Considered by many not to be one of his finer efforts, BARON BLOOD is one of Italian director Mario Bava’s most recognizable pictures in the U.S. due to its theatrical distribution by AIP (it played on a double bill with THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) and constant play on late-night television (back when TV was TV!) on horror programs like Channel 9’s (WOR-TV NY) “Fright Night”. Released on DVD twice before, Kino Lorber now unleashes the bloody undead Baron on Blu-ray disc as part of their "The Mario Bava Collection".
Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora, SUPERSONIC MAN) flies from America
to Austria, where he is intent on learning about his centuries-old relative
Baron Otto Von Kleist, a sadist who perished under a witch’s curse. Staying
at the home of his uncle (Massimo Girotti, DUEL OF THE TITANS), Peter teams
up with mini-skirted and fashionable student Eva (Elke Sommer, LISA AND THE
DEVIL), as they visit the Baron’s ancient castle, about to be opened as
a hotel for tourists, and recite an incantation from a parchment which of course
brings the moldy bastard back from the dead. A bloody, disfigured mess in black
garb, the Baron kills a number of passers-by and changes his appearance as the
charming but wheelchair-bound Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten), a distinguished-looking
gentlemen who arrives to purchase the castle when it’s on the auction
block and usher his torturous methods into the 20th century.
Produced by Alfred Leone, BARON BLOOD is often regarded as lower-tier Bava and not as original and sophisticated as some of his other works. Still, it’s an entertaining, old fashioned monster flick that harks back to BLACK SUNDAY and the Austrian setting provides an authentic scenic castle which is rich in atmosphere, and naturally, embodies all the expected torture devices. Director-for-hire Bava creates a lot of genuine fog-filled eeriness with his skillfulness and ingenuity, and the film is pure gothic, even with the modern incidentals like Sommer’s flashy 1970s fashions and the placement of a Coke machine in the Baron’s abode. The spacious castle is a great set, and the cobwebs, creaky doors and various torture instruments (as well as a later appearance of the Baron’s victims coming back to life to attack him within his own dungeon) are pure Bava. Carlo Rambaldi’s fleshy make-up on the Baron (not played by Cotten in monster form) is terrifically ghastly, and there's a great first on-screen look at it through a quick flash of lightning illuminating an otherwise very dark living room.
BARON BLOOD is full of Italian horror familiars including creepy red-headed child actress Nicoletta Elmi (of A BAY OF BLOOD, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, DEEP RED and her own starring feature, THE NIGHT CHILD), who devilishly grins after witnessing the “ghost” Baron on her way home from school. Appearing in several Bava films before this one, Alan Collins (aka Luciano Pigozzi, the Italian Peter Lorre, here in probably his most recognizable genre role) is the sinister, giggling Fritz, who frightens screaming Eva out of her wits and is later recklessly beaten by the Baron. The sister of actor Ivan, Rada Rassimov (THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS) plays a clairvoyant who helps summon the witch who cursed the Baron centuries earlier. At the time, Hollywood legend Cotton was becoming something of a horror star with appearances in LADY FRANKENSTEIN and more significantly, AIP’s THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, and here he delivers many of his lines with more fiendish gusto than they actually need, but he’s a natural as a villain.
When BARON BLOOD was released in America by AIP, they excised about
eight minutes of footage and had reliable Les Baxter re-score the film, but
like the previous two DVD releases (an early non-anamorphic one from Image Entertainment
and a more recent 16x9 edition from Anchor Bay as part of a Bava box set), this
release presents the longer international version with the original music by
Stelvio Cipriani (TENTACLES). The transfer here is mastered in HD from the original
35mm negative in 1080p. The 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation carries a sharp,
well-detailed picture embracing strong, well saturated colors. The opening title
sequence is a bit grainy (it always is), but the rest of the show is very satisfying
to watch with some scattered debris in spots. The mono English track has some
hiss here and there, but is otherwise fine.
Carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD of a few years ago, Tim Lucas gives us another insightful commentary, and it’s nice how he defends the film’s merits throughout. From the casting of veteran Joseph Cotten as the villain, to the rich Vienna locations, to Pigozzi’s lively death scene and subsequent rising-from-the-dead sequence, to Rada Rassimov’s remarkable presence and more, Lucas has a lot of good things to say and it’s nice to hear them. He also points out how the film in many ways resembles HOUSE OF WAX (producer Leone originally wanted Vincent Price for the title role but he turned it down after his experiences on Bava's "Goldfoot" sequel) which are pretty obvious when put in perspective. The other extras are the original AIP theatrical trailer, an Italian trailer, the Italian opening and closing credits, U.S. radio spots and trailers for other Mario Bava titles under license from Kino. (George R. Reis)
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