Baron Blood (UK Blu-ray)
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