baron blood | mario bava | willibald eser | william a. bairn | joseph cotten | elke sommer | massimo girotti | modern gothic | italy | west germany | witch | curse | ritual | luciano pigozzi | antonio cantafora | umberto raho | nicoletta elmi | dieter tressler | gustavo de nardo
Film: Baron Blood (Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga)
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Willibald Eser, Mario Bava and William A. Bairn
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer and Massimo Girotti
This is a movie that I originally heard about thanks to podcasts. It popped up on what I believe was the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror Podcast during one of their Italian Horror Month episodes. They’re the reason that I celebrate November for what I watch. They might not be the ones to cover this movie either, but it seems most likely. Other than that, I just knew that this was a Mario Bava film that I hadn’t seen. It also fell into my Trek through the Twos with being released in 1972.
Synopsis: a young man, visiting the castle of a murderous ancestor in Austria, accidentally bring his dead relative back to life – searching for new victims.
Now as the synopsis said, we follow Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) as he goes from the United States to Austria. He is met there by his uncle, Dr. Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti). He is from Peter’s mother’s side. It appears that Peter’s father is also from this area. There is a local legend of his ancestor on that side as well, Baron Otto von Kleist. He was a horrible and vicious man. He resided in a castle and was murdered for the things he did. He was also cursed by Elizabeth Hölle who was branded a witch.
On their way to Karl’s home, they stop by the castle. It is being renovated into a hotel. Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer) is a former student of Karl’s and she is running things. We see an interesting run in with her and Fritz (Luciano Pigozzi) who is the caretaker. This ends up getting him fired. Peter also takes a liking to Eva and she gets invited over to dinner with the Hummels.
It is during this dinner we meet Martha Hummel (Valeria Sabel) and their daughter Gretchen (Nicoletta Elmi). The topic of Baron von Kleist gets brought up and she claims to have seen him while walking home from school. When she is excused from the table, Peter reveals that he found an old paper that has an incantation that will awaken the baron. There’s another one that will send him back to the afterlife.
Peter and Eva decide to go up to the castle, to the room where the baron was killed to see if it works. She doesn’t take it seriously, but Peter does. He tells her that it could cause the witch to curse them. They speak the words and a nearby bell tolls twice. The problem is that it is midnight. 2 AM was the time that the baron was killed. There is also banging on a door that frightens them both. Peter wants to try again the next night where Eva isn’t as thrilled. A similar thing happens with blood coming under the door. There is also a wind that blows the paper into the fire. Peter is distracted and they lose the spell to send the baron back. We then see a bloody individual seek out a nearby doctor. Is this strange man the baron reincarnated or someone else entirely? Whoever this person is, they stalk Eva and kill others who get in their way.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I’ll start is that I like the premise we get here. This is in line with other movies that I’ve seen from Bava. He loved to make gothic style horror films that feel like they could be coming from Hammer. What is interesting here is that this is set in modern times. There are even some modern ways of looking at things as well which I like. We get a bit of traditional vs. modern with how Karl speaks to Peter. I like this dichotomy. There is even a bit of learned individuals needing to acknowledge the possibility of something supernatural happening as well.
Now with those opening thoughts out there, let me delve a bit more into them. Baron Otto von Kleist seems a bit like a Vlad the Impaler. To scare his enemies, he would impale victims on the side of his castle. Out of fear, the baron had Elizabeth Hölle executed for being a witch. These are all things that happened in history. This is the lore of him. What I like is that as we go on, this happens to all be true. There is also this interesting idea that no one knows what the baron looked like. This feels a bit convenient to allow for a reveal later. I don’t hate it though, but that was what popped in my head. We also have the great setting of the castle where most of the scenes take place. I like these classic, gothic ideas as they’re just something that work for me.
To then couple this with our modern sensibilities. Peter is in Europe to have fun. He sees Eva and takes a liking to her. There is a part of this that he doesn’t think the spell will work. Why would he? He has a master’s degree. Karl doesn’t seem to believe either. What I like though is that as evidence is found, they all come around. The police inspector and others on the outside don’t, but that feels real. There is that feel of tampering with things they don’t understand that I enjoy.
Then the last thing to go into with the story is the baron himself. I’ve already said that I like the lore there. A bit more on the curse is that he is supposed to suffer something like ten times the amount of pain that he inflicted. When he comes back, he seeks out a doctor for help since when he comes back to life, he’s bleeding constantly. There wasn’t something here that I didn’t pick up on. When the reveal happened, I wasn’t shocked. It made sense. I thought it might be something else so I’ll give credit here. I like that he’s a sadist and loves to torture his victims. That makes for a couple of good kills. This will lead into a negative though.
That lies with the filmmaking. To give the positives first, I think that we get some decent effects. They went practical. The blood is bright and looks more like paint, but I do have a soft spot for that. I do think that the cinematography is good. I come to expect that when seeing Bava’s name attached. He does some things with focus that I wasn’t the biggest fan of though. That’s not to say it was bad. What I have a problem with is the pacing. This pulls me in with the set up. I like that we get a few kills from the baron. Then it hits a wall and meandered a bit. It tries to bring tension back with stalking Eva, but I lost interest until we meet Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten). The third act does pull me back in so I’ll give credit there. Other than that, I’d say the soundtrack fit for what was needed.
The last thing then to go into would be the acting. I was shocked to see Cotten’s name in the opening credits. He is the top-billed due to his name. What is interesting though is that he doesn’t show up until the second half of the movie. He is solid though from there. I liked Sommer. I thought she was fine in her role. She is also attractive. Girotti is good along with Cantafora. I liked seeing Pigozzi, Umberto Raho and Elmi. They are all actors I’ve seen before. The rest of the cast was fine as well.
In conclusion, this is a solid movie. I like the gothic set up that we get but placing it in a modern setting. There are good things with the filmmaking. I did have issues with the pacing, the use of focus and there are those out there that might have issues with the blood. None of these ruins it though. I’d say that the acting was solid as was the soundtrack. Not the best movie I’ve seen from Bava. It is still a solid effort in my opinion and I would recommend giving it a viewing.
My Rating: 7 out of 10