The Castle of Doom (1934) Review

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CastleOfDoom8 CastleOfDoom7 CastleOfDoom6
Allen Grey …
Julian West
The Doctor …
Jan Hieronimko
Gisele …
Rena Mandel

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • I can barely tell what’s going on in the movie, let alone if there’s any raciness on display.

The Castle of Doom: Wait, what?

“She needs blood…. And, of course, human blood.”

Ah, October. The month of horror and terror, of fear and mystery, and of old black and white movies that flicker in the dark. Scary movies of the early 30s stood in the shadow of landmark European horror films such as Nosferatu (1922) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and all dealt with a more existential form of dread rather than the modern emphasis on shock and gore.

In the early 30s, Danish film director Carl Theodor Dryer is just coming off one of his most iconic films with The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), a highly regarded masterpiece of silent cinema that didn’t make a dime. His follow up was a naturalistic horror film called Vampyr (1932). This film was a critical flop on top of not making a dime, and its failure stopped Dreyer from making another film for a decade.

This compressed chronology brings us to The Castle of Doom, which is a version of Vampyr recut for American cinemas. Mind you, it’s not Dreyer’s original English language version of the film, which he crafted the same time as the German version. No, this is a different, roadshow version of the movie that has been completely recut and dubbed by distributors.

"We so recut and redubbed, baby." "Coolness, daddio."

“We so recut and redubbed, baby.” “Coolness, daddio.”

And it’s friggin’ awful. While I’m not the biggest fan of Dreyer’s original Vampyr, it’s still a mostly silent horror movie full of striking images and innovative camerawork. Castle of Doom is what happens when a distributor looks at a film of beautifully imagery and skimpy story and then proceeds to crap their pants.

A long, rambling narration has been added in an attempt to cover up the film’s dreamlike, unconventional narrative, resulting in a disaster of a word salad. Now narration isn’t exactly the beast that a lot of writers take it as; good writing can enhance an already great work. However, the narration here is of an offbeat variety, resulting in moments of accidental poetry– e.g. “Mere decay isn’t sinister.”– but many more moments of empty bombast– e.g. “Man’s original sin was curiosity!”. Many Ed Wood films contain the same sort of gusto, though even those would have an innocuous charm that this one lacks.

Reflections in the pond.

Reflections in the pond.

From what I can figure, the plot is about a young man on vacation who stumbles onto sinister goings-ons. There’s a girl that’s sick, a master of a manor that’s tortured, a servant reading a letter, and a doctor who talks about blood an awful lot. The film’s ending is changed to be more upbeat than Vampyr‘s, though if you feel anything other than a numbed sense of relief at the end, I’d be surprised.

The film is terrified of silence, but because of the rarity of the speaking parts, the dialogue is sparse, doesn’t match lip movements, and adds nothing to enlightening the proceedings. Though we’re told many times of what’s happening or what may be happening, the movie is so freaking daft that all of its attempts at explanation render it far more confusing than illuminating.

The best part are the long closeups of badly framed and mostly unreadable pages that are supposed to be explaining even more of the plot.

The best part are the long closeups of badly framed and mostly unreadable pages that are supposed to be explaining even more of the plot. If you look closely you can decipher some of it, but not in the few second bursts you get on the screen.

The most impressive achievement of The Castle of Doom, outside of how amazingly incoherent it is, is that, thanks to Dreyer’s visionary directing style, it feels very much like a really bad film from the 1960s. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, even in its current washed out form, and looks decades ahead of its time, thriving on naturalistic lighting and deep, soulful shadows that linger on cold walls. Any successes in the film come directly from the haunting images Dreyer has crafted, while every other aspect of the recut version works to undermine them.

But like other oddball 60s thrillers like Shatner’s occult Esperanto flick Incubus or the ponderous Deborah Kerr haunter Eye of Devil, there’s not much reason to track it down for anything other than curiosity’s value. But, for the love of Pete, watch Vampyr first.

Gallery

Here are some extra screenshots I took. Click on any picture to enlarge!

Trivia & Links

  • Despite the film’s title, the movie’s main location isn’t really a castle, but more of a chateau. But ‘Chateau of Doom’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
  • There’s a lengthy discussion of the movie over at Poverty Row Horrors, which talks about a number of interesting topics regarding this film, if you’re interested in watching some people desperately trying to figure out what the hell this really is.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

  • This one is in pretty rough condition no matter where you look, but the easiest place to find it right now is Archive.org. There’s a few bootleg DVD releases floating around as well.

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5 Responses to The Castle of Doom (1934) Review

  1. Andrew says:

    So what’s worse- this or Manos?

  2. brianpaige says:

    I wonder…why didn’t you just review Vampyr? That said I find Vampyr a terribly overrated snoozer of a flick. It’s hailed as a classic in some circles and I watched it and found it barely watchable.

    • Danny says:

      I’m trying to keep my focus on American films… admittedly I was snaking a fine line by doing an American dubbing of a foreign film, but I thought it was so rarely discussed that it could make for a good review. I like finding obscure stuff, and this really fit the bill.

  3. Pingback: White Zombie (1932) Review, with Bela Lugosi | Pre-Code.com

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