Monday, March 21, 2016

RPG Media Monday - Castle of the Walking Dead (1967) Part One

Titled on IMDb as The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967), my friends Floyd and Keith loaned me a copy of a film which I hadn't thought I known but realized later was somewhat famous in gamer circles.  Turns out I had heard of this one under various titles over the years.  The title frame in the actual movie of the copy I watched was Castle of the Walking Dead (then subtitled "formerly Castle of Blood").  It was directed by Harald Reinl and starred Christopher Lee (RIP), Karin Dor, and Lex Barker.  At this point, it gets a little titularly muddy.

The DVD case I was loaned is in Dutch and in Dutch-speaking markets the movie is titled De Slinger in de Slangenkuil which Google translates to The Pendulum in the Snakes Pit.  This makes more sense than most of the titles since the story is supposedly based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum.  It also mentioned that this is "A new dimension in fear."  The spine of the DVD case titles it "Blood Demon."  There are dozens of alternate titles on IMDb for this movie which you can scan here.  It's an impressive garble of designations but don't let that deter you from checking this movie out.  As much as all that is to take in, it's good knowledge to have if you're going to secure a copy of this for yourself.

I'll say right now, it is a movie every tabletop RPGer should watch and probably even own.  There are many elements that will have such an audience pointing and pauses as familiar tropes are made schlockingly manifest.  There will be details from the film discussed in the remainder of this blog post which might well ruin the first-time viewing experience for some folks, so I do suggest that those who prefer to remain spoiler-free bookmark this for later and hunt down a copy of this movie to watch before reading further.

The summary on IMDb is fairly close to what is presented and is riddled with spoilers even in its two sentences.  In essence, "In the Olden Tymes, Count Regula is drawn and quartered for killing twelve virgins in his dungeon torture chamber. Thirty-five years later, he comes back to seek revenge on the daughter of his intended thirteenth victim and the son of his prosecutor in order to attain immortal life."  There is not a lot more to the story but what there is is revealed in fine fashion over the course of the movie, giving the audience clues as to who the characters are and why they are all brought together in the manner of a mystery.  Spoilers abound further along in this article so read on at your own risk.

Looking at this as a gamer (and what better way could there be?), one is struck by the constant attention to atmosphere.  The film begins with a verdict being read to a prisoner in a dungeon, an executioner stands nearby with a mask that is to be strapped onto the face of the prisoner, complete with dozens of spikes that are slammed into the face of the prisoner as the mask is secured.  Mind you, the sentence is that the prisoner will be drawn and quartered but that doesn't seem enough to the prosecution who has already admitted that punishment is excessive.  Then they slam the mask on him.  They walk him out to a crowd of townfolk-witnesses, lay him down in the street, and rope off his arms and legs to four steeds while a priest pleads for his soul.  As words are exchanged between the last would-be victim and the prosecutor (played by the same actors who will later portray their descendants), ceremonial drums sound out and the horses are ordered into action.

Fast cut to thirty years later as a storyteller works the street with some nifty illustrations of the execution.  The whole series of crimes has become a local folk legend.  It's pretty amazing how much of a boost the local economy has had due to the unfortunate murders but the Storytelling trade is obviously thriving.

And what a great setting for the story to take place.  Granted, little action transpires in the town but, directorially, they make the most of it.  The one-legged Storyteller, the townsfolk, horse buggies, laundry hanging on a line, and all the details you'd want to set up the beginning of an adventure.

So, years later, the descendant of the prosecutor has come to town on mysterious business of his own.  In the darkness of the night, the Storyteller confronts Roger Mont Elise AKA Roger von Marienberg and gives him an invitation to discover more about his past (seemingly the descendant is unaware of the former prosecutor).

The wax seal on the note matches a keepsake that Roger has been carrying so he hires a carriage to take him into the midlands looking for the castle belonging to Graf von Andomai (who was once known as Count Frederic Regula, the evil man executed so long ago).

When Roger arrives further inland at one small town, they apparently aren't as cavalier about the legend.  They even have a regular religious event to ward off the evil.  Despite a little girl having not heard of the castle, when she asks her elders, they all act aloof except for one, the old man who carries the cross in the ritual.

Before long, Roger confronts the old many who explains that the young folk haven't heard of the castle and the old people have forgotten it.  He gives some sketchy information but enough to get started.  Out of nowhere, a priest also joins in the adventure claiming to know the way and that he has some priestly duties to perform near its location.  He's a heavy drinker and acts rather goofy on the carriage ride out of town which passes along through a number of ruins.  Suddenly seven riders in black overtake the carriage and pass it by with no real explanation.

This is as good a place as any to end part one of this look at this classic film.  We'll look deeper at the movie and find out what happens when the journey continues.  In the meantime, if you know the film, feel free to discuss it with spoilers but labeled them as such if you do, please.

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