Directed by Mario Bava
Distributed by Arrow Video
A maniacal and sadistic old Baron is raised from the dead in the modern day (well, 1972) by a witch’s curse to continue his murderous ways in legendary genre director Mario Bava’s goofy yet atmospheric Baron Blood. Antonio Cantafora stars as Peter Kleist, a young descendent of the titular Baron Otto von Kleist, who sets off to Austria for a look around the previous stomping grounds of his much-maligned ancestor. There, he and plucky architect Eva (Sommer) take it upon themselves to read aloud an incantation promising to bring the long-deceased Baron back to life so that he can die over and over again — the result of the Baron’s grisly infatuation with the torture and murder of accused witches. Unfortunately for them, the “dying again” part of the spell is rendered somewhat impossible when they accidentally burn the parchment sporting the particular chant to send him back. Uh-oh!
And so, the grotesquely rotten and mutilated Baron claws his way up from the grave to set about murdering various locals and members of his castle’s staff, while a perfunctory love story plays out between Peter and Eva. In truth, there isn’t a whole lot going on in Baron Blood, with much in the way of actual plot a secondary consideration to the grisly set pieces and swathes of style audiences expect from the work of Mario Bava. Joseph Cotton shows up as the wheelchair-bound Alfred Bekker (who may not be just who he seems) and offers welcome respite from the overly wooden performances of his co-stars by chewing the scenery with gusto at every turn in a display that would probably be irritating if it weren’t so liberating.
It all leaves Baron Blood a particularly uneven piece of work; yet, Bava’s eye is consistently impressive, creating swathes of Gothic imagery such as a chase sequence through fog-laden streets, sterling use of shadow in framing his antagonist, and a great location in the form of the Baron’s castle. To be expected is also the director’s excellent use of lighting and primary colours, making this another rich visual experience with that distinctly European feel. While it certainly isn’t anywhere near the upper echelons of Bava’s filmography, it offers enough in the way of style and the gleefully macabre to keep it afloat.
Existing fans of the film, or Bava’s work in general, will most certainly be wanting to pick Arrow Video’s UK Blu-ray of Baron Blood (sorry, US folks, it’s Region B locked so you’ll be needing a multi-region player) as soon as they can considering the technical quality of what’s on show here. The high definition transfer is tight, organic, and highly pleasing. Colours are vivid, and while some scenes do appear softer than expected, none of the horrors of obvious digital enhancement or compression are to be found. Filmic grain is prevalent and controlled, keeping an authentic look.
Excitingly for collectors, Arrow also include three different versions of the film itself on this release — the shorter, and rare, American International Pictures release with English audio (and sporting a more stereotypically horror-centric score by Les Baxter), the longer Italian-language release entitled Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, and the similar English export edition with English titles/credits and audio track. Audio and visual quality between these are just as impressive, indicating some true dedication by Arrow, and we also get all versions on DVD too. Alongside these we have a short introduction to the film by author/journalist and Italian horror expert Alan Jones and a topical Italian-language interview with director Ruggero Deodato on his admiration of Bava’s work and his own experiences working in Italian genre cinema alongside Mario’s son, Lamberto, and others. Mario Bava expert Tim Lucas also provides a consistently insightful and interesting audio commentary that makes for an excellent accompaniment to the film.
On top of that we have the English and Italian trailers for Baron Blood, a selection of radio spots and stills from the set, and a collector’s booklet containing critic James Oliver’s “Gothic Revival: A Reappraisal of Baron Blood” (not included for review). Finally, Arrow also supply their customary reversible sleeve featuring your choice of original and newly commissioned artwork. A must-have for those looking to fill out their Bava collection with the best presentations available.
3 out of 5
5 out of 5
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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