Kino Lorber // 1972 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // December 17th, 2012
He sought the ultimate in human agony.
After making a name for himself in gothic horror during his early career, legendary Italian director Mario Bava (Planet of the Vampires) left the style for over a decade, preferring to work in thrillers and, eventually, pure splatter. He returned to his roots, though, in 1972 with Baron Blood, a Hammer-style piece of gothic cinema that recalls the films of the popular British studio and his own early work. Baron Blood is now available for the first time in high-definition from Kino International.
Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora, Demons 2), an American graduate student, comes to Austria to find his roots where his uncle tells him of his infamous ancestor, Baron von Kleist, an insane sadist who staked his fallen enemies on pikes around his castle. The townspeople are still afraid of the legend, but the story stokes Peter's curiosity. With the help of Eva (Elke Sommer, Lisa and the Devil), a local researcher, he enters the castle and recites an incantation intended to bring him back from the dead. Unfortunately, the reverse incantation blows into the fireplace and is destroyed. Suddenly, a wheelchair-bound eccentric (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) shows up to buy the estate and people start disappearing. Peter and Eva believe he is the reincarnation of the Baron and, without the ability to reverse their evil work, must find a way to send him back to the grave.
Baron Blood is certainly not Mario Bava's best work and there are plenty of problems with it, but it's an interesting piece of entertainment that is a welcome return to the type of filmmaking that the director did best. It's a colorful and violent film with a number of callbacks to his early classics, especially Black Sabbath and Black Sunday, two of his very best. It makes for an interesting piece of work, but also one that reminds viewers how much better those films are than this one.
Baron Blood is still a lot of fun, though. Joseph Cotten does his best Vincent Price as the sinister Baron. There's never any suspense about his identity, but he chews the scenery as well as any Hammer villain, wheeling himself around sneering and leering at Elke Sommer, who is appealing as ever here. Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy little redhead who appeared in a lot of Italian horror for a few years in the seventies, makes her presence known as well, and her performance is all the more unsettling by doing her own dubbing. Her screechy voice and stilted grasp of English just makes things weird. The only real disappointing performance is Antonio Cantafora. His lead performance is more reminiscent of something out of an Italian softcore production, which is made even more apparent in the beginning with the awful airplane opening sequence and even worse title song.
Bava created a shadowy, grisly gothic fantasy in Baron Blood. The torture scenes are effective (this is the full 98-minute Italian print, featuring more of this than in many older prints and the original American release, which ran only 90), the performances are good enough, and the effects are better than average for Italian horror. There are plenty of little problems with the film, but it's pretty cheap and that doesn't matter so much to me. It delivers what I expect: a ghost story that delivers the violence a movie with a title like Baron Blood promises. Fun stuff.
As has been the case with previous Blu-ray releases of Mario Bava's work, Kino has done a fine job on Baron Blood. The 1.85:1/1080p image transfer isn't perfect, but the film looks better than it ever has, with strong detail and excellent depth. The colors are represented very well and black levels look strong, but there is some occasional damage to the print, holes and scratches and the like, that mar it a little bit. Still, it's a worthy restoration. The sound is surprisingly strong. A two-channel mono mix, the music and dialog come through with a fair amount of power, given the limitations of the format. There are no real problems with it at all. There is no noise and good clarity throughout, even if there isn't much definition.
Special features are limited, though. As usual, we get an interesting and informative audio commentary with Bava expert Tim Lucas. He's always good for his wealth of knowledge and has done these commentaries long enough to make them more engaging than most. Other than that, though, all we have is a pair of alternate title sequences, which are barely different except for the Italian titles, a few radio spots promoting the film, and a trailer. A little disappointing, but the commentary makes up for it.
Baron Blood is not Mario Bava's best film, but it's far from his worst. It's bloody and full of torture, if not so full of suspense, but it's still a lot of fun. With the nice HD transfer and solid sound mix, this Blu-ray release is definitely worth the upgrade, at least for Bava fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Titles
* Radio Spots