Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Monday: Baron Blood

Beware the curse of Baron Blood!

I was in the mood for trashy, bloody, gory fun, so a Mario Bava movie that I had never seen before seemed like the perfect fit.
The story concerns an American student named Peter (Antonio Cantafora), who is returning to his ancestral castle home so he can learn about an ancestor, the infamous Baron Otto van Kleist. He is infamous for murdering and torturing his subjects, and even though that was a long time ago, his name still inspires fear in the local townsfolk.

Peter meets the comely Eva (Elke Sommer), the assistant to a real estate developer who is working on turning the historic castle into a hotel. He mentions an ancient document he found back in the States, which is an incantation that would bring the Baron back to life if spoken aloud at the right time. Neither one of them take it very seriously, so they decide to try it, just for kicks:

It becomes clear that the document does, in fact, work! They hear slow footsteps outside the castle door, and it pounds heavily. They recite it again, and the seemingly nefarious presence is gone. The next night, for some reason, they do it again, except this time a stiff breeze carries the fragile paper onto a nearby roaring fire--meaning the Baron lives again!

The Baron stalks the town, first stopping at a doctor's office. The doctor treats this stranger with kindness, despite his frightening visage:
For his troubles, the doctor is murdered, and so is a gravedigger. Peter and Eva explain to the developer what they've done, and are met with disbelief. Nevertheless, the murders continue, which, you know, kinda drive real estate prices down a bit. The renovation is cancelled, and the castle is put up for auction. It's bought by wheelchair-bound millionaire Alfred Bekker (Joseph Cotten, back for a second straight Movie Monday):
It doesn't take long for our dim-witted heroes to realize Bekker and the Baron are one and the same. Via a magic amulet, a plan is realized how to send Baron back to the grave.

Like I said above, I was looking for a big, fun, pulpy horror film, and usually Mario Bava delivers exactly that in his films (Black Sabbath, Planet of the Vampires), but unfortunately I found Baron Blood to be mostly very, very dull. Peter and Eva are your classic Stupid Protagonists, and a lot of horror movies wouldn't exist at all if the main characters didn't do very stupid things, but these two are so painfully careless that it makes the whole "incantation" scene laughable, as opposed to frightening. Once you've learned that the magic paper works, you wouldn't, oh, I don't know, tear the thing up into a thousand pieces?

The best part of the movie is, by far, the character design of the titular Baron. With his Solomon Kane-esque cloak and Hammer Films-like face, he cuts quite a dashing, scary figure, especially when draped in shadow, which is most of the time. There's a fun scene of a victim getting trapped in an Iron Maiden, which seemed like something Bava just really enjoyed.

But that stuff is few and far between, mostly it's Peter and Eva running about, which I found to be tedious in the extreme. It's always nice to see Cotten, although I always found him so charming that having him play a bad guy seems like a waste sometimes. Maybe I should have just watched Planet of the Vampires again.

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