Review: The Haunted Castle (Masters of Cinema Edition)

aka Schloss Vogelöd: Revelation of a Secret  

Eureka DVD and Blu Ray.

Cert PG

Released August 22, 2011.

A hunting party is laid up over a wet October weekend, at the Schloss Vogelod, when the Graf Oetsch pays them a visit. He is suspected of having got away with murdering his brother three years earlier, and now the widow is coming too – and the Graf decides to stay and stir things up. Claiming to have learned the art of prophecy in India, he predicts that a shot will be fired…

Although it’s being promoted as a leader to Murnau’s more famous Nosferatu on the basis of a 20-second or so dream sequence, this is only really a horror in the sense that Whatever Happened To Baby Jane or Psycho are horror films, in that it is a slightly unsettling and slightly padded psychological thriller. More to the point, it’s a slice of Gothic melodrama, which comes over as a sort of prototype for every episode of Murder She Wrote. It’s not a bad example of the type either – this is the work of FW Murnau, after all.

The plot, based on a 19th Century newspaper serial, may be a little simple, but Murnau’s composition of shots is flawless, giving the whole thing the air of smoothly moving Victorian photos. The acting, as in many silent films, has rather exaggerated facial expressions, but not to the detriment of the story. It is sometimes difficult to tell who the secondary characters are meant to be, but the leads hold the attention very well, aided by some – perhaps unintended, but you can judge for yourself – touching Sapphic overtones, and hindered by some very dubious makeup effects.

The castle itself – actually a 17th Century style mansion – is represented by some very nice model, and the sets are very much like windows to the period in which the story is set. Murnau’s framing of the tableaux increases that museum-like feeling too.

The picture quality is truly amazing for the film’s age, and is better than that of Metropolis. Every frame is crisp and clear, and belies the age of the film. Most scenes are tinted – green for establishing sequences, blue for the nightmare act, sepia for the rest – with a few remaining in greyscale. There’s a constant rather tinkly score, which is effective enough, though not memorable. Intertitles are in German, with English subs.

The only extra is a half hour documentary on Murnau’s early films, which is pretty good, featuring clips, interviews with his descendants and historians, and so on. Again, this is in German, but there are English subs.

Overall, the film isn’t as historically important as the likes of Metropolis, and its marketing to genre fans is somewhat misleading. That’s not just in terms of the current release’s promotion – the English title The Haunted Castle is misleading from the start, as the castle isn’t really a castle, and nobody so much as suggests it’s haunted. Having said that, genre fans tend to be movie geeks, and this is an interesting film, especially as a watchable example of early German filmmaking, and as a silent film that has a solid plot and has survived with the most excellent picture quality. And, yes, you can see the influence on Nosferatu, though if you want to see Murnau do Nosferatu you can just watch that film… Eureka are certainly doing film historians in the audience proud with the release of these restorations (in this case carried out by the FW Murnau-stifftung), and long may they continue.

Verdict: It’s perhaps more of interest to fans of general film history, and people with an interest in German art and literature, but if you know what you’re getting going in to this, you’ll find something to interest you in it. 7/10

David A McIntee

Click here for our review of the Masters of Cinema edition of Metropolis

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