1972’s ‘Baron Blood,’ found Mario Bava doing something that he usually didn’t do- shoot on location.
Shot in Vienna, Austria, Bava does an excellent job evoking the mood and the spirit of the location.
As the movie opens, American Peter Kleist is arriving in Austria, to gather information on his
great-grandfather, the notorious Baron Otto von Kleist. The Baron’s name strikes fear in to the locals; he was known for torturing and murdering hundreds of his subjects. His Uncle Karl picks him up at the
airport, and they journey to the castle, which is undergoing renovations to become a hotel. As they tour the castle, they meet Eva, an assistant helping oversee the renovation.
During dinner, Peter mentions that he found amongst his grandfather’s papers an incantation that will bring his great-grandfather back to life. Karl pleads with Peter not to even read it, but after the meal is over, Peter and Eva sneak back to the castle and recite the incantation. The clock strikes two, even though it is midnight. Eva says the Baron was killed at 2am. However, before they can read the spell that undoes the first spell, a gust of wind blows the paper into a candle, setting it on fire and destroying it.
That night, the Baron turns up at a local doctor’s door. When the doctor tries to call for an ambulance, the Baron kills him, thus re-igniting his murderous rampage. Herr Dortmoundt is the next victim and the crazy caretaker Fritz quickly follows.
The castle is auctioned off and a mysterious, wheel-chair-bound millionaire Alfred Bekker buys the castle. Peter and Eva finally figure out that Bekker is the Baron in disguise and the battle is on to return him to the grave he came from.
‘Baron Blood’ is by no means one of Mario Bava’s must-see movies. That said, I enjoyed it immensely the first time I saw it and it was really what got me into Bava’s work.
The movie is bloody, which seems surprising given that the story is rather rote. Several of the deaths are gruesome and Bava adds a few jolts by having things jump out at you. (Something which was not his sort of thing.)
The cast is across-the-boards good, with Joseph Cotton, (best known for his role in Carol Reed’s ‘The Third Man,’) stealing every scene he’s in as Alfred Bekker. Also of surprising note is the performance of Elke Sommers, whose role mostly requires her to scream and run around. And by singling out these two actors, don’t think that Antonio Cantafora, (who plays Peter,) doesn’t hold his own in scenes with them. Everyone is perfectly cast for their parts.
Bava makes the best of what he has, exploring the haunted castle movie, (which were extremely popular at the time,) and making it his own as well as adding some nice scares and jumps along the way. Film critic Troy Harwarth puts forth the theory that ‘Baron Blood’ is Bava saying goodbye to the gothic elements of storytelling, which populate his movies. In his final four movies, Bava focused on modern-day stories thrills.
While not an excellent movie, Bava shows his mastery of the subject and one can relax and feel comfortable in the hands of a master. –Sam.