Horror Bites - Castle of Illusion


It shouldn't really be that difficult to put a horror story together when filming out on location with a real castle. With a few good cast members and the expertise of Carlo Rambaldi at hand, what is there to do but write an engaging yarn? A cursed nobleman being resurrected by his foolish descendants seems like a straightforward plot, and just for fun throw in some elements about witchcraft and spiritual mediums to add a little variety to things. Unfortunately none of this has been given any thought whatsoever considering how easy it should be, and the result is a very weak effort from director Mario Bava.

Peter, the only living descendant of Baron von Kleist arrives in Austria to visit the castle where the titular madman was burned alive after a reign of terror, not before being cursed by a witch. Supposedly he was doomed to rise again, so he could suffer the same death over and over. It's not clear exactly what Peter's plans are but he wants to check out his mysterious family history - despite everyone knowing the reputation of the titular Baron already. Meanwhile, the family castle is under renovations so it can be used as a tourist attraction, and Eva (Elke Sommer) is advising the work being done.

Soon Peter reveals he has a manuscript which shows some sinister incantations, which he believes are meant to bring the Baron back to life before sealing his spirit away. It's pretty convenient that he just found it lying around somewhere. Out of pure boredom the two idiots go up to the very room in which the Baron's death occurred in. Of course they read out the spell... which doesn't do anything besides make a church bell ring the wrong number of times. So they do it all again the next night for some reason, and this time it works - and a gust of wind immediately blows the parchment into a fireplace. Why is there a fire lit in a disused castle?

The Baron rises from his grave this time and promptly goes on a killing spree. The reasons for the deaths are about as unclear as the reason the spell worked this time. I guess it was his old hobby and he's been away for a while? We also see him opening a secret panel in the castle floor where a lot of jewels are hidden. Several days later a mysterious Mr. Becker (Joseph Cotten) arrives during an auction and snaps up the property. What possible connection could this have to recent events...

This is the part of the story which sort of makes sense, but it's not a great start. If you're expecting any interesting twists involving Peter or the medium they consult to try and stop the Baron's evil deeds you'll be disappointed. It's part dull and by the numbers... and part nonsense. A good stretch is simply dedicated to Eva running about screaming, sometimes in the same recycled city streets. While I have some reservations about Lisa and the Devil, it was strangely interesting and at least had a good central villain.

The titular Baron doesn't do anything besides a few murders, and his zombie make-up job is left in shadow for good reason. It was a role intended for Vincent Price, but he turned it down and Shadow of a Doubt star Cotten was given the role. Unfortunately it lacks anything interesting for either of them to do. There are some great sets and the lighting in the castle dungeon is dramatic, but this isn't really a visually striking film overall. There are too many zoom effects and too many scenes set in total darkness. In terms of horror it's never very shocking or suspenseful, and the storyline just shambles along before reaching a pretty silly conclusion.

With a few tweaks there might have been some interesting ideas about reaching the past by speaking to the dead, or even just a classic cursed bloodline element. Instead it just drags for long stretches until introducing random ideas about magic pendants just to get things over with at the last minute. Rational behaviour is often missing in this kind of thing, but here it stands out more than usual. It's often laughable, but never much fun, and in the end it's just too much of a mess to really enjoy.