The Black Castle, made during the twilight of the classic horror era, had a special pre-release show on Halloween 1952 and went into general release the next week. Among the first cities to screen it were Philadelphia and Los Angeles (the latter on 20 November). It premièred in NYC on Christmas. Between January–April 1953, it was only shown in Southern, Southeastern, and Midwestern cities with a population between 5,000–50,000. In August 1953, it finally was released to the entire U.S.
A few sources claim it premièred in Sweden, though I was unable to find any actual dates for this, and IMDB cites its Swedish opening as January 1953, after the NYC première.
On a dark and stormy night, two coffins are supposed to be closed and prepared for burial. The servants dispatched to this task notice the corpses look rather alive, and that their eyes aren’t closed. We then hear the desperate unspoken pleas from the man, begging them not to bury him alive.
What in the world led up to this?
Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) is determined to get to the bottom of his two friends’ disappearance. He’s convinced Count Carl von Bruno (Stephen McNally) of Austria had a hand in it, and talks his colleagues into letting him take on this mission.
While Ronald is at a nearby tavern called The Green Man, a sword fight breaks out, and his finger is scratched. It turns out that the two guys who started it are very close to Bruno.
Ronald presents himself at Bruno’s Black Forest castle as Richard Beckett. Also in the castle are Bruno’s buddies from the fight, one of whom, Count Steiken, was wounded and is screaming as he receives treatment from Dr. Meissen (Boris Karloff).
Bruno tells Ronald there’s going to be a leopard hunt very soon, with an imported leopard being contained (and very hungry) until it’s time to release him. To throw off Bruno’s suspicions about his real identity, Ronald insists he’s never gone hunting in Africa.
That night, Bruno’s new bride Elga (Rita Corday) walks in on Ronald while he’s snooping around the castle. Ronald pretends he was trying to find Bruno, and after striking up a friendly rapport with Elga, he’s led to Bruno in the cellar.
Also in the cellar is the caged leopard (who looks like an obvious panther), being tortured by servant Gargon (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Elga strongly objects to this upcoming canned hunt, and the sport of hunting in general. After Elga and Ronald leave, Bruno takes the whip from Gargon and starts torturing the poor defenceless animal too.
While Elga is leading Ronald to a strange secret room, a trap door is triggered by a stone on the floor, and they’re caught in a cage. Elga convinces her husband she got lost while trying to go another way, and Gargon releases them. Bruno reveals an alligator lagoon behind the door, and says there’s no getting past it if they want to escape.
The next day, the hunting party sets out, and Ronald catches the leopard after falling into a ditch. Bruno shoots the animal while Ronald is wrestling with him, which infuriates Ronald. It’s not good hunting etiquette to shoot someone else’s prey.
All is seemingly forgiven, however, when Bruno says he killed the leopard with Ronald’s own rifle, and gives him the winning prize of two beautiful dueling pistols, the pelt, and some money.
At a celebratory party that night, Ronald dances with Elga. When they’re speaking alone outside in the moonlight, Ronald recognizes a strange human head charm on her necklace, which matches a ring we saw him wearing after the tavern fight. Elga says she doesn’t know anything about it other than that it was a gift from Bruno.
It seems as though this is the beginning of a beautiful romance, but Elga’s suspicions are aroused when Ronald reveals he took the pendant from her while they were kissing on top of the stairs. She demands to know what he was really doing in her husband’s room and why he came here.
Ronald initially says he can’t explain, then closes the door (behind which an unknown someone is eavesdropping) and tells her Bruno is a murderer. Some years ago, he held power over a native tribe in Africa by posing as a white god, with the goal of gaining control of a fabulously rich empire. Ronald was there on an expedition at the same time. Though they never personally met, their forces were in battle together, and Bruno was wounded in the eye by one of Ronald’s men. This proved he was a mortal, not a god, and the natives rose up against him and drove him out of their country.
Ronald’s two best friends were there too, and Bruno swore he’d get revenge against them. Now Ronald is convinced Bruno murdered them. The natives gave each of them that pendant as a token of appreciation, and they swore they’d never part with these gifts. “Only murder could’ve placed this in the Count’s hands.”
Ronald says he’s leaving in the morning, but promises to return for Elga.
Dr. Meissen approaches Bruno and says his friend Count Steiken is waiting in the trophy room with a very interesting revelation. As Steiken is about to say something about Ronald, he drops dead.
Though nothing incriminating was said, Bruno goes to Elga’s room and claims Steiken told him all about her dalliance with Ronald. After she admits her feelings for Ronald and that she never married Bruno by choice, Bruno leaves her with the demented Gargon.
Bruno cordially bids farewell to Ronald in the morning, without letting on he knows about the affair. However, when he’s at The Green Man, Dr. Meissen comes to him with a story about Elga being in grave danger, and says Ronald must return. If not, Bruno will kill her just as he killed his first wife.
By the time Ronald returns, claiming he forgot his new dueling pistols, Bruno has been tipped off about Ronald’s suspicions of his murderous crime. Little does Ronald realize he’s walking right into a trap from which he might not escape.