(Italy - 1964)
Written and directed by Warren Kiefer. Cast: Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Mirko Valentin, Donald Sutherland, Anthony Martin (Antonio De Martino), Jack Stany (Jacques Stany), Luke Pigozzi (Luciano Pigozzi), David Pappas (Renato Terra), Lewis Bonos (Luigi Bonos), Ike Pallacn (Ennio Antonelli). (Unrated, 90 mins)
Trailblazing directors like Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava ushered in a series of Italian-made, Gothic-styled horror films throughout the early '60s. These are thought to have been inspired by the success of Hammer Films' THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), as well as Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe cycle, but though it wasn't released in the UK until 1960 and the US in 1963, Freda's 1957 film I VAMPIRI (partially directed by Bava) was made at roughly the same time the British horror cycle kicked off, and preceded Corman's Poe films by three years. Freda also directed the 1962 classic THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK and its 1963 sequel THE GHOST, while Bava made his name with the legendary BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and THE WHIP AND THE BODY, aka WHAT! (1963). As is the norm with trends in Italian genre cinema, other journeyman directors took stabs at the Gothic scene filled with haunted castles and dark family secrets: Antonio Margheriti's HORROR CASTLE aka THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (1963), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (also 1964); Mario Caiano's NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965); Camilo Mastrocinque's TERROR IN THE CRYPT (1964); and Massimo Pupillo's BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) just to name a few.
HORROR CASTLE, Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY, Mastrocinque's TERROR IN THE CRYPT, and finally, THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD. LIVING DEAD isn't the best of Lee's contributions to the Italian Gothic cycle (that would be THE WHIP AND THE BODY), but its fascinating backstory, confusion over exactly who directed it, and that it features the film debut of an unknown Donald Sutherland in two roles (more on that in a bit), have combined to keep its cult status going for nearly 50 years.
interview not long before his death--an interview that featured a photo of him directing some actors on the set--and explained that he directed THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, that Ricci was his assistant, and that Reeves worked on the second unit. Sutherland naming his son after Kiefer would seem to corroborate at least the "Warren Kiefer was the real director" claim. Turner Classic Movies recently aired an unfortunately subpar print (widescreen, but blurry and improperly-framed--probably from fake letterboxing--with the tops of everyone's heads cut off) that credited Kiefer as the director in one of three different spellings: he has a story credit as "Warren Kiefer," a screenplay credit as "Warren Keifer," and a director credit as "Warren Kieffer."
Sutherland in drag is probably the biggest attraction to this for cult horror fans. Sutherland also turns up later, dubbing himself and mugging shamelessly as Sgt. Paul, a doofus police official who functions as Drago's flunky and the film's comic relief. Once at Drago's castle, the circus folks find themselves the unwitting victims in their host's diabolical scheme. With the help of his evil henchman Sandro (Mirko Valentin, who co-starred with Lee in HORROR CASTLE), Drago has created a serum derived from tropical plant secretions that causes the victim to freeze in place, dying immediately. Drago has what is assumed to be a taxidermy hobby but it's actually animals he's killed with the serum, and he's ready to try it on humans.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE were distractingly inappropriate at best and complete deal-breakers at worst. Lee and Maslansky became friends during the making of LIVING DEAD, with Lee acting in several future Maslansky productions, including RAW MEAT (1973), CIRCLE OF IRON (1978), THE SALAMANDER (1981), HONEYMOON ACADEMY (1990), and the unfortunate POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW (1994), a sequel so dire that even Bubba Smith opted out of it. This would be Lee's last Italian film of this period, as he would soon return to the UK for such iconic classics as DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965) and DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), which also co-starred Sutherland. The Canadian Sutherland would work in British TV for a few years before getting his big break as one of THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) and becoming a full-fledged Hollywood A-lister with 1970's MASH.
|Antonio De Martino/"Anthony Martin"|
TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM has numerous alternate titles, one of which is CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD. Lee's 1973 film NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, the sole, misfired effort by his short-lived production company Charlemagne, went by a ton of different titles in any effort whatsoever to make the dull thriller appealing to audiences, including THE DEVIL'S UNDEAD, THE RESURRECTION SYNDICATE, and...wait for it...THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is especially odd considering there's neither a castle nor living dead in the film.