CAPSULE: CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (1968)

Im Schloß der Blutigen Begierde, AKA In the Castle of Bloody Desires

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DIRECTED BY: Adrian Hoven

FEATURING: , , Janine Reynaud, Elvira Berndorff

PLOT: The Earl of Saxxon presides in his castle brooding over his deceased daughter; fortunately, he’s a doctor, and a bunch of drunk aristocrats are about to stumble into his clutches.

Still from Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1968)

COMMENTS: While contemplating the genre of German horror films, it occurred to me that I don’t often have the opportunity to see a German horror film. I checked and it seems others out there have noticed this too. German horror is a rare bird, says the author of the linked listicle, because Germany lived through so many real-life horrors in the 20th century that they lost their taste for theatrical scares. Wikipedia concurs, noting that German film ratings board clamps down on horror and drives it underground. I can support these claims.

But what does exist of mid-20th-century German horror—from what I’ve seen so far—seems to be tamer than the contemporaneous international horror standards. Film scholars will beat me over the head with their cassettes of Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, berating me for my blindness to German culture’s tremendous contributions to horror. That’s not what I mean. I mean “tamer” as in “less scary.” There seems to be no German kaiju, xenomorphs, or hockey-masked slashers. You know that bit where Freddy Krueger rips into somebody’s guts and jumps rope with their intestines? You can’t find that in German horror.

The promotional posters  for Castle of the Creeping Flesh promise to break the mold of German horror restraint, looking as intense as any other Eurotrash gore-fest. Indeed, Jess Franco (peace be upon the name of the prophet) appears in the writing credits, while actors from his staple troupe appear in the cast.

It’s hard to reconcile this promising setup with the resulting movie, to put it gently. Castle opens with a jazzy mondo theme over a swanky party that evokes a wingding at a EuroPlayboy mansion, without a scare in sight. The carefree ladies doffing their duds in the powder room provide the flesh already, even if it isn’t creeping yet. At least this movie readily adopts the sleazy side of European exploitation cinema: gore taboo, boobies fine. As the upper class folk break up the party, only to travel via horseback to reconvene at another nearby mansion, the partying keeps up. The host, Baron Black (Michel Lemoine) regales the crowd with tales of the Earl of Saxxon, keeper of a nearby castle with an ISO-standard Gothic history. As one guest, Eleanor (Elvira Berndorff), impulsively rides off to go see for herself, and the rest of the party is obliged to search for her, we see this Earl character really built up in a vaguely foreboding way.

So yeah, all that foreplay for a “drunk party shows up at creepy castle” story. It’s the European version of the “Spam in a cabin” template. The Earl of Saxxon (Howard Vernon) does his bit by being an eccentric aristocrat ready to spill his family history at the slightest prompting of a guest inquiring about the looming portraits over the mantle. To be fair, it’s tough to forget your past when it’s memorialized in a wax museum tableau upstairs. The Earl also happens to be a doctor, and has seen to the care of Eleanor, whom he has sedated after her adventure. Before you can yawn “what Tim Curry could do to liven up this scenario,” all the Gothic horror cliches are trotted out. Sure, the Earl-doctor has a laboratory in the basement, and yes, he’s doing experiments with a dead body on a slab and was just in the market for some spare parts. How handy that female visitors have a tendency to show up unconscious, having hit their heads on low-hanging tree branches while horseback riding.

Is there a right-hand castle caretaker/lab assistant who speaks in stilted dialog? You bet your sweet Torgo there is! Do we get a candle-lit dinner scene so the Earl can blather about his controversial views on science, life, and death? Bob’s yer uncle! Does one of the guests, staying overnight, have an extended dream sequence about the Earl’s backstory? Can you say “lazy storytelling?” Have you seen more originality in a first-season Scooby-Doo episode? Does Scooby like Scooby snacks?

Castle of the Creeping Flesh does have some high points. There was apparently a budget, which at least provided for a respectable castle set and nice period costumes. Cult favorite actor Howard Vernon keeps his magnetic screen presence, even though he’s given nothing interesting to do here, while Michel Lemoine (the Dollar Tree William Shatner) shows us just how many goofy fish faces he can make reacting to every other line of dialog. There is some character development for the guests, among them a couple of fiance pairs and one sibling relationship. There’s one small plot quirk I’m deliberately not spoiling for the crumb of tension it will provide viewers. Outside of that, I regret to trash such a rare specimen, but this just isn’t worth the ninety minutes. It’s a snail’s pace story edited into choppy bites that hamstring the narrative, going nowhere interesting. It’s also as melodramatically scored as an episode of “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” robbing it of the slightest opportunity to build up atmosphere. Its few original quirks are just dumb ideas that normally get vetoed in better productions (one word: bear!). The terrible dubbing just adds to the suffering. Most damning of all, it’s tame even by German horror standards.

The weirdest part of the film is that somebody recommended Castle of the Creeping Flesh for review on a weird movie site. You could not possibly get a more conservative, humdrum horror movie if you designed it by government committee, built it to specification by the Army Corp of Engineers, and issued it in a foil bag labeled “MRW” (movie ready-to-watch) to troops in the Gulf.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While Franco’s, er, eccentric touch is evident in the film’s freewheeling mix of mod drama, semi-parodic gothic horror, esoteric philosophy, weird science and softcore sex, the actual culprit was German matinee idol turned exploitation mini-mogul Adrian Hoven… Castle of the Creeping Flesh aspires to be a dreamy, esoteric work of le fantastique rather than a fright fest. It is let down by Hoven’s rambling, incoherent direction which pads an already slender running time with dull scenes where characters wax philosophical about life, love and death.”–Andrew Pragasam, The Spinning Image (Blu-ray)

One thought on “CAPSULE: CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (1968)”

  1. Checking out that Wikipaedia link, I was amused to read this line, “Some movies, e.g. Braindead, are completely banned in Germany (mostly for glamorizing violence)…”.

    ‘Tis true, the main takeaway I had from “Braindead” was it’d be really cool to utilise a lawnmower just like that glamourous hero.

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