Title: Baron Blood (1972)
Director: Mario Bava
Writer: Vincent Fotre
Stars: Elke Sommer, Joseph Cotton, Massimo Girotti
On this film Mario Bava wanted to go back to making the old gothic horror movies that he worshiped and loved so much. By 1972, he’d already made a slasher or two (Bay of Blood (1971) for example) and he wanted to go back to those types of horror films he’d made in the past. Films like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963), both of which were tributes to old Universal monster movies and basically, old school horror films in general.
The story revolves around a young man who decides to go and search out his family roots. So he visits a Castle in Vienna which belonged to an old ancestor of his; the bloodthirsty torture loving Baron Otto Von Kleist know to all for the many victims he tortured under his reign of terror! This evil Baron was cursed by a witch to an eternity in the darkest pits of hell. Unfortunately, through the use of a magical parchment and some magic incantations, the evil Baron can be brought back to life! Which is what our two protagonists do. By mistake they resurrect the evil Baron, joking around with the parchment and the magical incantations, thinking it’s all a lot of silly superstition. Unfortunately for them, the incantations were real! And so the Baron comes back to life to continue with his bad habits of torturing people. Can the Baron be stopped? Will he ever get sent back to the fiery pits of hell?
"Excuse me, are these the try outs for the new Freddy Krugger movie?"
This movie has its moments, but I doubt it’s an accurate representation of Bava’s genius behind the camera. Don’t take that the wrong way because there’s lots of good things to be seen in a mediocre Bava movie. For example, this movie has the lush atmospheric visuals that Bava is known for. He plays around a lot with lighting techniques on Baron Blood. There are a lot of streaks of light coming out of backgrounds, and lots of play with shadows and light. Speaking of shadows and light, the mysterious Baron Blood is kept in shrouded darkness for practically the whole movie. All we see is a glimmer, a dark blot, a shadowy figure moving about in silhouette. In this way the titular Baron reminded me of characters like The Phantom of the Opera and Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990). You know, tragic characters hiding behind hats and trench coats.
Baron Blood has all the ingredients necessary to make an interesting character, unfortunately, he isnt really fleshed out and is reduced to running amongst the shadows of the castle. He's kind of a Vlad the Impaler type of guy. Everyone feared him because of his love of torture and murder; he is portrayed as a sadistic individual. His resurrection sequence brought to mind the resurrection of the evil Igor Javutich in Mario Bava’s own Black Sunday (1966). And this is something that Baron Blood is known for. Apparently Bava quotes himself a lot on this film, repeating images and situations from his previous films. Baron Blood himself is compared to the cloaked killer in Blood and Black Lace. There is a sequence in which Baron Blood uses an Iron Maiden-like coffin to kill one of his victims, just like the Iron Maiden-like mask seen in Black Sunday. In fact, after a character is killed in the Iron Maiden, we see his face and it looks just like the face of the witch in Black Sunday, a face filled with holes due to the effects of the Iron Maiden. Connoisseurs of Bava might instantly recognize the repetitiveness on this film. Are these signs of wear and tear in Bava’s directorial career? Was Bava running out of ideas and therefore repeated many things he’d done in the past? You be the judge. But we need to keep in mind that Baron Blood came real late in Bava’s career. He was as they say, on his last legs. And like many horror directors during their last days, Bava wasn’t at his best by this stage. Three more movies after Baron Blood, and Bava's long fruitful career was over.
My main problem with Baron Blood was that it had many interesting elements going for it, yet it failed to be a great movie. The film was shot in a real life castle in Vienna which was a perfectly spooky and atmospheric for the story to unfold. We have the story of the resurrection of an evil supernatural entity. We have Iron Maidens, witches, and yes…even zombies! But unfortunately, all these elements do not add up to an exciting motion picture. To me the real problem with this film was its pacing; the film is way to slow! And for a movie about a character called Baron Blood, there is very little blood on this film! Save for a scene in which we see blood coming in through the cracks of a door, there isn’t much blood on this flick. Even the body count is low as hell. I wished they would have made the Baron a more formidable foe. I wished he would have been portrayed as a more interesting character. Unfortunately all the Baron does is run around the shadows, scaring Elke Sommer until she passes out.
Story wise, the movie could have gone in a more interesting route. Unfortunately, the film is just about the evil Baron being resurrected, him killing about three people, and then being sent back to hell. The story is so simple; you can tell some scenes are just there to stretch things out. Some scenes go absolutely nowhere which is kind of infuriating for me. One example of this is one scene where a clairvoyant invokes the spirit of the witch that put a curse on the Baron. This is an interesting scene because we see this witch come out of the fire, talking to us "from beyond the grave". After this ghostly apparition helps the protagonists, they leave. But the clairvoyant is visited by the Baron himself. But we never know what happens to the clairvoyant after she gets a visit from the Baron. Was the clairvoyant killed by the Baron? Did she use some magic to protect herself against him? Sadly we never know what happened for all we see is her covering herself with her arms and Bava cuts to something else entirely, never returning to that scene! What happened there? I wanted to know! Signs of wear and tear in deed.
One of the most visually interesting moments in the film
This film counts as Elke Sommer’s first collaboration with Bava; the second one was Lisa and the Devil (1974). She is not hard on the eyes I can tell you that! With all its flaws and slow pacing, Baron Blood can still end up being a rewarding watch. Even though it’s slow paced, and the story is paper thin, the film is drenched in Bava’s signature atmosphere and beautiful imagery, so at least it has that going for it. Unfortunately it sins by being boring, and I can honestly say its not one of Bava’s best.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5
The original title translates to: "The Horror at Nuremberg Castle"