October 11, 2013 by abbyo
Readers, welcome to Bavafest, a 3-week exploration of the films of Italian horror great Mario Bava. Don your cheesiest, funkiest disco-era duds, and grab a gallon of fake blood for the road. Let’s do this thing!
Our journey begins with 1972’s shock-and-schlock fest Baron Blood, a late entry in the Bava canon, and an oddity in that it wasn’t shot in Italy. The action of Baron Blood happens in Austria, where a young man named Peter (Antonio Cantafora) with an interest in family history travels from the states to find out more about his ancestry (cue generic shots of Pan-Am flights and a jazzy, jet-setting soundtrack).
Note: the soundtrack isn’t actually this good…I’m trying to class it up a bit.
Of course, this is a horror movie, so you can bet Peter’s familial background turns out to be colorful. In particular, his family tree includes an unpleasant feudal lord named Baron Otto Von Kleist, who was famous for torturing local villagers before being cursed by a witch and burned alive in his castle by unhappy peasants. And guess what? The Kleist ancestral castle, named “The Castle of the Terrors” is being turned into a bed and breakfast (the developer is planning on keeping the name, in case you were wondering). It’s a charming place that includes a creepy simpleton caretaker and a period-accurate dungeon, courtesy of busty anthropology student Eva (Elke Sommer).
Do Peter and Eva unleash the vengeful spirit of Baron Von Kleist? You bet they do. Are the results ridiculous and grotesque? Um, duh. But is it good horror? Well…not so much. Baron Blood sports the kind of scares you find in later Hammer Films releases—but fortunately they’re more of the Countess Dracula variety, less of the Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb school, though it’s definitely got the latter movie’s sense of style and camp. It even has Hollywood icon Joseph Cotten in a goofy role that makes no sense. This is prime B-movie territory we’re in, people.
You could point to any number of reasons as to why Baron Blood doesn’t quite deliver the goods, but I’m going to go with the villain himself, Baron Otto Von Kleist. He’s definitely an icky-looking fellow, with the kind of face that only Freddy Krueger could love, but he doesn’t really do much. In full-on monster form, he just lumbers around killing people. Granted, he dispatches them in creepy ways, like an iron maiden or the always-effective knife to the throat, and he displays his trophies in…decorative ways. But the act itself is never scary or surprising. It comes from a mile away, and it never involves a character we actually care about. There’s no sense of anarchy here, and nothing legitimately frightening. It is, dare I say it, a bit dull.
It’s also poorly plotted, and though that usually wouldn’t be such a big problem for an older B-horror movie, it is here, with an ending that is supposed to be a big reveal, but isn’t surprising, and even in spite of that, it still doesn’t make a lick of sense. Fortunately, the movie is buoyed a little by fun performances like Cotten, Sommer (who makes an excellent old-school horror actress—dumb, with screaming abilities that are practically operatic) and Rada Rassimov as a kooky witch who can channel the spirits of the dead.
Despite its numerous issues, which include being not in the least scary, Baron Blood is kind of fun to watch. It’s cheesy, creepy enough to give you a fun shiver or two, and has a villain that at least looks scary, even if his acts aren’t. I’m looking forward to getting into the really good stuff—next week brings us Black Sunday. We’ll see if Barbara Steele can do a better job of providing the thrills, spills and chills.