Combustible Celluloid
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With: Arnold Korff, Lulu Kyser-Korff, Lothar Mehnert, Paul Bildt, Olga Tschechowa, Paul Hartmann, Hermann Vallentin, Julius Falkenstein, Georg Zawatzky, Robert Leffler, Victor Bluetner, Walter Kurt Kuhle, Loni Nest
Written by: Carl Mayer, based on a novel by Rudolf Stratz
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 81
Date: 07/04/1921

The Haunted Castle (1921)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Capturing the 'Castle'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Haunted Castle (1921) is the earliest of F.W. Murnau's existing films, and the earliest available on DVD. Like Phantom (1922), its title and its nearness in time to Murnau's popular masterpiece Nosferatu may lead viewers to believe that they're going to get another Expressionist chiller, full of creepy shadows. But it's really a brightly-lit murder mystery, in which the murder(s) take place entirely off camera. (There are some flashback and nightmare sequences with bits of horror.)

Lord Vogelöd (Arnold Korff) hosts a hunting party at his castle, though continuing rains keep all the would-be hunters indoors. An unwelcome break in the boredom comes with the unexpected arrival of Count Oetsch (Lothar Mehnert). The Count has been accused, but not convicted, of the murder of his own brother. The problem is that the dead man's widow, the Baroness (Olga Tschechowa), has been invited and will soon arrive. But the Count will not leave. The Baroness sulks and broods and will only speak to a priest that is also visiting from Rome.

I was able to see through most of the movie's twists, but once we get past the fact that this is not Nosferatu, it has its own share of striking moments, and it even has some rare attempts by Murnau at comedy.

In 2019, Kino Lorber released The Haunted Castle together on a single Blu-ray disc with Murnau's The Finances of the Grand Duke; the image quality on both is delightfully crisp, with resounding piano scores. Historian David Kalat provides a commentary track for the latter.

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