Tuesday, April 01, 2003


This creepy thriller, filmed in England and starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, was a victim of the anti-horror film movement of its time; it never got a full release in England and only limited showings in the States. It was long presumed lost but has survived into the DVD age, albeit in a grainy and murky print. The film has elements of a previous Karloff/Lugosi collaboration, THE BLACK CAT (cursed land, Karloff as a bad guy and Lugosi as a self-sacrificing good guy), and even anticipates later horror films like THE WICKER MAN (human sacrifice and secret doings by villagers). The famous opening scene is hard to beat: on a clear, moonlit night, a man is chased through a wheatfield by a menacing inhuman figure. He enters the tower (of the title), which reminds me of the tower in VERTIGO, and races up the steps to the top to find Karloff standing there. He begs Karloff for help, but Karloff steps back and lets the thing in the shadows onto the parapet. We see a close-up of the man shrieking at the camera, then we see him leap off the tower into the wheatfield below. The last shot of this masterful opening is of a trickle of blood seeping into the ground. It turns out that Karloff is Lord Belvedere, owner of the most fertile land in the country; he ensures good crops by literally feeding the land with blood sacrifices as his family has done for generations. Karloff has an army of supernatural creatures who look like werewolves and lurching scarecrows and are mostly only seen in shadow. They rise from the fields at night whenever a sacrifice is needed. This happens three or four times in the film and each time, it's unsettling. Lugosi comes looking for his lost brother-in-law, the victim from the opening scene. David Manners and Gloria Stuart are the romantic leads (they're visiting Americans so they don't have to do British accents). Tommy Hoddle and Billy Bingo, who were apparently the British Laurel & Hardy, are the slapsticky comic relief, and the film gets so intense that the comedy is actually welcome. The satisfying climax has Karloff facing his own creatures at the top of the tower as Lugosi tries to save Manners and Stuart. Directed by Giles Spence and made by Campbell Films, this is certainly as good if not better than any of the classic Universal films.

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