Monday, February 8, 2021

CASTLE OF THE CREEPING FLESH (1968) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 83 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: German & English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Adrian Hoven
Cast: Janine Reynaud, Howard Vernon, Elvira Berndorff, Claudia Butenuth, Michel Lemoine, Jan Hendriks

In the German produced Gothic trash-horror tale Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1973) a group of upper-crust socialites are at a party hosted by the wild-eyed Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine, Seven Women for Satan). Among the revelers we have Baron's fiancée Marion (Claudia Butenuth, What Have You Done to Solange?) and her brother George (Jan Hendriks), sexpot socialite Vera (Janine Reynaud, The Bitches), and her flirty sister Elena Lagarange (Elvira Berndorff) who has also brought her fiancé Roger (Pier A. Caminneccis, Succubus)

During the party the Baron organizes a horse-riding 
excursion into the forest, making sure that he and Elena end up back at his mansion long before the others. There he rapes her after some casual flirting goes awry. When the others return Elena from horse-riding she chooses does not tell anyone about the assault, but later that night when the topic of a conversation triggers her she angrily rides off into the forest on horseback, with the other party-goers giving chase to her.  

Their search for Elena leads them to the castle of Count Saxon (played by Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon, Countess Perverse) whose bearded servant Alecos (Vladimir Medar, Fidler on the Roof) informs them that the woman they are seeking was found injured and unconscious in the woods, and is now convalescing inside the castle. As if the night was not already odd enough the Count informs his uninvited guests that his daughter was raped and murdered shortly their arrival, announcing that in retaliation he has unleashed his a savage bear into the woods, in hopes of it mauling the culprit responsible for his daughter's death.  The Counts also regales them with the tragic tale of a family curse that may have something todo with his daughter's murder, a tale that is macabrely memorialized in the Count's private was museum which depicts a brutal gang rape of a woman in a stable. 

Not wanting to risk an attack by the freed bear the group stay the night at the castle as guests of the Count. As the evening  unfolds the revelers experience an unholy nightmare of sexual violence, hallucinatory timing-travelling rape fantasies, bizarre medical procedures, a bear attack, and a visit from Death himself. This is a strange one all around, it has plenty of atmosphere at times but it comes and goes at the whim of the director who struggles to maintain the tone, but even still the flick has a weird thrall. Actor Michel Lemoine who plays the Baron turns in a strangely intense and wild-eyed performance, which seems to be par for the course for him, having just watched him in Seven Women For Satan, which he also directed. It was great to see Jess Franco regular Howard Verson as Count Saxon as well with his deep voice and off-putting presence, he's a bit under utilized but manages to cast a deep shadow over the picture, effortlessly classing up this trashy pic with his menacing gravitas.

Of course we get a handful of gorgeous European beauties in this trashy flick, all of whom shed their clothes and engage in sexual activity of one form or another, some of it is of the sexy bed-hopping variety in addition to the distasteful sexual violence. There's even a Janine Reynaud as Vera having a hallucinatory rape fantasy as she watches three men rape a woman in a stable as she observes and pleasures herself, all the while laughing at the violence.  

Adding to the weirdness are extended scenes of what look to be actual close-up footage of an open heart surgery that's been inserted into the film. It seems to go on forever and actually made me feel a bit sick, but it's really the only gore to be found in the film aside from a poorly staged and shot bear attack and decapitation. More egregious than the extended surgical scenes are a series of superfluous shots of the horseback riding. I am positive these extraneous scenes of horses and the heart surgery were inserted as filler to get the anemic flick to the minimum feature-length it needed to be.   

This is the sort of movie that would be a chore to sit through for the unvitiated, meaning those who do not delight in bad film making and cheap, gratuitous Euro-cult trash, but for a b-movie dumpster diver like myself the putrid blend of Gothic cheese, delirious reality, and salacious sexual appetites is a savory, sinful, cinema treat. 

Audio/Video: Castle of the Creeping Flesh (196) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Severin Film who present for the first time in the U.S. in it's uncensored original version of the film in 1080p HD framed in 1.66:1 widescreen. Sourced from the interpositive the image looks largely terrific, though there are brief moments of frame damage and wear and tear that pop up throughout. Black levels are adequtete, skin tones look natural and the colors are strong and pleasing throughout, it is a healthy looking presentation with good depth and clarity. 

Audio comes by way of both English and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. Both options sounds good, both languages are over-dubs, and are free of distortion. The dialogue certainly has it's limitation, range is limited, but the score from Jerry van Rooyen (Succubus) sounds great as well. 

Extras include an archival Interview with the director's wife Joyce Hoven and son Percy Hoven who discuss the career and professional affiliations of director Adrian Hoven, which is told with no small amount of humor. They also display some memorabilia and still imagery from the film and  give their thoughts on it. They both show up again for a half hour Q&A recorded at the 2015 Austrian Pulp Film Fest, again talking about the director's career, his films, and those he worked with over the years. Both of these extras are in German with English subtitles. 

There is also a thirteen-minute featurette location showcasing the Austrian locations that were in the film and how they look now compared. These are gorgeous locations, and surprisingly no new buildings have popped up to obscure the pastoral settings, the only change seems to be that the trees have gotten bigger.  

The disc is buttoned-up with the English and German trailers for the film which run about nine-minutes, along with a handful of alternate credit sequences that run about six-minutes. We also get an alternate, and superior, title design, plus a text-based blurb that explains the various versions of the film. The single-disc release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the illustrated original movie poster artwork, the same artwork is featured on the Blu-ray disc. 

Special Features:

- Adrian in the Castle of Bloody Lust – Archival Interview with Joyce Hoven and Percy Hoven (20 min)
- Mark of the Devil Q&A with The Hoven Family at Austrian Pulp Film Fest (31 min) 
- The Return to the Bloody Castle of Lust - Locations Featurette (13 min) 
- Trailers: Castle of the Creeping Flesh (3 min) HD, Im Schloss der Blutigen Begierde (3 min) HD, Appointment With Lust (3 min) HD 
- Alternate Textless Opening Credit Sequence (2 min) HD 
- Alternate German Opening Credit Sequence (2 min) HD 
- Alternate Title Design (1 min) HD 
- Alternate VHS End Credit Sequence (1 min) HD

Castle of the Creeping Flesh (196) is a improper bit of ‘60s filthwürst that will certainly appeal to the unsavory cravers of sordid, slightly inept, madcap Gothic trash, along the lines of Jess Franco or Jean Rollin. This is the type of sordid cinema that when watched in the right frame can be a delirious Eurocult treat filled with nudity and demented happenings. In the wrong frame of mind however it could just be the worst film you've ever seen. Luckily I fall in the former category, and trust me when I tell you that there are far worse films! 

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: