After screening my Sinister Cinema tape of THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (there is a "THE" on the title card) -- a cropped, standard ratio presentation of the American International Television 16mm print -- I am now fully persuaded that it was never a scope picture. Watching it on my widescreen set with gray bars on either side of the picture, it's easy to see that the main titles were not cropped of any information that would have extended beyond the 1.85:1 frame. Likewise, I didn't notice a single instance of pan&scaning, nor were any of the compositions seriously disrupted by the dead-center framing, just an occasional third person who doesn't quite fit onscreen in a three-shot.
I also looked at an older Beta source I have for this movie, taken from a local public access telecast circa 1983-84. This was brighter and slightly more detailed than the Sinister version, which had deeper blacks and a somewhat softer look. This soft look is a common factor among all three versions, and it's making me wonder if CASTLE wasn't shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. The 35mm blow-up/16mm reduction might help to explain why the movie has always looked so soft and smudgy. Of course, cheap lab work could account for this, too.
I've often wondered why AIP licensed this movie directly to television. It was a Christopher Lee vehicle primed for release in the same year when CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA were cleaning up across the country as a reissue double-bill. Lee's face was gracing the covers of different monster magazines. You'd think that AIP would want a Lee picture on the bench and ready to play. I suppose the fact that the movie was shot in black-and-white had a lot to do with its bypass of a theatrical release. Speaking of which, a fellow gentleman and scholar wrote to ask me if I knew anything about the movie being in color, which is how he remembers it -- and, as he points out, Pohle & Hart's book The Films of Christopher Lee labors under the same impression. But no, THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD was a black-and-white film, even in foreign release.
It's good to feel satisfied that CASTLE isn't as overly cropped as I've long suspected, but that doesn't negate the need for a properly framed release. I'm still interested in seeing some more accurately ratioed foreign language copies, if anyone within range of this blog has one to offer in trade.
One last remark: In watching CASTLE again last night, I noticed that this was one of the many Italian films of this period whose English language version was prepared by the recently deceased Mel Welles. In fact, Mel dubs the role of Dart, played by Luciano Pigozzi. The dubbing for this picture is exceptional, I think, with many of Christopher Lee's scenes playing as though they were shot with live sound. He was later quoted in a Castle of Frankenstein interview as saying that, after hearing the wrong voice issue from his lips in the English version of Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY, he'd had it written into his contract that he must dub all his own performances. CASTLE was made less than a year later, so he obviously took immediate steps to rectify the problem. He meets the challenge of reactivating his performance as Count Drago superbly.