Monday, March 15, 2010

Mario Bava's Baron Blood (1972)

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"

Baron BloodBaron Blood [VHS]


Mr. Fiendish said...

as much as it hurts me, I have to agree with you, because I'm such a bava nut. This movie bored me too. The creature looks too much like Vincent Price in House of Wax, and the chase scene in the streets is a shot-by-shot reproduction of the one in House Of Wax with Vincent Price. Why would a master like Bava decide to imitate this film? Was he lazy? Who knows. I'm not a fan of Baron Blood.

Franco Macabro said...

I think its cause he was getting old, and like Argento is doing now, he was simply "loosing it".

Bava did duplicate many things from other films, when you watch Black Sunday, its essentially Dracula all over again, but instead of a vampire, its with a witch. But Black Sunday has many scenes completely swiped from Dracula. Which is fine, cause he gave it his own twist, and thats what really matter when you are paying homage or showing your influences.

But maybe on this one he was being too literall. By the way, you mention Vincent Price, and thats funny, because Price was Bavas original choice for playing Baron Blood, but Price declined, probably cause he didnt want to travel to Italy to film it.

Still, Baron Blood has its moments.

Im hoping Kill Baby Kill is better cause that one is next for me.

Bob Ignizio said...

No argument from me on this one. It's not a terrible movie, but it definitely feels uninspired. Like Bava was just going through the motions and picking up a paycheck. I wouldn't chalk it up to age, though. Bava made a few of his best films around this time - 'Twitch of the Death Nerve' aka 'Bay of Blood', 'Lisa and the Devil', and his final film, 'Rabid Dogs'. I think this was more a case of the man treading overly familiar territory that he had already explored to its fullest years ago, and certainly not helped by a pedestrian script and somewhat bland cast.

Bryce Wilson said...

Spot on with this film. Its kind of annoying even Cotton seems bored.

But like you said, it has its moments.

Hope you like Kill Baby Kill. Its my favorite Bava movie I think you'll enjoy.

James Gracey said...

It is good to see that you are still journeying through Bava's work and enjoying it. I agree, whilst this is not amongst his better work, it is still a stylish and atmospheric flick. Even when Bava wasn't on top form, he still produced interesting and great looking films!

Franco Macabro said...

@Bob: Your right Bob, he did make Lisa and the Devil after this one, and I enjoyed that one quite a bit, it was offbeat and had the strangest dreamlike vibe. A movie that warrants your full attention as well! I guess Black Sabbath and Black Sunday were so great in terms of gothic spookiness and old school horror vibe that anything he did similar to that was going to pale in comparison, which is what happened with Baron Blood.

@Bryce: I will be watching and reviewing Kill Baby Kill sometime before the week is over. Hopefully! Im so buys promoting my own film that its getting a bit tough to do anything else, but I will take some time out for Bava!

@James: Totally agree James, even with all its faults, Baron Blood is better then a lot of the shitty horror movies being produced today. Its only when compared to his own films that it pales a bit.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I am in the same circle as each of you, BARON BLOOD is a guilty pleasure and pretty eye candy at best, but not even close to the exemplars Bava displayed in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or any of his Gothic entries. Still, its fun to pop in with a bowl of popcorn so you can click the ol brain off

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with you Carl, its not that I hated it, but Ive defenetly seen better from Bava. Blood and Black Lace is the next Bava movie for me, expect a review soon!

Anonymous said...

Once again, brilliant review, Space. Elke's legs were one of the (if not ONLY) saving graces of this film.

I was wondering and absolutely no pressure, would you like to do a joint review some time?


Franco Macabro said...

I'd love that Tagia, write me an e-mail and well see what we can come up with!


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