The Haunted Castle

03/19/2021 06:41

Film: The Haunted Castle (Schloß Vogelöd)

Year: 1921

Director: F.W. Muranu

Writer: Carl Mayer

Starring: Arnold Korff, Lulu Kyser-Korff and Lothar Mehnert



This was a movie that I’ll be honest, I never heard of until I was looking through Letterboxd for horror movies that were released in 1921 for my Centennial Club episodes on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. What is interesting here is that I recognized the name of the director: F.W. Muranu from Nosferatu and the writer was Carl Mayer, another one that I feel I’ve seen movies from him. The synopsis here is in the castle Vogeloed, a few aristocrats are awaiting Baroness Safferstätt (Olga Tschechowa). But first, Count Oetsch (Lothar Mehnert) invites himself. He is believed to have murdered his brother and the baroness’ husband, but he is there to prove he isn’t the murderer.

For this movie, it is pretty much solely taking place in the castle Vogeloed. Schlossherr von Veogelschrey (Arnold Korff) along with his wife of Centa (Lulu Kyser-Korff) are having people over for a hunt. The problem though becomes the weather is not allowing them to go. The people are all staying inside, hoping it will clear. Things get awkward though when Graf Johann Oetsch arrives. This creates a buzz as his former sister-in-law; Baronin Safferstätt is coming soon with her new husband of Baron Safferstätt (Paul Bildt). The scandal here is that the gossip claims Count Oetsch murdered his brother. Von Vogelschrey informs him who is coming and the count declines to leave, determined to prove he isn’t the killer.

When the Baronin and her husband arrive, she is quite upset to learn that Count Oetsch is there. The only solace she finds is that his other brother and her former brother-in-law of Der Pater Faramund (Victor Bluetner) is coming up from Rome. He is a priest there and none of them have seen him in some time.

The following day the weather clears briefly, allowing all of the men besides the count to go for a hunt. It is cut short when it rains again and this is when Count Oetsch leaves. In his absence, Pater arrives. He seeks out his former sister-in-law to talk to her about what happened to her former husband, Graf Peter Paul (Paul Hartmann) The house gets quite nervous though when he locks himself in his room and doesn’t answer when they call on him. It is even more shocking to what they find when they open the room. With his disappearance and the return of Count Oetsch, can they get to the bottom of what is happening here and to Pater Oetsch?

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and shift over to actually breaking this down. The first thing I noticed before watching this was some people questioning if this movie was really horror or not. Regardless, I was still going to watch this movie and what I will say, it is interesting that this is considered horror. It does have fewer elements than some movies that are questionable today. What I think really drives this is that it takes place in this large castle that is spooky. Der Faramund disappears and then there is also this murder mystery that we’re trying to get to the bottom of, even though the murder happened some time ago. It is from really a different time as well.

Where I want to go next would be the character of Count Oetsch. This movie really does a good job at establishing that no one likes him. When it is revealed that he is going to be there, the gossip starts. This works for us to be filled in what they think about him and back-story. We know that his former sister-in-law believes him to be the murderer. He is portrayed to be a jerk in the beginning. No one wants him there, yet he is going to make their lives hell by staying. In his defense though, his name has been drug through the mud without really any evidence aside from he was accused and has the best motive. With how things play out, this is really in the vein of what would become known to be Hitchockian. It is based off a serial novel which also makes sense there as well.

Next I think I want to go to next is the setting. As I was alluding to as to why to put this movie in the horror genre, it would be mostly for the atmosphere. We get that gothic vibe in this castle. It is interesting this movie is from Germany, but it isn’t leaning into the German Expressionism that was really popular at this time. It is much more grounded in reality. When Faramund disappears, it makes it creepy. There could be some logical explanations to what happened here, but that doesn’t change the fact. There is also a subplot that Count Oetsch has studied the way of the prophecy from India and he predicts that there will be a shot fired for the hunt. He then gets cryptic that more could be more than one as well. This along with the story is what did hold my interest.

I do hate to say this though; I did find the movie to be a bit boring. A big part of this I’m assuming is that we are in early cinema. This being one of the earlier murder mysteries, they don’t have to be as different or build the stories in other ways. There is an interesting twist to this that I’ll be honest, I didn’t see coming. It worked for me and does help me get excited for that final act. I did lose interest for a stretch before that.

What I did think worked though was the acting. Something else interesting here is that we aren’t getting as over the top performances as you would expect here. Arnold Korff felt like this host that wants everyone to have a good time and is stressed with the guests that weren’t invited showing up. Kyser-Korff, who I’m assuming was Arnold’s wife in real life, was solid especially with trying to calm down the Baronin. Mehnert is good as this guest who is constantly trying to defend himself. I would be as mean as he is if I had to I’m sure, which he does well in conveying. Bildt is fine as this quiet guy that I didn’t trust from the start. He really seems to be there for his wife. Tschechowa was good as the one who is upset with Count Oetsch being there. It hurts her for him being there for what she believes to be the truth. I also like Bluethner and the rest of the cast to round this out for what was needed.

Then that will take me to the cinematography since being early cinema, we don’t get much in the way of effects. We have a lot of static shots, which is fine for the technology. I do like that we get some close-ups of characters that really help to frame them in different ways. The iris effect is used here as well. I think this works for what they needed in order to build who the characters it is used on and focus on their emotions. I did want to comment on this great long shot that is showing multiple levels of the castle by framing the staircase. This works especially since Faramund’s room is on the lower level with the baronin’s room on the upper level.

The last thing then would be the soundtrack. It is hard for these as I don’t necessarily know if what we’re hearing matches up to what was originally conceived. The version I saw had this great piano soundtrack done by Neil Brandt. Jaime was in the room reading for a bit and she said the music was good, but it made her anxious. I have to agree there. This is actually one of the stronger parts of this version was how well it fit for me.

In conclusion here, I did like some elements to this silent film. I think that the story is really interesting and that the acting helps bring it to life. The setting of the movie is good and the atmosphere is built from it along with the soundtrack that is synced up to it. I did find it slightly boring and I think that is probably due to early cinema along with being one of the first murder mysteries. Still worth a viewing to see some of the works from the great Murnau in my opinion, but being a silent film that is 100 years old, there are some flaws still. I’d consider this to be an above average movie.


My Rating: 7 out of 10