11/14/08

The LBL Feature Presentation: The Films of Mario Bava


Hello and welcome back to the Feature Presentation. I'm so glad I picked Mario Bava for this month's focus because I was woefully uninformed about his body of work. Thankfully these four weeks will help me out. Tonight's film comes from near the close of Bava's career. He would retire from movie making only 6 years later after being frustrated with the lack of distribution of his projects. It really is a shame that more people did not see his films at the time or for that matter recognize his mastery of the medium. I am therefore very happy to bring to you tonight a film about a man that would have loved to pal around with Vlad Tepes. I give you...

Baron Blood (1972) starring Elke Sommer, Joseph Cotten, Antonio Cantafora, Massimo Girotti. Directed by Mario Bava.

Peter Kleist (Cantafore) has just graduated college and is looking to take a relaxing trip to Austria. There he wants to explore the land his ancestors hailed from. His uncle, architecture professor Karl Hummel (Girotti), picks him up at the airport when he arrives. On their way to his uncle's home they pass the castle that was once owned by Peter's direct ancestor, Baron Otto von Kleist also known as Baron Blood. It seems the Baron had something of a penchant for torture, impalement, burning witches, and whatever else stoked his sadistic fancy. Peter and his uncle stop in at the castle, which is being converted into a hotel for tourists, and they meet one of his uncle's old students Eva (Sommer) who is now working with the hotel owner to preserve the castle's cultural heritage.

Later that night over dinner with his uncle and Eva, Peter shows off an incantation he has brought with him. It was a curse put on the Baron by a witch which got burnt at the stake. It will raise the Baron back from the dead to suffer in life again. Against the better judgment of his uncle, Peter and Eva go off the the castle and give the spell a try. When they think it might have worked they quickly read the part of the spell to send the Baron back to whence he came. Peter is still very curious so he and Eva return the next night to try again. Unfortunately a window blows open and the parchment the banishing spell is on flies into the fire.

Deep in the night a cloaked figure rises from the ground. The Baron has returned. He finds a doctor who treats his wounds which are seeping blood, but the physician is rewarded for his work with a scalpel across his throat. The Baron makes his way to the castle where he dispatches the caretaker and the owner thus restarting his reign of terror. The demise of the
hotel owner leads the castle to be put on auction. It is bought by the wheelchair bound Alfred Becker(Cotten) . Peter and Eva warn Becker of the resurrected Baron, but he seems unworried by the local legends.

Soon the Baron is pursuing Eva wherever she goes, and so with the help of Peter's uncle they come into contact with a witch named Christina. She helps them summon the spirit of the witch that cursed the Baron, and they learn that only the two that summoned him could send him back. That is if they had the spell to do so. With little hope, Peter and Eva return to the castle for a final showdown with the bloody Baron and seek to uncover someway to save themselves from his wrath.

Film Facts

--The film is known under several titles. The original Italian title was Gli Orrori Del Castello De Norimberga It has also been know as The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood, Baron Vampire, The Thirst of Baron Blood, and Chamber of Tortures.

--Elke Sommer would work with Bava again on the film Lisa and the Devil which was re-edited and released as House of Exorcism.

--Joseph Cotten was the venerable veteran of many Hollywood films, but in the early seventies he worked in many genre pictures such as Soylent Green, Lady Frankenstein, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

--There is no explanation how Joseph Cotten's crippled character Becker can move about the castle from floor to floor and overcome the many sets of stairs.

The Bug Speaks
Have I mentioned how happy I am to be taking a good look at Bava's films? I have. Well, it begs to be mentioned again. Coming 9 years after The Girl that Knew Too Much and gracing the screen in full color, it was thrilling to see that Bava had lost none of his mastery of light and shadow. The color in this film actually enhanced it as he could work in tones of grey and blue in with the black. The shots which took place in the day or in the opulence of the castle only served to offset how atmospheric and moody the dark set pieces were. Bava himself handled the cinematography for the film, and it is easy to see that even this late in his career he was a man still at the peak of his power as a film maker.

The performances in this film are also quite good. Miss Sommer is not only quite lovely too look at (and she is quite lovely in her mod outfits) she also turns in a heck of a performance as the heroine of the piece. Joseph Cotten was also a welcome surprise. A veteran actor of such films as Citizen Kane, Gaslight, and The Third Man it was unwise of me to underestimate his performance. In a duel role as (SPOILER) Becker and the Baron he shows off a range of
acting and athleticism that frankly I did not expect him to have. It was a pleasant surprise and added greatly to my enjoyment of the film.

Perhaps the only thing that needed improvement were the effects. Even taking into account the year of production (the same as Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling and Martino's Your Vice is a Locked Room) the effects were run of the mill. The ones that did look good such as the reveal of a man trapped in an iron maiden were not given enough screen time to really make an impact. That being said the story and performances were so strong that this did not really detract from the film.

In the end this was another highly worthwhile film from a director that more people should take a look at. I am really glad I have 2 more weeks to continue delving into his oeuvre. So join me next Friday for the third installment, and until then enjoy all the goodies I have on the way this week. See ya Moonies.

Bug Rating

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