Monday, November 11, 2013

Baron Blood (1972)

Mario Bava is one of the undisputed masters of Italian horror cinema. Black Sunday (1960), Kill Baby Kill (1966) Lisa and the Devil (1973) and Black Sabbath (1963) are among his most famous films that show the master at his best. Baron Blood (1972) however catches the maestro on a not so great day.

Elke Sommer.....just looking gorgeous.
Peter Kliest has traveled to Austria to visit his ancestral family’s home. The castle has quite the reputation in the area as being the home of a “Baron Blood” aka Otto Von Kleist. The Baron was an evil man and tortured many a villager until the day he was burned at the stake for his crimes. While visiting the castle and researching his family’s gruesome heritage, Peter meets architect Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer). Eva is in charge of renovating the castle to turn it into a hotel. The castle comes with its own well stocked torture chamber, a lovely added extra for anyone wanting to visit Austria I’m sure.

All the comforts of home...we'll leave the light on for ya!
Peter comes across several papers which contain a magic spell that can resurrect the old Baron and coaxes Eva to accompany him while he reads it aloud. The invocation does indeed bring something into their realm as the atmosphere becomes tense and an unseen force attempts to open a door to gain entrance into the castle. Peter reads the second paper to send the presence back to where it came from and a paranormal disaster is adverted. Now you would think the story would end here right? Oh no! If it did the movie would have only lasted twenty minutes. Later in the film Peter decides to invoke the spirit of the Baron again but this time one of the papers is blown into the fireplace, destroying their chance at sending the evil force back. So now the Baron is back in the real world complete with cape and slouching hat and bad case of charred flesh from being burned at the stake. The Baron then goes on a killing spree and with each murder regains a more human form.
A time share? coaxed me the castle for this?

The murders have caused the renovations to take a nose dive so enter wheelchair bound Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotton) to save the day. The wealthy businessman buys the castle at auction keeps Eva on to renovate the castle. Becker’s plans however do not include a hotel but now the castle with be his own and to be restored to its original specifications.

Mr. Price go home you're drunk and in the wrong movie.
 Eva is quickly menaced however by the ghostly Baron and in a rather “House of Wax (1953)” inspired chase through the foggy streets escapes his clutches. Peter and Eva turn to a local medium Christine (Rada Rassimov) for help and through a spiritual invocation receive information on how to send the Baron back to the grave. Christine gives Eva an amulet which will help them in their cause.


Peter’s niece Gretchen (Nicoletta Elmi) has an encounter with the Baron on the way home from school but she escapes. Later she meets Becker at the castle and tells her father Karl (Massimo Girott) that Becker and the Baron are one in the same. Of course this is all revealed to be true when Becker lets the cat out of the bag himself. So now the Baron seems to be superhuman. Bullets cannot harm him and he takes everyone captive. While the Baron enjoys having Peter chained up and attempts to scar him with a hot iron, Eva finds the way to destroy the horrible Baron. The amulet she was given is dropped onto the body of one of the Baron’s victims and her blood from a wound also falls upon it. This resurrects the body and causes a chain reaction where all of the Baron’s victims show up and attack him, literally ripping him to pieces.

What's your sleep number?
There are three really good aspects of this film; Sommer’s beauty, Cotton’s acting and Bava’s vision. Take away any one of these aspects and I don’t think the film works. It’s not a great Bava film. There isn’t a lot of prowling camera work although the chase sequence is well done. The castle shots and atmosphere are well played and add much to the overall film. Still it is no Black Sabbath or Lisa and the Devil (also starring Sommer). Bava is able to achieve a nice mix of 1970’s European modernism and gothic spookiness however. One thing that bothered me through the film is that I felt like I had seen it before and sure enough it dawned on me while I wrote this blog entry. I had indeed basically seen the same storyline in the Antonio Margheriti film Horror Castle (1963) starring Christopher Lee. I am not sure if this is just a coincidence or not but if you have seen both take a moment and think about it.
Old pan n scan VHS release from Thorn/Emi...later HBO VIDEO.

Kino Lorber Home Video has released Baron Blood on Blu-Ray which is what I viewed. Considering that I had only previously seen this movie via the Thorn/Emi VHS release from the 80's, this release is a 120%  better experience. The high definition 35mm transfer is stunning to say the least. Sadly though there isn't much to get excited about in the extras department. The alternate title sequences is available in it's original language and there is audio commentary by Tim Lucas. The original trailer is included as well as some radio spots but that's pretty much it. A little disappointing but still worth the ticket price for being able to see this one in HD!


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