Directed By: Nathan Juran
Starring: Richard Greene, Boris Karloff, Stephen McNally
AKA: In Sweden the film was released as The Castle of Dread
Trivia: The film was made in the United States but premiered in Sweden
A horror movie with two of the genre’s biggest and brightest relegated to supporting roles? Sounds kinda fishy to me. But the truth of the matter is that 1952’s The Black Castle, a film with both Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., has great atmosphere and a solid story to boot, and doesn’t need star power to carry it through.
Set in the 19th century, The Black Castle stars Richard Greene as Sir Ronald Burton, a former military commander who travels to Austria in search of his two missing comrades. They were last seen at the estate of Count Von Bruno (Stephen McNally), a former adversary who, it turns out, is seeking revenge against the trio of British officers who defeated his forces in Africa (Burton’s friends were two of them, and Burton himself is the third). Using the assumed name “Richard Beckett”, Burton scores an invite to the Baron’s estate, and once there begins looking for clues as to what might have happened to his old pals.
But Instead of uncovering evidence, Burton falls in love with the Baron’s long-suffering wife Elga (Rita Corday), who has grown to despise her husband. Avoiding both the Baron’s mute assistant Gargon (Chaney) and the mysterious Dr. Messien (Karloff), Burton tries to smuggle Elga out of the castle, only to find that escaping the Baron’s clutches is easier said than done.
The Black Castle impressed me right off the bat with its dark, ominous set pieces (the opening scene takes place in a crypt), and reminded me of the classic Universal horror movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s (to add to its overall creepiness, the sequence is narrated by a character who may or may not be already dead). Then, once the film got rolling, I was drawn in by its story of intrigue and revenge, thanks in large part to the performances of Greene (quite good as the hero) and McNally (who seemed to be having the time of his life portraying the sinister Baron).
As for its horror royalty, Karloff fares a little better than Chaney (at least Dr. Messien was given a few lines of dialogue; the mute Gargan grunts his way through most of the picture). Not that it matters, though, because even without Karloff and Chaney, The Black Castle is a winner.