Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Review: Baron Blood (1972)

    Another solid effort from the Italian maestro of horror…

    Of all the Italian B-movie mavens, Mario Bava was in a class all his own. A former cinematographer and special effects artist, Bava rose to prominence in the sixties with ground-breaking horror films such as Black Sabbath and Blood and Black Lace. A failed painter, Bava traded in his canvas and brushes for a film camera, and created some of the cinema’s most colorful and horrific images. And while 1972’s Baron Blood fails to reach such dizzy heights, it’s a more-than-competent effort and well worth seeking out for fans of Bava and Italian horror.

    Baron Blood tells the story of Peter Kleist, an American student taking a break from his studies and traveling to Austria, where he hopes to learn more about his ancient ancestor Baron Otto von Kleist. The Baron was something of a sadist who tortured and impaled his enemies to the spires of his suitably creepy castle, and met his demise upon being cursed by a witch whom he had burned at the stake. Of course, events take place so that young Peter soon finds an incantation to bring the Baron back to life, who immediately sets to murdering the surrounding villagers in increasingly sadistic ways…

    The plot here really doesn’t go anywhere. The general idea of the film - a Vlad the Inpaler-esque maniac brought back from the dead and hellbent on revenge - is strong enough for a horror picture, but a meandering script keeps the movie from really taking off. Add in some rather boneheaded character motivations (Peter wants to bring back his murderous ancestor just to talk to him? How is that a good idea?) and the script leaves plenty of slack for Bava to pick up.

    Not helping matters is a rather dull cast. Antonio Cantafora plays Peter, and he’s about as engaging as the next bland young horror hero (which is to say, not terribly engaging at all). The lovely Elke Sommer plays his romantic interest Eva Arnold, but doesn’t get to do much more than scream for her life on more than one occasion. Not even real deal Hollywood star Joseph Cotton can muster much excitement playing the Baron himself, as the aging actor consistently deflates most every scene he’s in. Needless to say, the film would have overall been more successful had it taken the time to craft a script where we cared even just a little about all the main characters.

    But all of that really doesn’t matter, as it’s Mario Bava behind the camera orchestrating the grim events. Bava here proves why he was the de facto master of horror in his home country with several well-staged scenes. Framing his film in shots dripping with atmosphere and dread, it’s to Bava’s credit that the film still elicits genuine pangs of terror and suspense. He takes full advantage of the film’s spooky castle, giving us a phantasmagoria of color and shadow throughout endless spires and corridors. Even better is the monstrous Baron himself, who Bava frames with the same menace and awe that Universal and Hammer did in their respective horror heyday. 

    Although not nearly Mario Bava’s best entry of the genre, Baron Blood is still worth giving a spin due to the director’s unmistakable style.

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