Baron Blood (film)
Italian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mario Bava|
|Produced by||Alfredo Leone|
|Story by||Vincent G. Fotre|
|Music by||Stelvio Cipriani|
|Edited by||Carlo Reali|
|Distributed by||Jumbo Cinematografica|
|Box office||₤269.812 million|
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Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) is an American who arrives in Austria to take a break from his college studies and to look up his family's history. At the airport he is greeted by his uncle, Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti), who invites him to stay at his house. Peter asks Karl about his great-grandfather, Baron Otto Von Kleist. Karl explains that the Baron's name still spreads fear among the local people for he was a notorious sadist who tortured and murdered over 100 of the villagers, for which he earned the nickname "Baron Blood". Legend has it that he burned a witch named Elizabeth Hölle at the stake, who cursed him with a spell that would allow him to rise from the dead so that she could take her revenge on him again and again. Karl also tells Peter that the Baron's old castle and former residence is being remodeled into a hotel for tourists. Peter persuades his uncle to take him to the castle.
After a long drive through the countryside, they arrive at the ominous castle on a hill, where they meet with Herr Dortmund (Dieter Tressler), the entrepreneur responsible for the current hotel project. Peter is particularly interested in Dortmundt's beautiful assistant Eva (Elke Sommer), a former college student of Karl, whose job is to ensure that Dortmundt does not make any lasting changes to the castle's architecture. After a brief tour of the castle, Karl invites Eva to his house for dinner.
During the course of the meal at Karl's house, Peter brings up the subject of Baron Von Kleist, much to the consternation of his aunt (Valeria Sabel). Gretchen (Nicoletta Elmi), Karl's young daughter, claims to have actually seen the Baron in the woods near the castle, but nobody listens to her. Peter then produces an ancient document he claims to have found at his grandfather's house back in America. It is an incantation which, if read in the castle bell tower at midnight, will supposedly bring the Baron back to life. Karl warns him against trying the ritual, for a man's obsession with the occult could lead to danger.
Despite this warning, Peter and Eva go to the castle and read the incantation inside the bell tower. Although it is midnight, the bell tolls two o'clock, the same time Baron Von Kleist was murdered by his victims. Heavy footsteps approach from the outside. A terrified Eva tries to convince Peter to recant the incantation, using the alternate spell on the same document. But before Peter can do so, the doors fly open, and a gust of wind blows the parchment out of his hands and into a fireplace. Peter goes outside to investigate, but there is no one there. Eva knows the consequences of what they have done.
Meanwhile, in the deep woods surrounding the castle, the resurrected Baron emerges from his grave where he was buried. The Baron stumbles into the night and pays a visit to a local doctor's office for medical attention. Just as the legend has foretold, he has risen with the same bloody scars that were inflicted on him when he was killed so many years ago. The doctor (Gustavo De Nardo) dresses his strange patient's wounds and is understandably concerned by the terrible condition he is in. When the doctor insists on calling an ambulance, the Baron grabs a scalpel and stabs the doctor to death. Fleeing into the night, the Baron encounters a drunken gravedigger, who is also killed.
The next morning, Peter and Eva admit what they've done. Karl insists to them that they are just imagining things and tells them to forget about it. The Baron secretly enters his castle and kills Dortmundt by hanging him from the castle ceiling. When the body is found by Fritz (Luciano Pigozzi), the caretaker of the castle, the Baron grabs him and takes him down to the dungeon, where he kills him by throwing him into a spike-lined coffin. When Dortmundt is found dead, the plans for restoring the castle fall through and the property goes up for auction.
The next day, the castle is quickly purchased by Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten), a wheelchair-bound millionaire. Despite the fact that nobody knows anything about him or his past, Becker seems amiable enough and offers Eva a job in assisting him to restore the castle to its original condition. She gladly accepts. Later, Eva is attacked in one of the castle corridors by the Baron, only to be saved by the intrusion of Peter. Eva quits her job and decides to make a fresh start elsewhere.
That evening, Eva returns to her apartment in town, only to find the disfigured, black-cloaked Baron waiting for her. She escapes through a window and runs through the fog-shrouded streets of the town, playing cat-and-mouse with the pursuing Baron. She manages to outsmart her pursuer by seeking shelter at Karl's home.
Finally convinced that the Baron is alive, Karl agrees to help Eva and Peter find a way to destroy him. They visit Christina (Rada Rassimov), a local medium, who conjures up Hölle's spirit from the netherworld for information about the Baron and his resurrection. Christina gives them a magic amulet that will help them, and she tells them that Peter and Eva are the only ones with the power to destroy the Baron, for the ones who raised him are the ones who can destroy him. She also informs them that the Baron knows that Peter and Eva have the power to kill him, so he will do everything in his power to kill them before they can do so. After Peter, Eva and Karl leave, Christina is attacked and killed by the Baron.
Later that day, on her way home from school, Gretchen is terrorized by the Baron, who chases her though the woods. But for some reason, the Baron does not kill Gretchen and lets her get away. After taking her to the castle, Gretchen meets with Becker for the first time. Afterwards, she tells her father that Becker is the same man who chased her in the woods. Karl asks how can she know and Gretchen replies that she recognized him by his eyes, which "burn like fire".
Realizing that any man who has the ability to rise from the dead might also have the power to alter his appearance, Karl, Peter and Eva go to the castle to confront Becker, who denies knowing what they are talking about. When he shows them the castle which is now restored, complete with dummies impaled on wooden stakes, the appearance gives the trio the impression that Becker really is the Baron. As Karl, Peter and Eva secretly debate what to do, Becker, no longer pretending to be crippled, rises from his wheelchair and advances towards them. Peter tries to reason with Becker, but gets knocked out. Karl pulls out a gun and tries shooting at Becker/the Baron, but he keeps on advancing and also knocks Karl out. Eva holds up the magic amulet to try to use against him, but Becker only flings her aside against a wall, knocking her out as well. The Baron/Becker then takes the three down to his torture chamber.
When the blooded and battered Eva wakes up, she is tied to a chair and is startled to see Fritz's dead body in the open spike-lined coffin beside her. Becker ties up Karl to a rack to be slowly stretched to death, while he ties up Peter and begins torturing him with red-hot pokers. As Eva struggles to untie herself, she accidentally drops the amulet onto Fritz's dead body. A few drops of Eva's blood from her wounds lands on Fritz's body and the amulet itself. Suddenly, the Baron starts to suffer terrible pains as Fritz rises out of his coffin. The secret of how to destroy the Baron finally comes to light: the Baron's victims all rise from their coffins, empowered by the magic amulet which is powered up with blood of the ones who raised him (either Eva or Peter). The undead victims, including Fritz, Dortmundt, Christina, the doctor, the gravedigger, and all of the other people whom he killed, attack the Baron and rip him apart. Eva manages to untie both Peter and Karl, and the wounded, blood-covered trio flee from the dungeon, and into Karl's car where they drive away from the castle, while the sounds of the Baron's dying screams and Hölle's laughter echo into the night air.
- Joseph Cotten as Baron Otto von Kleist/Alfred Becker
- Elke Sommer as Eva Arnold
- Massimo Girotti as Dr. Karl Hummel
- Rada Rassimov as Christina Hoffmann/Elizabeth Hölle
- Antonio Cantafora as Peter Kleist
- Umberto Raho (as Humi Raho) as Inspector
- Luciano Pigozzi (as Alan Collins) as Fritz
- Nicoletta Elmi as Gretchen Hummel
Style and themes
In his analysis of the film, Danny Shipka noted how the film reflects Bava's disillusion towards society and all its members.
Baron Blood marked the return of director Mario Bava to the horror genre, six years after Kill, Baby, Kill. The film began shooting in 1971, which included location work at the Austrian castle Burg Kreuzenstein. The film's credited cinematographer is Antonio Rinaldi, although producer Alfredo Leone stated that Bava took over cinematography for the film.
Baron Blood was released in Italy, where it was distributed by Jumbo Cinematografica, on 25 February 1972. The film grossed a total of 269,812,000 Italian lire, which Italian film historian Roberto Curti described as "mediocre".
Baron Blood was bought for release in the United States by American International Pictures, which cut the film by ten minutes and replaced Stelvio Cipriani's score with one by Les Baxter. The American print of the film also credits the screenplay to Vincent Fotre and William A. Baron. It turned out to be an international box office success, particularly in the U.S., owing to which producer Alfredo Leone offered Bava a contract for a new film (Lisa and the Devil) and granted him total artistic control on it.
In contemporary reviews, Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, writing, "sometimes you can enjoy horror movies because they're so bad, but Baron Blood isn't bad enough." A.H. Weiler from the New York Times gave the film a negative review, calling the title villain "bland" and stating: "Under Mario Bava's pedestrian direction, the concocted creaking, screaming, gory murders and Miss Sommer's frightened racing through dark passageways largely add up to spectral schlock".
From retrospective reviews, film critic Leonard Maltin gave the movie 2.5 stars, briefly noting "standard plot is livened by unusual settings and lighting". Daryl Loomis from DVD Verdict gave the film a mostly positive review, stating: "Baron Blood is not Mario Bava's best film, but it's far from his worst. It's bloody and full of torture, if not so full of suspense, but it's still a lot of fun." Dread Central awarded the film a score of 3 out of 5, commenting: "Baron Blood [is] 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".
In popular culture
The Well to Hell hoax is an urban legend that circulated on the internet and in American tabloids in the late 1990s. The hoax was that a borehole in Russia was purportedly drilled so deep that it broke through into Hell, and that seismologists in Siberia recorded sounds in the nine-mile deep pit that included yells and haunting screams for help from sinners supposedly sent to Hell. The recording, however, was later revealed to have been a cleverly remixed portion of the soundtrack of Baron Blood, with various effects added.
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