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May 8, 2013

Movie Review: Baron Blood (1972, aka Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga)

Directed by Mario Bava

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Well-heeled, if vapid American college student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafore) flies to Vienna, Austria to take a break from his college studies and to look up his family's history. He's there to research his great-grandfather, Baron Otto Von Kleist, known in hushed whispers as “Baron Blood.” It seems that his great grandpa was a wealthy, sadistic SOB who tortured and killed the surrounding villagers at his castle, before a witch placed a curse on him and he was set on fire by the local peons. Meeting with Herr Dortmund (Dieter Tressler) the entrepreneur responsible for the current hotel project, Peter becomes smitten with Dortmundt's beautiful assistant Eva (fetching Frau Elke Sommer, capering about in micro-miniskirts and plunging necklines). During the course of a slow evening, Peter and Eva hightail it to the castle to read an ancient parchment intended to bring the notorious Baron back to life. They do so, and the Baron comes back to life and starts killing people anew. Now, how will they set things right after playing their ill-advised party game?

Re-watching this film so soon after the death of director Jesus Franco, who died last month at the age of 82, I was reminded how Mario Bava was one of the few directors who could get away with a zoom lens. A most hated camera move, as it cannot replicate the human eye, Bava was zoom-happy at this stage of his career. He did it so well, however, we could forgive him for its overuse. Bava always took great care to properly light and focus a scene, and so his zooms, always smoothly executed, were never intrusive. Quite unlike Franco, whose camera was frequently out of focus, indifferently lit and ragged. Those who think all of his films are worthy of study escape my comprehension. This reviewer hopes he hasn't stepped on any toes!

No one will mistake Baron Blood for a terrific movie. It's definitely lower case Bava, rather mild with long, dull stretches. There is also unintentional humor to be had. Immediately being brought back to life, the shuffling Baron, a mass of rotting and burned flesh dressed in a slouch hat and vampire hat barges in to the office of a local general practitioner in the middle of the night, who finds nothing out of the ordinary. Natch, after he treats him, the Baron kills the kindly doc with a spare scalpel. Second-billed Joseph Cotton turns up late in the film. Skittering about in a wheelchair, Cotton seems to be channeling Vincent Price in many scenes.

On the plus side, many of the scenes are impeccably shot and lit, and are highly atmospheric in only the way Mario Bava could make them. All the eye candy goes for naught, as the truly lousy script has the titular monster dropping out of the action for long stretches. This type of Gothic hokum would soon become hopelessly dated with the arrival of The Exorcist in 1973, but it's interesting that the Middle European setting coupled with the plentiful torture devices would be ridden later to popular acclaim with Eli Roth's Hostel series. Nicoletta Elmi, the young red-headed girl who would appear in countless European horror films during this time – Bava's A Bay of Blood, Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, Who Saw Her Die?, Deep Red – and go on to a spectacular adult turn as the high-fashion ticket taker in Lamberto Bava's Demons, is given very little to do here.

Cheezy Flicks does an admirable job with this public domain title. There are chapter stops, a halfway decent transfer, the film's original English-language trailer, an “About Us” disclaimer, and actually come up with an Easter Egg for this disc. Click on the curlicue on the DVD's main title, and you will get an 8 mm, black and white version of Hammer Studio's Frankenstein Must be Destroyed! Running in total silence and lasting less than three minutes, far less than the usual eight minutes given to these relics in the days before home video, it comes as a most welcome surprise. Cheezy Flicks, didn't HAVE to include this, but did anyway, for the faithful customer who plunked down money for this disc.

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