By the time the golden age of Italian horror truly began to dawn, Mario Bava, that grand old man of the scene was increasingly struggling to find his place in a changing world of black-gloved sadomasochism.
He’d kickstarted the giallo nearly 10 years earlier with 1963’s The Girl Who Knew To Much and 1964’s Blood And Black Lace, but then turned it over to eager young bucks like Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulchi, and Umberto Lenzi whose transgressive oneupmanship turned it into a completely different ball(gag)game.
As if pining for his gothic horror highs from the prior decade – 1960’s Black Sunday, 1963′ The Whip And The Body, and from the same year, Black Sabbath – he was determined to go all out, making a rare trip outside of Italy to film in the incredible courtyard and interiors of the domineering Burg Kruezenstein castle near Vienna, and cracking his knuckles to drag the melodramatic, fog-caked style that made his name into the present, via opening shots of PanAm flights and Coca Cola vending machines.
A traditional tale of supernatural terror from beyond the grave, the broadest brushstrokes of 1972’s Baron Blood seem a pale imitator of Black Sunday‘s dynastic curse – a killer from down in the gnarled old roots of the family tree, back after centuries to polish off the descendants, only this time as the recipient of a witch’s curse, rather than the cursing witch.
While both 1960’s Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and 1972’s titular Baron are vampires in all but name – killing others to extend their own lifespan, with the latter’s decaying visage gradually transformed into the lip-smacking, serpentine villainy of Citizen Kane and The Third Man‘s Joseph Cotton – the Baron’s modus operandi is far less mysterious and far less interesting.
Despite the promise of great bloodshed and wisps of spectral vapours, Baron Blood more or less stumbles around the castle and village strangling people like a particularly well heeled mummy or Frankenstein’s monster, plucked from any number of increasingly lumpen and dispiritingly cheap Hammer sequels.
Save a particularly glorious ending, full of satisfying Old Testament justice in the Baron’s own torture chamber, there’s so little going on in Baron Blood that at 98 minutes it feels excrutiatingly long.
Baron Blood‘s wafer-thin story, bereft of internal logic, is artificially extended by endless over scored scenes of Elke Sommer (Lisa And The Devil, Ten Little Indians)’s wooden Eva Arnold running through corridors in a miniskirt, waving her arms and shrieking, or repeated snap-zoom cuts to things that were impressive the first time – the baron’s victims ghoulishly impaled on stakes around the tower, for example – to the point that they become meaningless and blunted..
As always with Bava, the cinematography is stunning – his painterly eye unrivalled, as figures creep around corridors or frame themselves in overlooking walkways, enhanced by Arrow’s fantastic HD transfer – but in trying to reinvigorate his classic motifs for a brave new world, he makes one of the most solidly mediocre movies in his catalogue, in which a handful of gripping visuals are crudely trowelled in to plotholes like polyfiller.