Cave of the Living Dead DVD

Spelunking for vampires

A “Butchers Film release” this German weird menace horror, originally titled The Curse of the Green Eyes, was imported to Britain and America by producer Richard Gordon. He released it to theaters and drive-ins as part of a fright double bill with Tomb of Torture in 1965.

Inspector Frank Doren of Interpol (Adrian Hoven) is called on to investigate some possible murders in a remote village. Why is Interpol involved in a murder case? No one knows and no one is telling. Six women have died mysteriously near a famous grotto, drained of blood. Power blackouts accompany each death — even cars and flashlights don’t work.

Doren arrives in time for blackout number seven, his car’s engine dying just outside the village. He’s given information by Karin Schumann, assistant to Professor Von Adelsberg (Wolfgang Preiss), who is making extensive blood studies up at his castle nearby.

In the darkness, a hooded and cloaked black figure flies to the room of Maria (Erika Remberg), maid at the village inn. The intruder rises up over the wall in shots that recall Nosferatu. Meanwhile, the innkeeper Stefan warns Doren of the vampires said to dwell in the caves.

Doren is awakened early the next morning by police. Maria has been found murdered in the room next to his. Doren, who is supposed to be undercover, whips out his badge and bullies local cops. Puncture wounds are found on the victim’s neck.

On Stefan’s advice, Doren visits the old witch Nanny, who tells him more about vampires, and shows him little dancers doing a number in the fire. It’s an odd moment, and despite his protestations that he believes in only facts, Doren doesn’t have any trouble swallowing everything Nanny says.

He accepts an invitation to stay in the castle, but first visits the grotto with the Professor’s servant John, played by John Kitzmiller. The American born Kitzmiller has to suffer through quite a bit of racist dialogue here, but he probably cornered the market on roles for large black actors in German films. The next year he played the lead in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 for his portrayal of an American pilot shot down over Slovenia in Sergeant Jim.

While Doren and John peek at strange lights in the grotto, at her wake, Maria makes an unexpected exit from her coffin.

Doren and John arrive at the castle. The location is so cold that the actors’ breathing shows plainly, despite roaring fires nearby. The Professor’s touch is cold as well. Later, he casts no reflection in Karin’s mirror. That night, vampire girls invade Doren’s room while he sleeps, but are scared off by the cross Nanny gave him.

The next morning, the body of Maria is found in a well — perhaps making do with a handy hiding place at daybreak. Borrowing the blood sample taken from the body, Nanny uses it to kill a snake that happens to be slithering by.

Doren and Karin discover that the Professor has been doing research into black magic. Another blackout alerts the village that the vampires are about to strike, and Maria’s corpse disappears again. Doren, a true believer by now, rouses the village to hunt down the fiends.

During the 1960s, Germany was a great breeding ground for crime and spy thrillers, not horror. Like many German crime films of the period, Cave of the Living Dead boasts great black & white photography and engaging pulp characters and situations. With it’s snappy, modern hero and plenty of red herrings, I was lead to believe that this is one of those thrillers where the weird events would turn out to be a sham, but Doren accepts the supernatural explanation without much ado. No explanation is given for the blackouts — perhaps it’s a bit of newfound vampire lore.

The acting — if the English dub gives a clear picture — is fine, with the exception of Kitzmiller, who despite his Cannes award repeats the same hand movements for just about every line. Hoven was an established European star who later became a regular in Jess Franco crime thrillers, before directing the infamous Mark of the Devil and its sequel. Erika Remberg, who makes for a delightfully sexy vampire, played in a couple of entries in the Edgar Wallace series, and later turned up in Radley Metzger’s The Lickerish Quartet. Wolfgang Preiss of course was in the middle of six films playing the evil genius Dr. Mabuse.

Image has also released the film’s companion feature Tomb of Torture on DVD at the same time. Since neither disc contains any sort of extra features, it’s a shame they didn’t see fit to put them both on the same disc as a double feature. The package advertises a sepiatone print, but it looks black & white to me.

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