Color, 1968, 83 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Adrian Hoven
Starring Janine Reynaud, Howard Vernon, Elvira Berndorff, Claudia Butenuth, Michel Lemoine, Jan Hendriks
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Subkultur Entertainment (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Before he played a major role in taking the exploitation world by storm at the turn of the '70s as the producer and uncredited partial director of Mark of the Devil, actor turned filmmaker Adrian Hoven had already gone behind the camera producing and/or directing a handful of notable films like Succubus and this genre-twisting oddity originally shot as Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde (or "In the Castle of Bloody Lust"). A censorship nightmare at the time due to its nudity, scenes of sexual assault, and plentiful real surgery footage, the film was significantly edited in its native country by distributor Constantin Film and, after being shopped around under the title Appointment with Lust, rolled out in most English-speaking territories and on home video as Castle of the Creeping Flesh. Essentially unseen in its original full-length form until a recent restoration, it's a unique and sometimes baffling stew of Gothic conventions and random insanity.
At a swanky castle party held by Baron Brack (a constipated-looking Lemoine of Seven Women for Satan), the nobleman uses everything at his disposal to talk the decadent Vera (Reynaud, star of Succubus and real-life wife of Lemoine) into letting him get his mitts on her younger sister, Elena (Berndorff). Much drinking and merriment later, they all end up going horseback riding which, after an unspeakable violation against Elena, leads to several of the revelers spending the rest of the evening at the estate of Count Saxon (Franco regular Vernon). The Count's daughter has just died in what seems to amount to a recurring family curse, which paves the way for ghastly surgical experiments to revive her, sexual shenanigans, and a bit of bloodshed.
Though not a particularly wise choice for newcomers to the whole Euro horror thing, Castle of the Creeping Flesh offers pleasures for the initiated including a ripe performance by Vernon, a lot of topless nudity, and another fetishistic showcase for Reynaud at her peak. It's all highly disjointed and really goes off the deep end with that recurring surgery footage, but you certainly can't accuse this of playing it safe.
In 2017, German label Subkultur gave this film its surprise Blu-ray global debut as a dual-format edition featuring the premiere of the original uncut version with all of the footage that been snipped from various territories around the world. In 2020, Severin Films brought the film to U.S. Blu-ray in a similar package, again featuring the full-strength restoration and porting over virtually all of the extras. Both the English and German audio tracks are presented in immaculate DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono options with optional English-translated or English SDH subtitles; given that there is no authentic voice track for this film (multiple languages were spoken on set, with Vernon delivering his lines in English) and everyone was dubbed anyway, you might want to go with the default English option. The same excellent transfer is the base source here, though on both releases the main titles have been modified for their respective markets using the original textless version as a base (the Subkultur retains the German title and credits in a green Cooper font, while the Severin goes with the Creeping Flesh title in a yellow variant of the same font). The Severin looks a bit darker with deeper blacks and an overall richer appearance, but otherwise they're very similar in motion. Joyce and Percy Hoven turn up for two video extras: "Adrian in the Castle of Bloody Lust" (19m55s), an interview about Adrian's career, affiliation with Lemoine, the release issues with the film, and the path to his most famous production; and "Mark of the Devil" (30m45s), a Q&A at the Austrian Pulp Film Fest
in 2015 with the pair chatting with Uwe Huber about Herbert Lom, fake blood, Catholicism, barf bags, Jess Franco, Karl Lagerfeld, and more. A "Return to the Castle of Bloody Lust" locations featurette (13m2s) shows off various pastoral locales around Austria, followed by the English and German trailers plus an alternate one as Appointment with Lust, an alternate credit sequence under that title, the German titles, textless credits, an alternate design for the Creeping Flesh credits, and an alternate VHS end sequence. A brief 1m film notes section also provides some helpful context for the history of the film and its various versions floating around out there. The only significant difference is the Subkultur also contains a very long gallery (19m49s), a brief 30s video intro by the Hovens, and bonus trailers for Die Engel von St. Pauli, Bloody Friday, and Roots of Evil, so pick up either edition with confidence.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Subkultur Entertainment (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on November 26, 2020