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Synapse Films presents
Castle of Blood (Danse Macabre) (1964)

Alan Foster: I've been led to believe death is certain, but you tell me it doesn't exist.
Edgar Allen Poe: You're confusing death with a tomb, young man. It's a common mistake.

- Georges Rivière, Silvano Tranquilli

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 30, 2003

Stars: Barbara Steele, Georges Rivière
Other Stars: Margarete Robsahm, Arturo Dominici, Silvano Tranquilli, Silvia Sorrente, Umberto Raho
Director: Antonio Margheriti

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:29m:05s
Release Date: October 22, 2002
UPC: 654930302095
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BBB B

DVD Review

Italian horror director Antonio Margheriti is more well known for his forays into outlandish gore-filled zombie fare, such as the 1980 John Saxon/Giovanni Radice opus, Cannibal Apocalypse. Margheriti (or Anthony Dawson as he was generally billed stateside) had great genre success in late 1970s, and well into the late 1980s, but he was also responsible many years earlier for some wonderfully atmospheric gothic horror gems, such as this underrated 1964 haunted house flick starring dark-haired '60s icon, Barbara Steele.

It is a damp, foggy night in Victorian England, and journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) has finally succeeded in landing an interview with visiting American writer Edgar Allen Poe (Silvano Tranquilli). Their deep discussions on the true meaning of death and the afterlife are overheard by haughty Sir Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho, doing his best Peter Cushing impression). The nosy Brit intrudes, and proposes a wager that the skeptical Foster attempt to spend the night in Blackwood's haunted castle. Foster obviously accepts the bet (otherwise no story, right?), and from the moment he enters the creaking gates of the Blackwood's castle things get both progressively spooky and sexy, thanks to the unexpected presence of lusty Elisabeth (Steele) and the icy Julia (Margarete Robsahm).

This film was originally released domestically as Castle of Blood, but overseas it was known more cryptically (and ultimately more accurately) as Danse Macabre or Danza Macabre; in fact the opening credit sequence on this print uses the Danse Macabre title. The European title allegedly came from an Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, though no story of that name exists, and the script is actually a smart blend of his short story Never Bet the Devil Your Head and French composer Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre from 1864. The story itself begins along traditional haunted house guidelines, and it has an enjoyably dark and bittersweet undercurrent running through it. Much like the recent The Others, Castle of Blood relies more on creating a look and developing atmosphere than supplying a particularly deep plot.

The acting is a little stiff and overly theatric at times (more a fault of the dub), but Rivière is good as Foster, conveying a mixed bag of bravado and fear. Steele and Robsahm are here as B-movie eye candy, and though their line reads are sometimes stilted, they both exude the proper genre sexiness that give the proceedings a kind of sultry Euro-Hammer feel that was generally lacking in domestic releases of the era. It is Steele and Robsahm (and to a lesser degree later in the film with Silvia Sorrente's Elsi) who gives Castle of Blood its percolating sexuality.

Margheriti's film looks absolutely beautiful in black & white (more likely a budget issue more than artistic, however), and it is a fair bet that Castle of Blood would not have captured that same creepy gothic vibe had it been filmed in color; nor would it have had the same dramatic staying power all of these years later. Deep shadows and flickering candles are the order of the day, with foggy graveyards, hissing black cats, creaking doors and banging shutters adding to the ambience. This is certainly as visually stylish as any Hammer title, and there are moments that easily rival some of the great Universal horror classics of the 1940s.

The good news for horror fans is that Synapse has resurrected and restored footage not originally shown in the U.S. release, making this the definitive version. The footage (which amounts to only about five or six brief scenes) was never meant for U.S. audiences, and hence never dubbed into English; they are presented here in French, with English subtitles. The effect can be a little weird, as the film will suddenly shift from an English dub to a few snippets of dialogue in French. The restored scenes do add a bit to the narrative; this new release even includes a short bit of sex between Steele and Robsahm.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This is a smart looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the black & white cinematography of Riccardo Pallottini is reproduced nicely. The ever-present candlelight reveals a lot of detail, and the extensive display of shadows are never completely impenetrable. Synapse has long been known for their painstaking restorations on cult classics, and this disc is another excellent example of that ability. The print has a few age-related nicks, but overall it is a remarkably clean transfer.

Well done.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in either an English or French mono track. Dialogue is clear, with little or no hiss, and the Riz Ortolani score (he also did Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling) sounds ominous. The English track does feature a few moments of French dialogue for the newly restored scenes.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Alternate Opening Credit Sequence
  2. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: Synapse has included the Alternate Opening Credit Sequence (01m:30s), which features a grainy shot of nighttime London and the film's American title card of Castle of Blood. A Stills Gallery of 33 images, a theatrical trailer and a wonderfully informative two-page insert written by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas is also included.

The biggest extra here, however, is that Synapse has restored this moody haunted castle outing to this fully uncensored version. Genre fans should really rejoice.

The disc is cut in 19 chapters, and the only subtitles are optional English subtitles during the dubbed French footage added to this release.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Synapse has done it again by beautifully resurrecting Antonio Margheriti's sexy haunted castle thriller, Castle of Blood. The addition of footage never seen in the U.S. release is a real plus for genre fans, and the fact that print itself looks as excellent as it does just makes this disc that much better.

Highly recommended.

 


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