“Your blood will be our life!”
The first film I’d like to look at is 1964’s Danse Macabre aka Castle of Blood, starring Barbara Steele. A striking Italian-French film directed by Antonio Margheriti.
The film opens in a downstairs pub in London with Edgar Allen Poe and his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood meeting another writer named Alan Foster. Sir Blackwood wagers that Foster won’t be able to survive the November 1st Samhain night at his Castle due to supernatural goings on. Foster, who doesn’t believe in such things, takes the bet and they ride off into the mist. Once there alone, Foster finds a small black kitten that leads him to the decrepit seemingly empty castle. Once he is certain that he is alone, the madness appears in the form of the mysterious Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele) and Julia (Margarete Robsahm). I don’t want to spoil the fun so let’s just say that the more people that join Alan, the lonelier it gets.
I first saw this film on a rainy Sunday afternoon when I was young. So many of the things that scream great horror film to me are present; spectral party goers, beautiful women, a strange doctor, ghosts and murder.
The music by Riz Ortolani contains many wonderful queues that were staples of classic horror. The pace is swift and the mood is unrelenting.
When the film was edited for U.S. release many scenes were cut there by damaging the narrative. These scenes have thankfully been restored. They exist in the original French language but are subtitled. This doesn’t detract from the film one bit and frankly if you are enjoying the film at all, your eyes will be glued to the screen anyway.
With its black cats, hangmen’s tree and cobwebs, it is as stylish and iconic as any Hammer film, and even as sexy for the time it was made. Among the racier subject matter, we have infidelity, lesbianism, and brief nudity. Hammer waited more or less for the 70's before it started mixing nudity and lesbianism into it's horror. Where else can you see the bare heaving breasts of a skull faced corpse? And let's not forget the beautiful Barbara Steele. After just a few horror films, Barbara Steele had already carved out a complex persona for herself, often playing both vixen and victim and always holding our affections no matter the outcome.
Perfect for any dark and stormy night, Danse Macabre serves up a classy terror filled cocktail two parts atmosphere, one part horrific iconology topped with a deliciously understated sexual cherry. Curl up with a sexy someone and enjoy it together.