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Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Ana Castor, Howard Vernon, Paula Martel, Georges Rollin, Hugo Blanco
Length: 96 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: French: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English optional
- Theatrical trailer
Those who know Spanish exploitation maestro Jess Franco from his psychedelic ‘70s extravaganzas like Vampyros Lesbos and Venus in Furs, or from more self-indulgent efforts like Female Vampire with its endless zoom-ins on Lina Romay’s muff, may be surprised by some of the more conventional black & white horror thrillers he made in the ‘60s. These include The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), Dr. Jekyll and His Mistresses (1964), and The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966). Though, at face value, they may look like many other films produced in Europe at the time, Franco’s transgressive impulses were already making themselves felt, with sadeian motifs such as beautiful women being stalked, tortured and raped, cutting through the relatively formal storylines and visual design.
The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), with its gorgeous black & white cinematography, courtesy of Godofredo Pacheco (The Awful Dr. Orlof, The Carpet of Horror), tells the story of a small French village being plagued by a series of sadistic murders. The police investigation centers on Baron von Klaus (Howard Vernon) and his family, who reside in a nearby castle. But, some of the townsfolk are terrified that the murderer may, in fact, be the ghost of the Baron’s descendant: the 15th century Baron von Klaus who was cursed by his father to walk the marshy land forever for his awful deeds.The above description could easily be from a Hammer film of the ‘60s (minus the black & white cinematography), yet Hammer’s brand of horror was too tame for Franco, who infused his films — even at this early stage — with rather more disturbing elements. In one scene of Von Klaus, the black-gloved killer strips a woman naked, lashes her with a whip, and then strings her up and rapes her right before our eyes. Hammer would have never gotten such a scene past Sir James Carreras, let alone the British censors. Even though Franco mitigates the gratuitousness of it by cutting the live sound and leaving it to play like an expressionistic music video, the scene is still pretty shocking for 1962. Howard Vernon, Franco’s favorite villain, is appropriately creepy as Baron Von Klaus. His capability to be both menacing and sympathetic gives Franco the ability to make us wonder whether he is the real villain or not, something that Franco exploits in order to prolong the mystery. One of Franco’s other obsessions were extremely beautiful women, and there is no shortage of them in Von Klaus; even if none of them are as memorable as his later muses, Lina Romay and Soledad Miranda. But, undeniably, the film’s main attractions are the stark, noir-like cinematography and the highly atmospheric Gothic set pieces — the Baron’s old castle, complete with cobwebs and torture dungeon, and the eerily empty cobblestone streets of the old town, with a woman’s frantic footsteps echoing in the night.
Kino and Redemption Films have done their usual minimalist restoration for this release of Baron Von Klaus. That’s not a criticism, for, while white specs and other debris can dominate the texture in places, and a slightly annoying vertical line intrudes on the left side of the frame for the first few minutes of the film, the print, overall is in very decent shape. Most importantly, the film grain looks natural, and there are no signs of edge sharpening or DNR filtering. Yet, the image overall has a nice crispness and richness of detail. It’s not always perfectly stable, but there is nothing terribly wrong with this presentation either.
There is only one mono audio track, but it does the job admirably. Like the image, there was minimal restoration done to this original French track and that’s fine. The dialog and music come over crisply and with fine presence. There are optional English subtitles available.
The only extra feature with this release is the original theatrical trailer.
The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus may be rather mild-mannered Franco, but its stunning cinematography and potent atmosphere makes it worth seeking out and forming an opinion on. In later years, the Spanish maestro would become much more transgressive but, even at this early stage, there are some sadeian delights to be had. In any case, this Region A release from Kino Lorber and Redemption Films fills an important gap for Franco fans and cinephiles alike. Check it out!