Tuesday, April 24, 2018

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD









CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD is a 1964 German-Yugoslavian co-production and black & white vampire tale. The movie is also known as NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRES, and its original German title is DER FLUCH DER GRUNEN AUGEN. My buddy Tim Durbin covered the film not that long ago on his blog viewingtheclassics.blogspot.com, which inspired me to seek it out. CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD is also featured in Jonathan Rigby's wonderful book EURO GOTHIC.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD (which is set in contemporary times) stars out in a krimi-like manner. A guy in a seedy bar is checking out the ladies, while mediocre lounge music plays in the background. The gentleman's night out is disturbed by a couple of rough-looking fellows, who, we discover, are actually police officials. The guy is one Inspector Doren (Adrian Hoven), and he's sent to a small European village to investigate the recent murders of six young women. (The movie--or at least the print that I viewed--doesn't really explain where the story is taking place.) Each murder has been accompanied by a mysterious power outage, which not only affects the electricity in the village but any automobiles nearby as well. The Inspector's car goes dead just as he reaches the village, and sure enough, another murder has been committed. The Inspector's investigations lead him to a number of weird characters, and a mysterious Professor (Wolfgang Preiss) who is researching human blood (obvious plot point). It all leads to a climax located in the grotto connected to the castle the Professor is staying in--the literal cave of the living dead.

The version of this film that I viewed has producer Richard Gordon listed as "presenter"--in the 1960s Gordon brought over a number of Euro Gothics and had them re-dubbed for English-speaking audiences. (Many of the voices used in CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD I recognize from other English-dubbed horror and krimi movies from this period.) The movie was directed by Hungarian Akos Von Ratony, who also produced and co-scripted it. Von Ratony gives the story plenty of atmosphere, and at times the black & white photography (credited to Hrvaj Saric) is magnificently expressionistic. The film, however, spends too much time dealing with the Inspector and his attempts to figure out what is going on (anyone watching this will be way ahead of him). The Inspector has plenty of red herrings to deal with--a witch-like old crone, a doctor who constantly denies all the overwhelming evidence of vampirism, and a shabby Dwight Frye-like fellow who happens to be deaf. There's also the Professor's manservant (played by John Kitzmiller, who was Quarrell in DR. NO) who seems to be on the side of good, but is seen suspiciously skulking about. The Inspector also goes out of his way to romance the Professor's lovely blonde assistant Karin (Karin Schumann). The assistant provides some titillation at one point by stripping down to her undies and putting on a flimsy nightgown. (This is a Euro Gothic film, so you know somebody's gonna put on a nightgown at some point.)

All things considered, there isn't all that much actual vampiric activity in this film. Erika Remberg (who was in CIRCUS OF HORRORS) gets a few nice scenes as a shadowy undead menace, but the vampires here are more discussed than experienced. Krimi icon Wolfgang Preiss doesn't get much of a chance to shine as the main threat. The version of the film that I watched was 86 minutes, and this is one time when a Euro Gothic might have worked better in a shorter version. The most impressive thing in the picture is the magnificent grotto set.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD is an okay vampire tale, heavy on style but light on specific undead action. It's another obscure chiller that could use a high-end Blu-ray release.

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