Never released theatrically or sold to television in the U.S. (or dubbed into English for that matter), Jess Franco’s THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS (La mano de un hombre muerto, Le sadique Baron Von Klaus) was made during the prolific director’s early black and white period of moody horror films which included the likes of THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER and THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z. A Eurocine product mostly seen in Spain and France, it now arrives on Blu-ray through Redemption and Kino Lorber.
THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS concerns the European village of Holfen and the grisly stabbings of several young women. The superstitious villagers believe that it's all connected to Baron Von Klaus, a 17th century sadist who tortured and killed women in the swamps of his castle, and legend has it that the spirit of this maniac is supposed to inhabit the bodies of his modern descendants. On her deathbed, the female patriarch (veteran Spanish actress María Francés, who lived to be 100!) of the family tries to forewarn her newly-arrived son Ludwig (Hugo Blanco, TEXAS, ADIOS), a descendant who happens to be the von Klaus heir. Young Ludwig, who has a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of him, is engaged to the lovely Karine (Paula Martel), who of course is now in danger, as she is likely fodder for the killer. Investigating the murders are the no-nonsense Inspector Borowsky (Georges Rollin) as well as skirt-chasing, snooping journalist Karl Steiner (Fernando Delgado, ZORRO THE AVENGER) who works for a magazine called “Maidens and Murderers”. There are a number of possible culprits, but the main suspect is Baron Von Klaus's descendant Max Von Klaus (Howard Vernon, THE BLOODY JUDGE), who, judging by the macabre portrait hanging on the castle’s wall, looks exactly like his sadistic ancestor.
This early effort by Franco shows off his diligent flair for style and professionalism when he tries hard enough. The striking black and white widescreen photography is virtually void of the notorious, economical zoom shots, and the European setting presents impressive gothic visuals, even if it’s a modern setting. However, with too much attention placed on the scared villagers, the puzzled police inspector, the curious journalist, and Vernon's suspicious red herring character, the film is a plodding affair (and it even throws in a few cabaret numbers). Franco still manages to unveil some notable murder sequences (accompanied by Daniel White's jazzy score), pre-dating the standard giallo slashings by several years. Largely uncommon by 1962 standards, there's an extended nude/S&M sequence where a shapely brunette barmaid (Gogó Rojo, here billed as Gogo Robins and later in Franco’s DEVIL’S ISLAND LOVERS) is stripped (topless), whipped, chained up and accosted with a hot poker in a kinky torture chamber. Not only is the inclusion of such a scene innovative as far as the history of horror and exploitation films go, but it pretty much started off Franco’s fascination with the writings of The Marquis de Sade, a subject that would be later be woven into a number of his works (including MARQUIS DE SADE: JUSTINE, EUGENIE: THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and EUGENIE DE SADE). Blanco was so highly memorable as the robotic killer zombie in DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER that seeing him here will likely conjure up images from that film (which was made several years later). Here playing a doctor, Ángel Menéndez is recognizable as the woodsman thrown into the fireplace by Paul Naschy’s werewolf in FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR, and he also appeared in a number of other Spanish horror movies.
First released on home video in the U.S. on a DVD by Image Entertainment in 2001, Redemption and Kino Lorber now present the film on Blu-ray (as well as a standard DVD release using the same transfer). Presented in 1080p HD in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image is sharply detailed, with deep black levels and solid whites. Filmic grain is maintained well, as is the black and white cinematography, offering excellent shadow detail. Since the film was never translated into English, a French language PCM (uncompressed) audio track is present and it’s very clean and clear sounding, with the optional English subtitles provided being large and easily legible. An original French theatrical trailer is included as a bonus. (George R. Reis)
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