The Dungeon Of Harrow (1962)

MAY 11, 2011


If I didn’t know better, I’d swear The Dungeon Of Harrow was one of the most influential films of all time, as it continually reminded me of films that actually came along later in time. But even if those other films HAD been inspired by Pat Boyette’s opus, they all pretty much did it better, so that’s fine. While not terrible, it’s a woefully dull, cheap film that was seemingly going out of its way to be uninteresting until its final moments.

The main one it reminded me of was The Terror, as it also involved a castle by the water, and a young stranded guy seeking shelter there only to be more or less held prisoner by an insane owner who sees ghosts and has a tragic backstory involving his wife, as well as a long-suffering servant who turns on him near the end. Hell, the bad guy even looks a bit like Boris Karloff (as played by J Peterman from Seinfeld, who he also resembles). Except The Terror, while no great film, has a lot of great actors; along with Karloff you get Jack Nicholson and Dick Miller, while this movie offers, uh, Russ Harvey, who has one other film on his resume (another Boyette production). And hell, even though that production was notorious for being so cheap (all shot on existing sets, over a couple of days, and seemingly made up as it went along), it looked better than this, with its miniature boats and castles, and cobwebs that are somehow thicker than most breadsticks.

The other one it reminded me of was Manos, which is funny because both were shot in Texas. Not so much in the plot (this movie was coherent), but just in the general sloppiness. Hardly anything in the movie cuts together smoothly, and 95% of the movie takes place in the same three or four rooms, which you’ll be pretty sick of seeing by the time the end rolls around. The audio is also astoundingly bad; I was wondering if my copy had deleted footage because of the way that the music would noticeably cut from one piece to another in between shots, but then I noticed the same thing happening when there was no change to the shot at all. It all sounded like canned organ music too, so my guess is Boyette (who also edited, bless him) didn’t know how to loop or fade the music selections and just sort of tossed them in however he saw fit (making matters worse, the score covers most of the movie). There’s also a hilarious bit where the hero explains that some attack dogs are getting closer, even though all we hear is the same (also canned) simple dog bark playing over and over, without any sort of elevation to its volume to signify that they were indeed getting closer.

Then there’s the narration. I am of the opinion that narration shouldn’t be used in a horror movie, as it sort of clues you in that the character will survive (the movie Fallen being one rare exception that put it to good use and had a clever way around this issue), but here it’s particularly annoying because the guy just narrates the events we are watching anyway, without adding much insight or reflection. That he’s a bad actor and delivers lines with as much effort as you hear from the CSI actors when they have to do a tie-in game for the PC makes it even more of a chore to listen to.

One bit that didn’t work at all wasn’t their fault though. Near the end our hero discovers he too suffers from leprosy, just like the Count. His love interest says “You can tell just by looking at the color of your skin” or something to that effect, but it’s impossible to tell ANYTHING about the color of his skin because the transfer is so lousy. Throughout the movie it keeps changing hue, like someone had three settings (reddish, greenish, and purplish) and would switch them at random. Again, as with the music, it wasn’t always in between shots, like the print was assembled from different sources – it would sometimes shift in the middle of a shot, which I cannot explain in any way. But at any rate, leprosy was the furthest thing from my mind when that line came up; to me it looked like he was either quite nauseous or had just tried some of Willy Wonka’s experimental gum.

Ultimately, it’s just one of those lousy movies that folks who may have caught it when they were younger on their local network’s “Chiller Theatre” or whatever probably thought was scary, because it has a couple of decent creepy images near the end (like the love interest, in the final stages of leprosy). I’ve often bemoaned the lack of these sort of things nowadays (even when I was growing up they were pretty scarce), but on the other hand, if we had them today, kids that are now like 9 or 10 would be catching these sort of things at an impressionable age and then growing up thinking they were good. “I saw Dark Fields on TV at my grandmother’s when I was 8 and it freaked me out for life!” – something that will hopefully never be uttered by a human being.

Random aside, it ALSO reminded me of Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, because the Count thought they were pirates (he hated pirates!), and that is why he tortured them. Indeed, Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer tortured US with their shockingly lackluster sequel (which I saw tonight, in the middle of my two sitting sessions with Harrow), which despite being the shortest in the series actually felt like the longest. The action scenes were incredibly dull, Ian McShane’s Blackbeard was less threatening than the anonymous asshole pirates that have populated the series, and worse, there’s hardly even any boat sequences! There are literally more boats on the damn billboard than there are in the movie, which features precisely ONE reel’s worth of ship scenes, while the rest is just Depp and co. slowly making their way through a series of jungles and caves (it was shot on the same Hawaiian islands that they shot Lost). Even Depp seemed bored; his reported 55 million payday apparently didn’t necessarily mean he’d put any effort into it. On the plus side, it was more in the spirit of the first film (read: it wasn’t unnecessarily mean-spirited like the second film, or just plain confusing and obnoxious like the last one), and Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa remains a highlight. Also the 3D, while unnecessary for the most part (since so few shots that had any depth to them to begin with), did not make the movie too dark like some others, which is a good thing since a lot of it took place in foggy, dimly lit locales or at night. I wouldn’t pay the extra for it, but if that’s your best option, it’s not a nightmarish endurance like the last Depp/Disney teamup. And it’s better than this movie, so there’s something.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing this (more than once), as a kid, back in the 60's, when we lived in Queens, New York (on "Chiller Theater", WPIX, Channel 11). This was a great horror flick for a kid, back then (like "She Demons" and "War of the Colossal Beast). Combine that with my "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazines and I was good to go. Maybe that's why I'm a professional writer, today...


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