Blu-ray Review: Baron Blood (1972)

Baron Blood BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Antonio Cantafora, Rada Rassimov

Baron Blood was originally released in 1972 and saw Italian horror maestro Mario Bava return to the atmospheric Gothic style that he had pioneered in 1960 with Black Sunday. The dozen years in between the two films had seen horror movies move from the stately grandeur of Bava’s creative vision and the equally enticing Gothic terror of Hammer Studio’s output to a more contemporary styling that notable films such as Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead would come to represent. In doing so, horror films had gotten gorier, sexier and were appealing to a younger audience who weren’t concerned with Victorian monsters or sci-fi aliens, and Baron Blood was Bava’s attempt to revamp his tried and tested formula in a modern setting.

Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) returns to his ancestral hometown in Austria and visits the castle that belonged to his distant ancestor Baron Otto Von Kleist (Joseph Cotten – Citizen Kane), otherwise known as Baron Blood. The Baron had been something of a tyrant in his time and used to torture and hang his victims from the castle’s tower for the whole village to see. A curse had been placed on the Baron by a witch whom he had burned at the stake and the parchment with an invocation to bring the Baron back to life gets shown to Peter by Eva (Elke Sommer – Carry on Behind/Lisa & the Devil), an architect renovating the castle. Naturally Peter reads the spell out loud and before long old Uncle Otto is back and up to his old tricks as villagers start getting butchered.

As a simple horror story Baron Blood is perfectly serviceable but once you start putting it under heavy scrutiny it doesn’t quite hold up as much as Mario Bava’s other Gothic masterpieces. For a start the resurrected corpse of the Baron looks pretty terrible, even by 1971 standards. In a look similar to the phantom from The Phantom of the Opera, the Baron creeps around the Austrian village in his old fashioned cloak and hat in a baroque style that doesn’t do much to move the style on from what Hammer had been doing for the previous decade and was beginning to look a little – forgive the pun – old hat. The Baron fares better in his human form as Alfred Becker, a mysterious wheelchair-bound character who buys the castle at an auction. It is interesting to note that Vincent Price was originally offered the role of Becker/von Kleist but turned it down as he and Bava had allegedly had a bit of previous. Veteran actor Joseph Cotten does just fine hamming it up as Becker and the film does bear a similar sense of the theatrical as many of Price’s Roger Corman-produced films of the ’60s, but one can’t help thinking that had Price accepted the role the film may have been just a little bit more rewarding.

The acting overall is a little shaky but not to the detriment of the film. Elke Sommer adds some much needed physical beauty amongst the dark and dirty settings of the castle but her role is nothing more than being Peter’s sidekick. The script is pretty standard stuff and doesn’t go anywhere other than where you would expect, meaning that it is up to Bava’s auteurist sensibilities to keep the film on track and, if truth be told, this film is lacking when put up against Black Sunday or Black Sabbath. Although it is still identifiable as a Mario Bava film it all feels a little cheaper and, for use of a better phrase, Bava-lite, the lighting nowhere near as effective as in many of his other works and for a film running at 97 minutes it feels a lot longer.

The disc itself comes with the usual bumper selection of goodies from Arrow, including trailers, revised subtitles and language options, an introduction by Italian horror expert Alan Jones, photo gallery of Bava at work, a short interview with Italian director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) who reflects on the time he met Mario Bava, reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet written by film critic James Oliver. There are also three versions of the film, with Bava’s original Italian version, the European export version with alternate opening and ending plus the re-edited AIP version that has an alternate score. The picture looks crisp and the colours rich but audio seemed to be a little muddy and difficult to make out what was being said, although this is probably likely down to the original source.

Baron Blood is worth a look for Italian horror/giallo completists and the package that Arrow has put together certainly bolsters up what is generally considered to be one of the weaker films in Mario Bava’s portfolio of work. There are some wonderful moments here – the coffin lid with spikes on the inside being a particular standout – but it is the bits in-between those moments that tend to drag and in this instance the slightly off-kilter Gothic atmospherics just aren’t enough to keep you engaged for the whole of the running time.

Baron Blood

Special Features: Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas, introduction by author and critic Alan Jones, trailers, radio spots, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Oliver James, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

UK Release Date: 29th April 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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