The Dungeons of Harrow (1962)

Genres - Horror  |   Run Time - 86 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Pat Boyette's Dungeon Of Harrow (also released as Dungeons Of Harrow and Dungeon Of Horror) is an off-beat low-budget title that's been kicking around horror movie fans' viewing lists for decades. The attention is merited, based on the fact that a good chunk of the movie plays like a feverish dream. Made in 1962 and evidently going through a convoluted release schedule that carried it into 1964 (courtesy of distributor Herts-Lion, the same outfit that handled Herk Harvey's Carnival Of Souls), Dungeon Of Harrow more or less sneaked into drive-in theaters and then onto television, and ended up mystifying viewers for decades to come -- this reviewer, on first seeing it, wondered if it were a bizarre European production of some sort, and couldn't even be sure, based on the evidence of his television screen, if it actually was a color film (it was). It was, in part, an effort by one of the true Renaissance men in American popular culture to outdo Roger Corman at the game of making atmospheric low budget horror movies -- Pat Boyette was a Texas-based radio and television producer and broadcaster (and later also a writer, editor, and cartoonist) who decided to try his hand at filmmaking. Dungeon Of Harrow was his first effort, with a plot built on what seem to be generic horror and suspense elements, lifted out of Edgar Allen Poe and the writing of Richard Connell ("The Most Dangerous Game"), all mashed together and shot in 14 days (including the building of the sets) -- Boyette, who directed, produced, edited, and even supervised the assembly of the music track for the film (inventing a stack of fake names for those credits), was literally writing the script the night before the shooting of specific scenes, handing the pages to his cast members as they arrived. Thus, if the film looks like it was being made up as they went along, that isn't an illusion -- it was made exactly that way, resulting in a movie that seems to intersect with the early work of John Cassavetes and the output of Edward D. Wood, Jr., lying somewhere midway between them in terms of quality. The unearthly mood and pacing -- which included black actor Maurice Harris getting visibly injured during the shooting of one scene -- was nailed down by Boyette's choice of music for the film. Unable to afford a composer to actually "score" the movie, he went to a stock music library and did needle-drops, finding music that suited his purposes and tracking it in, editing it as he needed; in Boyette's case, he chose the very same Mu-Tel Library stock music that had been used in the scoring of the first season of The Adventures Of Superman, among other early 50's filmed television shows; as a result of this, as one is confronted by such scenes as the truly horrific visage of the leprous countess, we hear music that, for most baby-boomers, makes us anticipate Superman about to burst through a wall, or someone taking a shot at Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen; he even scored the pursuit of the hero and heroine by men and dogs with the identical music used for a similar scene in the Superman episode "The Monkey Mystery." Ultimately, between the quick shooting schedule, the bizarre lighting and photography, the few good make-up effects, the amateurishness of most of the acting (apart from Bill McNulty as Count DeSade), and the strange, moody scoring, Dungeon Of Harrow is the stuff that nightmares are made of -- and for a horror film, whatever its technical or creative shortcomings, that's serious praise.