When violent crime strikes a tiny hamlet, the townsfolk suspect the distant relative of a sadistic 17th century baron who cursed the village.
"It's not a story for children, but it's certainly compelling."
One of the wonderful things about movies is that everyone is allowed to have a favorite genre, style, era, or even a favorite actor or director. People are allowed to love what they want to love. As much as I love comedies and thought provoking dramas, schlocky science fiction and horror flicks are my true bread and butter staple for film sustenance. I love over-the-top films that push the boundaries of acceptable content a step or two. I also love seeing catalogue titles that in their heyday ranked among the most notorious for their violent visceral content. When you get to something like Jess Franco's 'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus,' it's easy to see how it was such a controversial film, but at the same time it seems so quaint and tame by comparison to what reaches modern-day cinema screens.
The tiny village of Holfen seems like it would be a nice quiet place to find a home, acquire a trade or open a business, and ultimately raise a family. When one digs deeper into the town's past, they will discover a murky secret of kidnappings, torture, and murder. In the mid 17th century, the insane Baron Von Klaus was hunted down and driven into the swamps after he kidnapped, tortured, murdered and mutilated several young women. In the swamps he fell into a quagmire and was never seen again. However, the superstitious locals believe that the Baron's cursed spirit lives on, roaming the swamps waiting for another victim to fall into his clutches. 500 years later, this superstition has endured; prolonged by periodical killings in the same manner as the ones committed so long ago.
On a dark night, the new Baron Von Klaus, a young man named Ludwig (Hugo Blanco) is hurrying home to be at the bedside of his dying mother. At Ludwig's side is his beautiful young fiancé Karine (Paula Martel). Together, they arrive in time to hear Elisa Von Klaus' (Maria Francés) dying words. She pleads with Ludwig to take his young bride-to-be away from this cursed home of theirs and lead a normal life. In private she tells Ludwig the truth of his ancestor's sordid past and pleads with him not to continue down the same path. By giving him the only key to his ancestor's torture dungeon, Elisa hopes to God with her dying breath that seeing these horrible implements of pain and suffering will keep her son away from a similar fate.
On this ill-fated night, another young girl has been found murdered in a similar grisly fashion as those committed through the ages. With the towns people of Holfen worried that with the arrival of the new Baron Von Klaus, these psychotic murders have also returned. Seeking to uncover the truth behind the story, an intrepid reporter named Karl (Fernando Delgado) and the tenacious police inspector Borowsky (Georges Rollin) focuses their attention on the elder Von Klaus, Ludwig's father Max (Howard Vernon). As Max has been living at the castle for decades, he is the logical choice. But is he the killer? Could Ludwig be the real killer? Or could the cursed spirit of the Baron from 500 years ago have returned from beyond the grave to kill?
Even if you've never seen one of his films, the name "Jess Franco" should give most people a rough idea what they're in for - and boy will it be rough. Notorious for the torture-filled gory content of his films, Franco was a auteur ahead of his time. With 'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' Franco creates a chilling tension-filled sense of despair and looming dread. From the villagers telling tall tales in crowded bars to the films infamous torture sequence, this film is a unique work that evokes an intricate mix of suspense, terror, and horror. This beautifully shot film keeps the viewer on constant edge while throwing several red herrings into the mix to keep you guessing as to the killer's true identity.
While the majority of the cast is fantastic in their respective roles, this film rises and falls on the restrained presence of Howard Vernon. The man knows how to speak with just a look from his eyes. If his performance had been even the slightest bit unrestrained, the film easily could have fallen into the realm of unintended humor. Playing a potentially insane person requires a finesse that few actors can pull off, and Vernon brings his role home with slick style. As the man targeted by Geroges Rollin's Inspector Borowsky and Fernando Delgado's Karl, Vernon's Max is like watching a snake subtly sizing up its prey. Unfortunately to speak about anyone else and their intricacies to the plot would probably be a disservice to potential fans. There are a number of key points that could get spoiled and I hated to ruin a movie for anyone.
'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' is certainly a movie for a specific audience. One needs to be a stalwart fan of the horror genre and even then have a particularly strong stomach. Not that this film is necessarily gory by any stretch. In fact it's nicely restrained compared to the movies that are made today. With that, this film falls into the territory of making someone imagine the horrors being committed just ever so slightly off screen - which for me is a far more effective method of delivering chills and thrills to an audience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Redemption and Kino Lorber and pressed on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' makes an equal parts stunningly beautiful and sadly underwhelming debut on Blu-ray with this 2.35:1 1080p transfer. The incredible Black and White photography by Godofredo Pacheco can at times be some of the most intricately framed and detailed images I have ever seen. Blacks can be as thick as ink and with the subtle shadow separation there can be an immense sense of three dimensional depth. Unfortunately, this transfer has more than a few issues. While grain is for the most part stable and leading to some intricate detail levels - there are several scenes where the grain appears to almost flicker and pulsate. There are also several scenes where some moderate print wear creeps in and can be quite distracting. Perhaps the most egregious issue with this transfer runs through the opening fifteen minutes of the film as a vertical scratch or smear slowly travels from the right side of the image all the way to the left side until it thankfully disappears. The torture sequence is also in pretty rough shape. For the vast majority of the run time, this film looks simply incredible, but when the print issues appear, they're noteworthy, distracting, and sadly kick the video score down a notch.
With a solid Frech LPCM 2.0 track 'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' terrorizes this Blu-ray with some nicely pleasing results. At the outset I am going to warn fans that there are a few age related anomalies present throughout the run of the film in the form of slight hiss, some pops, and I noticed the audio break a time or two. Thankfully, these issues are fairly minor when compared to the greater whole of the audio track. Dialogue comes through with fantastic clarity. Music and sound effects have a nice dynamic presence without overpowering the mix. Levels are nicely equalized so you never have to ride your volume. All around a great track, it just sounds its age.
Trailer: (HD 4:07) A solid little trailer but may give away a bit too much for those interesting in preserving the mystery.
'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' may be one of those films that is notorious for its content, but modern viewers may find it a tad quaint. Regardless, this is a beautifully shot and intricately constructed thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. This Blu-ray from Kino and Redemption has a slightly troubled but still very strong A/V presentation. Baring a complete restoration effort, this is the best this film will look and sound. I'm calling it worth a look, but genre fans should definitely be on the look out for this release.