A nomadic theatrical troupe headed by Bruno (Jacques Stany) is performing in the square of a small French village. Part of the act calls for a harlequin performer, Dart (Luciano Pigozzi), to be sentenced to hang. The executioner, played by Bruno ends up hanging himself instead. It’s a crowd pleaser. The others in the troupe are Laura (Gaia Germani), a deaf mute named Gianni (Ennio Antonelli), and a dwarf, Nick (Antonio De Martino).

The performance is being viewed by Count Drago (Christopher Lee). Drago sends his servant, Sandro (Mirko Valentin) with a note to the troupe commissioning them for a personal performance at his castle. He offers three gold coins for the show. When short tempered Dart attacks Bruno he is kicked out of the troupe. Eric (Philippe Leroy) comes to the aid of Bruno during the fight and is hired to take Dart’s place.

The next morning the troupe heads out for Drago’s castle. They meet an old woman on the road who gives them a dire warning about their immediate future. They think she’s daft and so they head on to the castle. They manage to get there by dark. The Count shows them around the castle. Drago’s hobby is a form of taxidermy. Using special embalming techniques he manages to make animals appear life like. There are dozens of embalmed creatures scattered all over the place, most of them birds.

Wanting to please the Count they agree to put on a performance that night. Before the performance Drago gives Bruno some spiked cognac. Now not at his best Bruno manages to actually hang himself during the show. Later Laura sees Dart at her window. Dart, knowing about the performance, followed the troupe to the castle. Everyone believes that Dart is responsible for Bruno’s death.

The deaf mute Gianni is the next to be killed. Eventually the rest of the troupe figures out that Count Drago is an insane murderer with a room full of embalmed and frozen people. His henchman Sandro is also an insane murderer. The two of them work together rather well. What’s left of the troupe appears to be doomed.

“The Castle of the Living Dead” AKA “Il Castello dei Morti Vivi” AKA “Le Chateau des Morts Vivants” AKA “Crypt of Horror” was released in 1964 and was directed by Warren Kiefer. It is a low budget Italian French gothic horror film. There has been debate as to whether or not other people contributed to the directing. Some of the names thrown around may be pseudonyms.

The movie has a few drawbacks. Except for Lee who did his own, the dubbing isn’t very good and despite the really cool locations the cinematography is so-so. Lee’s make-up is atrocious. The plot is not exactly novel and the pacing is a little off in places. Despite the drawbacks there are some things about the film that keep it from being bad. The aforementioned location shots are really interesting. The acting is exceptional, especially Sutherland as the ineffectual Sergeant Paul and Mirko Valentin as the lunatic Sandro. Sutherland in drag is a little strange but having a dwarf as the underlying hero is a great touch.

Donald Sutherland plays at least two separate roles in the film. He plays Sergeant Paul and the old lady called The Witch. He even has a scene where he plays opposite himself. Supposedly he plays another role called The Old Man but I couldn’t find him in the film so that part is debatable. The film is his first credited theatrical film. His son Kiefer was named after director Warren Kiefer.

The castle used in the film is the “Castello Orsini-Odescalchi” in Lazio, Italy. It was built in the 15th century and is located on the southern shore of Lake Bracciano. Another location used in the film is “The Park of the Monsters” in the “Garden of Bomarzo” in Bomarzo, Italy. Built during the Italian Renaissance, the park is full of unusual sculptures designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio for Prince Pier Francesco Orsini.