It’s not really a castle, it’s more a big mansion, and ghosts do not haunt it as much as suspicion and deceit haunt it. But the film is called The Haunted Castle and it is the earliest of Murnau’s films that is widely available. Grapevine video has a copy of it, and there are other sources.
I’m so conditioned to expect a certain thing when I hear a name like The Haunted Castle that the film is startling because it is not like that, at all. It is a chamber drama about the aftermath of the assassination of a man. A baron has married the wife of the dead man. The dead man’s brother, the chief suspect for the murder, makes a surprise appearance at the mansion, as does a mysterious religious figure, Father Faramund. The castle, or mansion (it looks like an English estate mansion), is also full of men who came to hunt, but rain is keeping them inside.
The murder has happened months ago, but it controls the actions of all these people trapped by the weather in a large house. There are a number of twists and turns in the film and I certainly would be spoiling it for you if I described any more of the plot.
Murnau had been making films for only two years by the time he made The Haunted Castle, but he had already learned much. The film begins with murder suspect Count Oetsch’s surprising arrival at the castle, and slowly builds the story from that point. The film has several flashbacks, which are shot in the sunny outdoors, to strengthen the contrast from the enclosing dark walls that inscribe much of the rest of the film. There are also a couple dream sequences, including a very amusing one dreamed by a small boy who works in the kitchen of the mansion. Father Faramund, who by this time is missing -- the inhabitants of the castle suspect a second murder -- is seen to be safe and sound in the boy’s dream, feeding the boy batter and assisting the youngster in disciplining the mean cook who oversees him.
The photography is by Fritz Arno Wagner, who would soon thereafter run the camera for Nosferatu. The exterior shots point to Nosferatu, to the expanses of nature that hide and reveal the small people moving through.
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Copyright © 1997 John Akre