fun film.

So let's raise a glass to The Black Castle (and queue the rolling alligators) in respect, for I give you the highest compliment I can think of: you were worth my time.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you enjoy a good dandy romp (there's got to be a better way to say that) or if you've ever wondered what James Bond would look like all powdered up.”

Things We Learned From The Black Castle:
-Don’t start off a horror movie with a cliché… like a wolf howling at the moon.
-Human skulls make a great entryway decorating piece.
-Collin Hanks can time travel, and did so to star in this film.
-Men had “men” in the days of tri-cornered hats.
-Progressive Englishmen treat their servants like humans.
-One can dream of “mouthing” food.
-Sword fighting is the best way to land a restaurant table.
-Alligators can spin faster than Sonic.
-Trick to having great gun aim – killing with ones heart:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Medical man Boris Karloff decides to switch sides and help the hero fight the evil Count. Boris’s backstabbing leads some literal back stabbing – his own, at the hand of the Count. While dying, Nick and Chris laugh at his misfortune.]

Nick: “That will require a chiropractor.”
Chris: “He’s hurt, get that man a doctor! Where can we find a doctor?! Isn’t there someone who is a docto…ooOOOOoo.”

RDHP Salutes:
Handsome Horror Heroes
A true man can admit when another man is handsome. Case in point, The Black Castle’s lead actor Richard Greene was pretty on the eyes, and a gentleman with manners to boot! Nick and Chris almost swooned, before remembering Countess Elga (played by the stunning Rita Corday) was more their style (and sex).
But for the ladies and the loud n’ proud gents out there, we salute some other dashing horror heroes to grace the bloody screen. Women want them, and men want to be them. Please, loosen your griddles folks. We don’t want any fainting onto the keyboard.

Nathan Fillion in Slither
Gotta love a man in uniform, who kills slimy aliens.

Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire
Not only is he hunky, he’s sensitive too. Eating rats instead of people. Ahhhhh, thanks Bradley!

Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead
What, there are plenty of folks who like their men fat/lazy/dumb/rude. Like... Americans.

John Cassavetes in Rosemary's Baby
Well, he wasn't a hero, but he was dreamy! Sorry Rosemary, we said dreamy... not a dream.

John Goodman in Arachnophobia
For all the Bear lovers out there… and we ain’t talking bout the football team.

Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead
Now that is a strong jaw! It has to be, given all the hits it takes.

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