Baron Blood, Mario Bava’s 1972 film, a joint Italian-German production, was a success, making money in both the domestic and international markets. It seemed to tick off all the audiences’ boxes for what gothic horror should be. A castle, a baron, a mysterious legend, some bodies, and a bombshell female lead. Nothing about it feels original, though. Mario Bava is one of the giants hovering over horror films, but the internet seems to agree with my reaction to Baron Blood, ranking it as one of Bava’s more pedestrian efforts. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. It isn’t. It just fails to leave a lasting impression.
The film follows Antonio Cantafora as Peter Kleist, the son of Austrian immigrants who has returned to the old country to explore his family’s past before returning to his studies. He is staying with his uncle, Dr. Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti), who teaches at a local university.
Peter is most interested in the legend of a distant ancestor by the name of Baron Otto von Kleist, who occupied the castle that towers over the town (the castle is played by the Burg Kreuzenstein just to the north of Vienna). The baron was a bad fellow, delighting in keeping his dungeons and torture chambers busy places. The baron made a mistake, however. One of his victims was a witch. As she burned at the stake, she placed a curse on him, banishing him to the fiery depths of Hell, or somesuch. Centuries later, the locals still fear his name and avoid his castle. Well, not all of the locals.
Some folks have gotten it into their heads to turn the castle into a hotel for tourists, and Peter has arrived with the renovations well under way. They are led by the mayor, Dortmundt (Dieter Tressler), and assisted by academic Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer).
Peter and Eva strike up a friendship, and Peter reveals that back in the States, he found an old parchment inscribed with an incantation that can supposedly bring the baron back from whatever infernal pit into which he has been cast. Of course, since this is a movie, they head up to the castle in the dead of night, read the incantation, and the movie is off and running.
The two do indeed summon the baron, in the form of a cloaked and disfigured killer (an uncredited Franco Tocci) who roams the town killing anyone he comes across. Eventually the resurrected baron kills the poor mayor in the castle, and the renovation project is doomed. Everything, including the castle and its grounds, it put up for auction.
Enter the most redundant part of the plot, in Joseph Cotten as Alfred Becker, an independently wealthy paraplegic who wins the castle at auction. Any audience member with a passing familiarity with gothic horror knows that Becker is actually Baron Otto von Kleist. He might as well have a tattoo on his forehead stating that he is the baron. His character is an unnecessary conceit. The film was doing just fine with Tocci in makeup. The body count was rising in a consistent manner, and everyone was on edge. Shoehorning Cotten into the film may have been good for box office, but his presence, because he was miscast, hurts the film. His manner is American retiree, not sadistic baron.
Anyway, the remainder of the film details Peter, Karl, and Eva uncovering Becker’s true identity, and trying to recreate the curse that sent the baron away way back when. A disappointing third act ends with a flourish, as the baron is confronted with his former life’s misdeeds. This satisfying end isn’t enough to make up for all the overused tropes, and some uncharacteristic storytelling shortcuts on Bava’s part. But, again, this is not a bad movie. It’s a middle-of-the-road gothic horror flick from a filmmaker who was capable of much more.
American International Pictures handled the stateside release in the ’70s. Beware this cut, as it has about ten minutes missing. Currently available prints on streaming also have not been cared for, with the color becoming very brown. This film is probably at the back of the line when it comes to restoring Bava’s oeuvre, but it sure could use some love.