A young man, Peter, returns to Austria in search of his heritage. There he visits the castle of an ancestor, a sadistic Baron who was cursed to a violent death by a witch whom the Baron had burned at the stake. Peter reads aloud the incantation that causes Baron Blood to return and continue his murderous tortures.
An agreeable brew of the macabre, mild gore, and ghostly atmospherics, 'Baron Blood' is Mario Bava's return to Italian gothic horror. Prior to this, he worked on the paranoiac giallo 'Hatchet for the Honeymoon,' the bloody slasher 'A Bay of Blood,' and a rather strange Spaghetti western dramedy that's just but forgotten today. His return is bathed in a style that brings elegance and beauty back to the genre, filled with an air of the supernatural and ghoulish delights. Ancient, cobblestone streets act like mazes drenched in a blindingly thick fog, while the dark hallways of a nearby castle carry a deathly chill while covered in candle-lit cobwebs. It's an amusing flick that's both a departure from the direction Bava was heading and a return to familiar territory.
Also amusing is seeing what basically amounts to a zombie dressed in 18th Century pilgrim garb. The corpse haunting the halls of an Austrian castle is never actually identified as the walking dead — he's referred to as a living spirit, in fact — but we see him rise from his grave and his flesh is rotting. Besides, I simply enjoy the idea of a horror story with the dead dressed is such archaic outfits. For some reason, they've always seemed rather frightening to me, and it's rare to see a spooky tale involving pilgrims. 'Horror Hotel' (1960) and 'Eyes of Fire' (1983) are the only two which I can think of at the moment. The monster in this film, I'm sure, has nothing to do those pious groups of the past, but he's dressed in clothing that immediately brings them to mind. And it's effectively creepy.
The resurrected creature is actually a sadistic Baron that once terrorized local villagers by decorating his castle with the bodies of those he didn't like or who opposed him. Just as she was about to burn at the stake, a witch cursed the nobleman to this fate, requiring only some bumbling schmuck arrogant enough to read from a forbidden incantation. As luck would have it, a descendent of the Baron, named Peter (Antonio Cantafora), just happens to own such an incantation and foolishly reads from it. What's funny of the whole situation is that he owns the three-hundred year old parchment, as if it were passed down in his family like an heirloom, and that he justifies his stupidity out of interest to learn more about his ancestry, expecting an 18th Century corpse to be friendly.
Continuing the silliness is the lovely Elke Sommer ('Lisa & the Devil') as the interior designer hired to restore the castle to its former glory. She's tricked into tagging along with Peter's little experiment and soon becomes his love interest, but she's largely used as the damsel-in-distress prop piece. When the mysterious new owner of the estate, played by Joseph Cotten ('The Third Man') channeling Vincent Price while wheelchair-bound, makes an appearance, his interest in her is in that perverted, old creepy man sort of way. He visibly makes everyone feel awkward when he ogles Sommer's Eva with hungry eyes. Peter's uncle (Massimo Girotti), who has no relation to the Baron, is part of the group and feigns the voice of scientific reason, dumbfounded by the world of the supernatural.
What's ultimately most impressive of 'Baron Blood' is Bava's visual creativity, bringing that baroque beauty and style of classic Italian gothic horror for contemporary audiences. He uses a good amount of gore, but it's not as graphic as other movies at the time. Although not credited as such, Bava did his own cinematography, and he uses a variety of expressive colors and imaginative lighting for establishing a moody atmosphere. This is best demonstrated in a nighttime sequence where Eva runs from the Baron through a tightly-wound maze of village streets. The script by Vincent Fotre is frankly nothing special, but Bava's ornate inventiveness and animated visionary approach to the story is in full display, making for a delightfully enjoyable horror film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Classics brings Mario Bava's 'Baron Blood' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu with a still photo of the cover art and music playing in the background.
'Baron Blood' comes to Blu-ray with a surprisingly good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, a massive upgrade from two previous DVD editions. This could also arguably be Kino Lorber's best release yet on the format. There is still a fair amount of dirt, scratches and white specks in the presentation, but it's less intrusive and not as abundant. Into the second half of the movie, cigarette burns suddenly appear in the top right corner of the screen, which is actually rather amusing.
Nevertheless, the 1.74:1 picture frame comes with vivid contrast and crisp whites. A couple scenes are not are as cleanly resolved as others, but for the most part, the video is consistent bright with excellent visibility into the distance. Sunny exterior shots of the castle expose lots of amazing details and minor blemishes, like individual lines in the masonry work and the pores in each stone. Close-ups of the actors, of which there are many, reveal lifelike textures and definition. Colors are well saturated and bold, especially greens and reds. Black levels are quite impressive and rich in several scenes without sacrificing small details in the shadows. The high-def presentation is far from perfect, and could benefit greatly from a full restoration, but it still looks very good.
Like the video, the audio, too, makes its way to Blu-ray with shockingly good results. It's clear there's been some effort to clean up the original mono design for this English uncompressed PCM soundtrack because I didn't detect any hissing, popping or random noise, which seems common in most releases from Kino. Imaging still feels somewhat hollow and lackluster, but for the most part, the soundstage is clean with decent acoustical presence and intelligible dialogue in the center. The mid-range is nothing impressive, sounding pretty even and uniform yet the loudest segments are clean and detailed. Bass is largely lacking, but there are a couple scenes with some minor weight to them. The musical score is the best aspect of the lossless mix, spreading nicely into the other two channels and widening the soundfield.
A return to Italian gothic horror, Mario Bava demonstrates his imaginative and visionary style of the genre in 'Baron Blood.' Starring Elke Sommer and Joseph Cotten, the movie is an enjoyable flick that mixes the classic with the modern. The Blu-ray arrives with a strong audio and video presentation but the overall package is light in supplements. Still, Bava admirers and fans of Italian horror cinema will find much delight in this spooky gothic tale.