|Submitted by James@drfreudstein.com |
(Jun 20, 2002)
Baron Blood Director: Mario Bava (1972)
Having subjected myself to the original but tasteless 'Twitch of the death Nerve', I approached this piece of work with some degree of trepidation. 'Blood' was Bava's next film after the disappointing 'Twitch' and starred the then euro beauty Elke Sommer. Also featured was Josef Cotton.Filmed in the beautiful Austrian mountains, 'Baron Blood' is centred on one of the many spectacular medieval European castles. Cotton stars as student Peter Kleist who takes time to visit Austria in order to explore his family heritage. His most significant relative is one Baron Otto Van Kleist, a rather cruel Sixteenth Century nobleman who used to revel in terrorizing the local population of a nearby village. His appetite for cruelty earned him the less than eloquent title 'Baron Blood'. Peter learns that his ancestor met a rather violent end when the villagers, weary of his punitive tyranny, decided to torture and burn him as way of revenge.Peter is welcomed by the family of another relative and he is introduced to the castle where the Baron resided during his lifetime. Here he meets the beautiful Eva (Sommer) who explains the castles' history through her knowledge of local history. Peter shows her some of the research material he brought from the US regarding Van Kliest and his heritage. One of the documents includes a supposed incantation to bring the Baron back from the dead. It was claimed to have been devised by a woman branded as a witch by Van Kleist and burned at the stake. She used this incantation in the hope that her murderer would be brought back to life and have to suffer the pain of his wounds once more.Sensing the document to be erroneous, Peter and Eva nonetheless visit the room where the Barons death was meant to have taken place and recite the words upon it. Shortly, the castle bell tolls twice apparently to lament the exact time of the Baron's death. A figure accompanies the sound and attempts to gain access to the room where the Peter and Eva are residing. As quickly as it had arrived however, it was gone. Bava has some measure of success when introducing the medieval tone to the film. He is helped in no small part by the excellent surroundings in which he had to shoot this piece of work. The castle in which 'Baron Blood' was shot simply oozes mystical power to the point that the viewer is convinced that this is the place Van Kleist resided all those years beforehand.Peter realized that the room in which he had exercised the recital was not the same room in which Van Kleist had perished. Removing a temporary wall from the room in which they had originally read back the incantation, the two were amazed to find a secret compartment totally burned out. It was as someone had attempted to hide the room from others. Much to Eva's disgust, Peter again begins to read the words upon the ancient scroll. Again a bell tolls twice but this time the parchment blows into a fire and is completely destroyed. As with the previous attempt, a figure appears at the door and attempts to gain entry by pounding upon it. It leaves a trail of blood that seeps under the gaps at the base of the doorframe.This is of course the Baron; no prizes for guessing that. Van Kleist does not disappoint in either his appearance or his actions as I suspected he would. Suitably burned to a crisp, his face takes on the appearance of an over-done beef burger on a barbecue. He is also pleasingly aggressive as he proceeds to introduce numerous victims to the finer points of his torture chamber.Bava has our villain not as the lonely 'Phantom' character, but more like a Jack the Ripper. He wanders the streets searching for victims as much as he does reside in his castle. Van Kliests' Puritan-style clothing adds a certain air of authenticity to proceedings. His tall hat and black garb make him clearly visible through the murk as he hunts the people of the village. At certain points in the film it is as if Bava had decided that our villain was one Oliver Cromwell. I looked up a drawing of this controversial Englishman and his garb is extremely similar to that of Van Kleist's. I doubt that Bava used Cromwell as his model however as Barons and all other nobility were outlawed under the Puritan creed.What of the performances then? Well, Elke Sommer provides sex appeal if nothing else. Cotten is fairly solid throughout although never excels. Much of their work is based around the Baron's personality. His repertoire of torture takes the focus off the acting and in many ways negates the need for any Olivier-style performances. (Although of course this would never happen)Criticisms are few. Primarily, 'Baron Blood's' deficiencies are audio based. An absolutely ridiculous score at the beginning of the movie almost caused me to switch off. It sounded more like something from a 'Carry On' film rather than a gothic horror. Also, the general sound quality on the Region 0 disc I reviewed was terrible. Much of the dialogue was accompanied by a rather disturbing hiss that persisted. This was made much worse due to the fact that the original film sounds as if it was recorded in mono and at very low volume. Such a background sound is amplified ten-fold when you have to increase the volume in order to hear the dialogue.This aside, 'Baron Blood' is one of the jewels in the Bava crown. I do recommend it, but it's probably a good idea to wait for a new remastered disc to appear on the market.