Baron Blood (1972)
By: Julian on July 21, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Control Productions (Australia), All Regions, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 98 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Rada Rassimov, Antonio Cantafora
Screenplay: Vincent Fotre
Country: West Germany/ Italy
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Say 'sixties Italo-horror' and, without skipping a beat, most connoisseurs of that genre would respond, 'Mario Bava'. Indeed, Bava's works have proven seminal in their depiction of atmospheric, Gothic settings and judicious use of the violence that became Grand Guignol-esque at the turn of the decade. I could be described as new to Bava's directorial oeuvre, spanning some thirty-five years and thirty-seven films until his death in 1980. Baron Blood is the third Mario Bava film I've seen and, as I was with his similar 1966 picture Kill Baby… Kill!, I was bitterly disappointed.

Baron Blood's protagonist is an American chap called Peter Kleist (Cantafora), who travels to Vienna to research his family heritage, particularly the legend of his great-grandfather Baron Otto von Kleist, a notorious sadist who owned a castle in the country where he would torture and murder his victims. Peter's uncle Karl informs him that the Baron's castle is being turned into a tourist getaway capitalising on its grisly history and Peter pays a visit to his grandfather's residence and human abattoir.

Mayor Dortmundt and his assistant Eva are overseeing the refurbishment of the castle. One evening, Peter and Eva go through some of the castle's innumerable nooks and crannies and discover an incantation that would rise the Baron from his dusty grave. Of course, they recite it for a laugh, as you do, and the Baron does indeed rise, vowing vengeance on the good folk who ended his spree of murder and mayhem. There are a few plot developments throughout the course of the picture including the sale of the castle to a sinister, wheelchair-bound man and the involvement of a clairvoyant (played by Rada Rassimov, exploitation icon Ivan's sister), which are essentially bridging sequences that pass the time before the film is able to showcase Bava's ability on the horror stage.

Admittedly, no one does it better than Bava when it comes to Gothic atmosphere – generations of directors have imitated this style (among the most accomplished, at least in Italian genre cinema, was Argento with Suspiria and D'Amato with Anthropophagous). This style is evident in Baron Blood and, at risk of recycling an old cliché, the castle and its grounds is another character altogether, changing as the characters do and in turn accommodating and repelling the advances of the evil Baron. However, an overly disproportionate balance of style over substance has been a staple in Italian horror cinema, and Bava, as the genre's capo, is the main culprit of this. Characters are developed in a shallow and contrived manner, making these sequences a chore to get through. At the end, they're not even filled out by the performances which are, at best, as wooden as a national park.

The concept isn't terribly original, merely a refinement of what Bava pioneered during the sixties with superior films such as Black Sunday (1960). Visually, Baron Blood is a fine picture, the Gothic atmosphere working well as Bava appears to have a good hand on things directorially. However, the fillers are appalling. Character development and acting made for entirely unappealing entertainment and as soon as Bava moved away from the shocks and to the story, the proceedings became hollow and trite. These issues were transposed from Kill Baby… Kill!, a similar film in plot and aesthetics.

Of particular note here is Samuel Z Arkoff on production duties. Arkoff bought the rights for and distributed Black Sunday through his distribution company American International Pictures, and produced and distributed Baron Blood. Arkoff commissioned Les Baxter, an AIP regular, to rescore Stelvio Cipriani's music (as he did with Bava's 1963 film Black Sabbath) for American audiences and Baxter's score remains in this version of the film and all others except the Italian print. AIP excised eight minutes of gore and expository dialogue for Baron Blood's theatrical run and, staple to most of their productions, launched a deliciously schlocky advertising campaign, warning viewers that they forfeit liability for cinemagoers who have 'apoplectic strokes, cerebral haemorrhages, cardiac seizures or fainting spells during the shockingly gruesome scenes of the film'. This has been nostalgically plastered on every Baron Blood poster and DVD slick since.

Baron Blood pares down what Bava is clearly good at – establishing a brooding, Gothic horror vibe – and ties together these consummately directed sequences with fundamentally inept character developments and plot contrivances. Unfortunately, it isn't quite enough to recommend Baron Blood. Weak.
Video
1:33:1 fullscreen. Hark back to the video age, dear viewers, and marvel in Control's utter command of DVD failure. And what's even funnier is the assertion that this disc is 'digitally remastered from the original elements'. If the original elements were Bava's bowel movements, this looks pretty superb. But there's no evidence that this has even been digitally touched, let alone remastered. Execrable.
Audio
The royal shafting. I've never felt so shafted in my life. Variable English Dolby stereo, and I've heard better quality tracks on nth generation VHS dubs clogged with dust. Baxter's score is typical fare and Cipriani's music, which has been unpreviewed, is said to be of considerably higher quality.
Extra Features
Control Exec 1: So, what features should we give 'em?

Control Exec 2: Uhh… Christ… uhh, how about… a DVD menu? A…. static… DVD menu!

Control Exec 1: Good thinking!
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A sub-par film on a thoroughly abominable DVD. Control shows complete, shameless contempt for the consumer in releasing this entirely detestable disc, and even if I adored the movie, it'd still get one star. Bava fans can go Region 1, everyone else would do well to avoid altogether.

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