182. The Dungeon of Harrow (1962)
Director: Pat Boyette
Writers: Pat Boyette and Henry Garcia
From: Pure Terror
A man shipwrecked on an island has to endure the machinations of the mad Count living there.
The movie opens with a voice-over by an on-screen character who refuses to show us his face. That’s as good a clue as any as to what to expect both in terms of quality and story. The narrator is the last of the Fallon family relating the tale of woe that left his father dead and him the sole surviving member. We then flashback to that story for the entire movie.
So the first thing the movie tells you is that it’s going to flashback to a story of danger and woe that we know the narrator survived because they’re telling us the story. I have to wonder if Jonathan Franzen watched this while writing The Corrections. It would explain a lot.
We cut to the real start of the movie where the captain of the ship tells Fallon to leave his quarters immediately as a storm is threatening to sink them all. Fallon balks, then runs. The opening credits then play out over some of the funniest toy boat footage I’ve seen. This toy ship just rocks up on an outcropping and stays there, letting you drink in just how terrible the model is.
Finally we cut away to Fallon and the captain on an island, the sole survivors. A tarp with the Fallon family crest also washes up which they later use as a roof. The captain talks about how good a man Fallon’s father was and Fallon, in voice-over, realizes his social standing no longer means anything, but he keeps treating the captain like a servant. That night, they hear a woman screaming while getting attacked by animals.
Cut to the castle of Count de Sade (yup. The writers called him “de Sade.” Guess what happens) where his slave—not servant—informs him that the dogs got loose and killed a woman. The Count surmises that if one person washed ashore, there may be others, and he starts worrying about pirates. Then the Devil appears to him, says he’s a manifestation of the Count’s madness, and harries him with rubber spiders and bats. Then he vanishes from the movie entirely. Thanks for taking the time Satan.
Anyway, Fallon and the captain are attacked and taken to the castle, the captain seemingly mortally wounded. Fallon meets Cassandra, a young woman living with the Count, who initially is dictating the castle’s rules to Fallon. She tries to cover up the disappearance of the captain and keep Fallon in the dark about what’s going on, but he wakes up to see a woman getting whipped. He confronts Cassandra about the strange things going on and she’s tells the castle’s sad story:
The Countess came down with leprosy and was exiled to the island. The Count followed her, but she went mad and he sealed her in the cellar where she’s still alive, believing it to be her wedding day. The situation drove the Count mad and now he’s constantly paranoid about pirates trying to infiltrate the island and tortures Ann, the mute servant Fallon saw getting whipped, because he consistently believes she’s trying to poison him. Cassandra is the nurse. The only other resident is a black man who’s literally the Count’s slave and does all the torturing and killing for him despite his own wishes.
So, yeah, that’s where we stand.
The captain has been taken by the Count who suspects he’s a pirate and tortures him. Ann falls in love with Fallon and tries to save the captain, but he’s seemingly dead when she unties him from the rack and she gets caught. The Count puts her on the rack, leaves, and the captain wakes up and doesn’t untie her! What’s even going on? The captain faces off against the slave to save Fallon because. . . reasons(?) and dies. Fallon is locked in the cellar to face the mad leper, Cassandra comes down and kills the Countess, and the two try to escape. The Count immediately follows, the slave falls over (literally), and the Count kills him. Then Fallon wrestles with the Count, shoots him, and he and Cassandra wait for a ship to arrive so they can leave. It takes two years and that’s when Fallon realizes he’s contracted leprosy and can never leave the island. Cut back to the opening shot and we see him and Cassandra with oatmeal all over their faces. She’s gone mad so he’s locking her in the cellar just like the Count had done to his own wife. THE END.
What can I say? There’s narration throughout telling us what we’re literally seeing on screen plus we have a “hero” who’s not only does nothing, but who nearly every character sacrifices themselves for. Ann dies, off-screen, from the injuries she incurred trying to save the captain for Fallon. The captain dies trying to rescue Fallon. The slave, who’s one of the only sympathetic characters, gets killed for failing to capture Fallon as efficiently as the Count wants. Even the Countess gets killed because she’s too close to Fallon. And he doesn’t do anything! It’s a bit of a shock when he shoots the Count. I half expected the Count to go mad hunting Fallon through the woods and then fall off a cliff. Fallon’s a doorknob—why is everyone so eager to help him?
The movie is, and maybe this is already clear, hilariously bad, but it’s sort of immediately hilariously bad. Narration, characters telling the main character how good he is, a spectral Satan, rubber bats and spiders, but all that happens right at the beginning and doesn’t get built on as the movie persists. Those bats and spiders never return even though those are always good for a laugh. And Satan. Satan. Where is my Satan? Everything’s better with Satan and, once again, this is a campy Satan. It’s not James Coco as Satan campy, but it still promises a nice side of ham with this movie.
But, no, it all disappears pretty quick and we’re left with the flat, affectless acting of the cast. It’s kind of boring, but you can get some good mileage out of riffing it. Fortunately, the movie is in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. You may enjoy it more than I did. Plus the gothic sets and shots may prove useful for some editing project.