Schloss Vogelöd on DVD

Monday, 22 August 2011 10:06

Known in English as “Castle Vogelöd: The Revelation of a Secret” or “The Haunted Castle”, this silent-era film was directed by German trend-setter F W Murnau of vampiric “Nosferatu” fame. Made in 1921, it concerns spooky goings-on in the titular country abode, home of Count Oetsch. The Count has some aristocratic friends and family round for a few days of hunting, but the recent, unsolved murder of his brother hangs heavy in the air.

Oetsch (Lothar Mehnert) was and still is the prime suspect despite clearing his name in court. The brother was first in line to inherit their parents' fortune, and his widow, now Baroness Safferstätt (Olga Tschechowa), is expected, creating tense excitement in the other guests. Heavy rain is keeping everyone but the Count confined to the house; strangely he prefers to hunt in a storm. Before the visit is over, the truth be revealed, but for some of the visitors that time cannot come soon enough.

Schloss on DVDI have only seen one silent film in recent memory (the incredible “Metropolis”), and consequently it took me a few minutes to get back into the swing of their conventions: a non-stop musical soundtrack, characters either saying nothing at all and making lots of bold gestures or saying lots but with scant subtitles to fill us in. Once the initial frustration has subsided, and you realise that you can fill in for the missing dialogue in your head, you can sit back and enjoy the movie.

Given that it is 90 years old, "Schloss" feels remarkably modern. On a technical level, the picture has been cleaned up magnificently to fully evoke the dark and oppressive cinematography, and the striking, reflective piano accompaniment has presumably be re-recorded, such is its clarity. More importantly, though, this five-act tale of murder and mystery is ageless and grips from the very beginning. The theatrical acting emphasises the claustrophobic, suspicious mood in the castle; characters scowl and brood, whisper secret asides to each other and cast accusing glances.

Though shot in black and white, each scene is given a different coloured taint to emphasise the tone; sometimes I found the choice of colour puzzling but I am sure the selection makes sense and probably rewards a second viewing.

The film only ventures into what I would describe as 'true' horror when one of the characters experiences a creepy nightmare. A furry-clawed creature reaches into his bedroom and drags him out into the night. Needless to say, he is keen to leave as soon as possible after that experience, to humorous effect. Another character, this time the cheeky kitchen boy, has his own dream where he gets revenge on the non-nonsense chef by being spoon fed cream whilst slapping his boss repeatedly in the face. They are rare moments of comedy in an otherwise tense and dramatic film.

By its very nature, the movie's plot, based on a novel by Rudolph Stratz, is relatively simple, but it moves along nicely and has sufficient twists and turns to keep the audience entertained. Horror and mystery film fans that have an interest in early ventures into their genre would do well to seek this one out.

The special features with the DVD include:

  • Original German-language intertitles with newly translated English-language subtitles
  • The Language of the Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films, a 31-minute video piece by Luciano Berriatúa on the early works of Murnau
  • A 32-page booklet containing a newly translated vintage essay on the film by critic Charles Jameux, and writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner

Needless to say, the reprinted critic's high-brow essay from 1966 makes my review read like it was written by a five-year-old!

“Schloss Vogelöd" (1921) is out now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 82 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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