Haunted Castle, The (1921)

Gorgeous cover art, but not much else.
Gorgeous cover art, but not much else.

Genre: Silent Mystery Crime Drama (Germany)

Starring: Lothar Mehnert, Olga Tschechowa (Mary (1931))

Directed By: F.W. Murnau (The Last LaughTabu: A Story of the South Seas)

Overview: As vacationing aristocrats spend their days at Vogeloed castle, the secrets of the shooting murder of Count Peter Paul Oetsch are about to come to light.

F.W. Murnau’s contribution to Silent cinema is undeniable. He’s at the top of my favorite Silent directors list and long ago I decided to watch all his films for the simple reason that the best silent film I’ve ever seen is his The Last Laugh… which I really need to go rewatch soon. While browsing the DVDs at my local library, I saw that beautiful DVD cover art, above, for The Haunted Castle, one of Murnau’s earliest available films. Interrupting my redoubled efforts at working on the entries in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I thought I’d interject these summer posts with an update of one of my Names of Note page entries. I expected The Haunted Castle to be a more typical middle-of-the-road offering of the early 20s Silents, and I was right. I’ve long ago learned that the more difficult something is to find, the less reasons there are for finding them, and The Haunted Castle is certainly a more obscure early-career Murnau.

In Castle Vogeloed, the visiting bourgeois have had little luck on their hunting trip, ever ruined by inclement weather. As they wait for sunny days, they have special guests to look forward to. There is the widow baroness Safferstätt (Olga Tschechowa), whose husband was murdered - shot to death - four years ago. There is Father Faramund (Victor Bluetner), a priest whom she desperately seeks to speak to, in hopes of discussing the murder and the man that everyone suspects of committing it. That suspected man is her husband’s own brother, the Count Johann Oetsch (Lothar Mehnert), who arrives early at the castle, very much uninvited and unwelcome. Count Oetsch imposes upon the castle’s host and guests with his surly presence, planning to unearth the secrets long held around the murder of his brother.

Man, all these pictures make this movie look good!
Man, all these pictures make this movie look good! Hoo Boy Wrongo!

There's not many good things to say about this one. The most unfortunate thing about The Haunted Castle is that it’s not haunted at all. What’s ‘haunted’ is merely the secret-bearing souls of those involved in the murder. The pacing is slow, the acting stagey, complete with woe-is-me wrists on foreheads from the ladies, or wide-eyed, mouth-agape leering and grand pantomime gesturing from the gents. The makeup is that dark-eyed, pasty white skin that’s so common in these early films, and although the sets are large and often detailed, they just as often look like cheap backdrop paintings. Of course The Haunted Castle is not all lost. The wickedly-named Lothar Mehnert outdoes everyone in his perfectly cast role of Count Oetsch, with his deeply furrowed brow and haunting demeanor. Still it’s not saying much, especially when compared to the performance of the frumpy/hoity baroness Safferstätt (Olga Tschechowa). There is an interesting nightmare scene that conjured images of Murnau's Nosferatu, but it’s short and its mood is quickly undone by the much longer comic dream that a boy who works in the kitchen is having.

Better than many of 1001 Movies Silents I’ve had to plod through, The Haunted Castle is a silent film based on a novel, which necessitates a wordiness Silents shouldn’t attempt. I can safely say that this film will not appeal to modern audiences, and only mildly appeal to Murnau completists, even if the scenes with the cooks, the hunts and those aristocratic foppish characters are quite reminiscent of the incredible La régle du jeu (The Rules Of The Game). Just go ahead and watch Renoir instead.


No, I didn't get the wrong movie, this shot isn't from Nosferatu!
No, I didn't get the wrong movie, this shot isn't from Nosferatu!

Performance: 5 Cinematography: 5 Script: 4 Plot: 4 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 48% (Fades Quickly)

Although the version I saw was beautifully restored by the good people at Kino, nothing much could save this fop-laden tale of entitled, stuffy people trying to keep their decorum and save face… in short, The Haunted Castle examines a very outdated class view that just won't fly today.

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