Review: Baron Blood / Cert: 18 / Director: Mario Bava / Screenplay: Vincent Fortre / Starring: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Antonio Cantafora / Release Date: Out Now
Mario Bava made some of the greatest, most visually striking films of the '60s and '70s. By the time he made Baron Blood, the world had already seen Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and his previous film was the A Bay of Blood, the proto-slasher which influenced Friday the 13th. With Baron, Bava goes back to the Gothic roots of Black Sunday (1960), albeit in a modern setting.
Holidaying in Austria, Peter Kleist (Cantafora) pays a visit to his old ancestral home, which is being renovated to be a tourist attraction, and where he learns about his descendant, a sadistic 16th aristocrat, Baron Otto von Kleist, who notoriously tortured and killed many of his subjects. With Eva (Sommer), Peter inadvertently resurrects the evil Baron by reading aloud from an ancient parchment. The current owner is found dead, and the property put up for auction, only to be bought by the mysterious wheelchair-bound Alfred Becker (Cotten). The shadowy, mutilated figure of the long dead Baron is soon seen stalking the castle and village, and Eva and Peter have to find a way to reverse the incantation that brought him back.
The plot sags somewhat in the middle, but the use of Viennese locations (the only time he filmed outside of Italy due to a dislike of travelling) and the glorious cinematography (by Bava himself) more than make up for it. All the trappings of a great Gothic horror film are there, juxtaposed with the modern amenities (a Coca-Cola dispenser in the castle, for instance and the auction selling a shipment of large screen TVs). The vision of the Baron, in hat and trench coat, evokes Vincent Price in House of Wax (interestingly, Price was the first choice for the Cotten role). Elke Sommer, who was much more effective in Bava's later Lisa and the Devil, does little more than scream at every given opportunity, but it is Bava's luscious style and macabre touches that delight the most, and are enough to keep the attention. The new Blu-ray release offers three cuts of the film, an “export version” in English, the same cut in subtitled Italian and the shorter American “AIP” version, which had a different, more traditionally spooky score by Les Baxter. Maybe not the best film with which to introduce yourself to Bava's work, but still a lot of fun.
Extras: HD Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of three versions of the film: “Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga” with Italian opening and closing titles and “Baron Blood” with English opening and closing titles and the European English export version audio, and the AIP version with alternate score by Les Baxter / Three audio versions: Optional Italian, European English and AIP English re-dub and re-score / Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas / Introduction to “Baron Blood” by author and critic Alan Jones / “Bava at Work” slide show / Interview with director Ruggero Deodato on Bava / Trailers / Radio Spots / Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Oliver James, illustrated with original archive stills and posters