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Baron Blood (1972)

Baron BloodDirector: Mario Bava
Starring: Joseph Cotton, Elke Sommer, Antonio Cantafora, Massimo Girotti
Certificate: 15
Running time: 98 minutes
Release date: 29 April 2013

When Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) returns from medical school to his ancestral castle in Austria, he sets in motion a curse when he reads words from an ancient parchment, causing the resurrection of his ancestor, the sadistic madman Baron Otto von Kleist. Cursed by a witch to endure eternal pain and suffering, the Baron claws his way from his grave, his face and hands a tattered and bloody mess (courtesy of some nice makeup by Carlo Rambaldi) but with his hat and cloak still looking as new as if they’d just been taken from the prop department. Stopping off at a local doctor’s to stop the bleeding, the Baron slashes the medic and sets off on the rampage, with every intention of once again putting to good use the entire vault of elaborate torture devices he has back at his castle.

Meanwhile, wheelchair-bound Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotton) has purchased the castle in an auction while architect Eva (Elke Sommer) is convinced something is wrong, partly because she was with Peter when the incantation was read out, but mainly because she’s been chased by the Baron through a Mario Bava-lit nightscape. The parchment ended up in a fire when the Baron came back to life, so there’s nothing else for it but for Peter and Eva to visit the local psychic (Rada Rassimov) with university professor Dr Hummel (Massimo Girotti) in tow. It turns out there is another way to despatch the Baron and fortunately it involves what turns out to be a cracking finale filled with torture instruments, Elke’s torn dress, and a host of walking corpses.

Arrow’s presentation of one of director Mario Bava’s most successful films has to be the ultimate in Baron Blood-ness. The attractive packaging (including artwork by Graham Humphreys) contains three versions of the film: the original ‘Export Version’, i.e. uncut with English dialogue; the original Italian version (Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga or The Horror of Nuremberg Castle) with Italian dialogue, title sequences, and English subtitles; and the American International Pictures version that was originally shown in American cinemas. The AIP cut is shorter, dubbed, and has a different music score by Les Baxter, replacing the work of original composer Stelvio Cipriani. This sort of thing was common practice for AIP in the 1970s and it’s not surprising that their ‘revised versions’ are usually considered inferior to the originals. AIP’s Baron Blood is well worth a look, however, as the Baxter score is certainly effective, and in quite a few instances it’s actually a lot better than the music Cipriani provided. Cipriani’s isn’t especially memorable and consists of intrusive wobbly Wurlitzer organ themes that spoil the atmosphere at times, as well as one of those impossible jolly sing-songy main themes that has you wanting to turn the sound down, especially at the end when it’s the last thing you want to hear.

All three prints are in HD Blu-ray (1080p) and while the image is not as perfect as modern fare, this is probably the best this film is ever going to look. There is some noticeable dirt on the frame during the opening titles and in some of the dark scenes inside the castle the image looks very creaky indeed, but these are minor quibbles. Alan Jones (a man so dedicated to Italian horror cinema he was thrown up on by Lucio Fulci and told to “Fuck Off” by Riccardo Freda) provides a short video introduction, and a commentary track is provided to the export version by Tim Lucas. Lucas wrote All The Colors of the Dark, the definitive book on Bava, and his commentary track is packed with information. In fact it’s a little bit like listening to a textbook chapter on the film while it plays in front of you. Lucas’ commentary style is always engaging, often entertaining, and never dull, and it’s well worth a listen.

A short interview with Ruggero Deodato about Bava and other horror directors, a photo gallery of Bava at work behind the scenes on his movies, trailers, radio spots, and a booklet by film critic James Oliver complete this absolutely splendid package. Highly recommended for fans of Italian horror cinema, Arrow has done Mario Bava proud with both this and their other recent releases of his movies. Support them to make sure we get more high quality presentations of neglected classics like this one.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

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