Mario Bava’s Baron Blood looks better than ever in Kino Lorber’s new blu-ray release.
Italian horror cinema, and, arguably, much of post-1960s horror, would not be the same without Mario Bava – director, cinematographer and master of horror and fantasy films. Bava covered a wide range of genres throughout his career – fantasy, sword-and-sandal films, spy spoofs, historical drama, action epics and spaghetti westerns – but his horror films are among the finest ever made. Some of his classic works, like Blood and Black Lace and Twitch of the Death Nerve, effectively created the Italian giallo film and helped define the slasher.
Baron Blood (1972), or Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, is Bava’s final Gothic horror film, and somewhat of a throwback to his earlier, more influential efforts like Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and The Whip and the Body. These films are all concerned with troubled families, personal legacy and sexualized physical violence. Baron Blood recycles this formula and visually references these earlier works; most of all it feels like a fond farewell letter to his favorite genre, but benefits from stars Joseph Cotten and Eurohorror babe Elke Sommer. Baron Blood has been distributed on Image and Anchor Bay DVDs for several years, but recently received a beautiful Blu-Ray transfer from Kino Lorber, who gives the same attention to detail to Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Black Sunday, and Lisa and the Devil.
An American student named Peter visits Austria to learn about his infamous great-great grandfather, Baron von Kleist, a Vlad the Impaler-type figure known for torturing and killing hundreds of villagers. Peter visits the ancestral von Kleist castle, which is being turned into a hotel for tourists. Here, he meets Eva, an attractive architectural assistant, and shows her an old parchment that will allegedly resurrect the Baron, if read aloud at midnight in the castle. For some reason, this seems like a reasonable idea, and they bring the psychotic Baron back to life. Corpses pile up around the castle and the hotel project is cancelled, allowing a strange millionaire to buy the property. When Eva is stalked and nearly killed by a mysterious figure, she and Peter rush to find a way to put the sadistic Baron back in his grave.
Baron Blood is stiff and formulaic, and it’s odd that Bava attempted to revive Gothic horror after a long string of gialli, but the film really only suffers from one major flaw: anachronism. Unlike his earlier Gothic efforts, the setting is modern, something Bava signifies with regular visual cues, like the Coca-Cola machine in the castle, and Eva’s bizarre, garish wardrobe. The slow pace and lack of twists, violence or nudity do not help matters. The Baron is a disappointing figure, with cheesy make up and a costume copied from Phantom of the Opera. The wonderful Joseph Cotten is simply mediocre here, and feels miscast. Whether intentional or not, a lot about the Baron is reminiscent of the villain in the Vincent Price vehicle House of Wax (1953). According to Bava scholar Tim Lucas, the role was originally meant for Price, who turned it down after his negative experience working with Bava on Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965).
German actress Elke Sommer, the star of some of Bava’s later films, is lovely to look at, if a bit hysterical. She has much more to offer in his next film, the magical Lisa and the Devil. Antonio Cantafora is a bland leading man, but bears an interesting visual similarity to a few of Bava’s other leads – John Phillip Law from Danger: Diabolik and Stephen Forsyth from Hatchet for the Honeymoon. Rada Rassimov (Eurohorror regular, Ivan Rassimov’s sister) is great in double roles as the modern day psychic and the historic witch that cursed the Baron. Finally, there is a sizable role for child actor Nicoletta Elmi (Deep Red, Bay of Blood and, in her adult years, Demons), surely one of the most disturbing children ever captured on screen.
Kino Lorber’s disc’s audio sounds great, though it suffers marginally from age-related imperfections. There are moments where background hiss is more noticeable, along with occasional pops or crackles, but the dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Stelvio Cipriani’s repetitive score doesn’t quite fit with the source material, but at least sounds nice in this mix. The only major drawback with the audio is that no subtitle options are included.
The new, high definition Blu-ray transfer looks absolutely beautiful and far outshines the older DVD releases, even though it is not without flaws. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is taken from the 35mm negative and does have some graininess and occasional muddiness, but the colors are vibrant, which makes up for some age-related issues similar to those of the disc’s audio. Sadly, the disc’s improvements bring more attention to the film’s obnoxiously frequent use of zoom lens. (Is this where Lucio Fulci picked up the habit?)
Though there aren’t an overwhelming amount of extras on this disc, you only need one: the amazing audio commentary from Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog editor and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Many of Lucas’ commentaries are engaging, informative and fast paced, and this is no exception. Even fans who don’t typically delve into all the special features on a DVD will enjoy this immensely. Also included are additional opening and closing Italian title sequences, three radio spots, and a number of trailers – the Italian and English Baron Blood trailers, Black Sunday, Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Lisa and the Devil/The House of Exorcism.
Baron Blood is not one of Bava’s finest films. I would not recommend it for those new to this great director’s work. With that said, Baron Blood’s beautiful, atmospheric visuals render it, at the very least, an entertaining installment in his later filmmaking period. A chase sequence in the fog-filled alley, the Baron’s resurrection, and the corpses around the castle all make for very fine set pieces. All the ingredients are present, and even though they don’t completely add up, a mediocre Bava film still plays better than even the best of most horror directors.
~ By Samm Deighan