Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vamp or Not? Baron Blood


This 1972 film was directed by horror maestro Mario Bava and does feature on a vampire filmography that I have. Bava, of course, did produce some genre films and most striking, about these, was that the lore was unusual in each. Thus I expected to have to, potentially, look close to find the vampiric connection. I didn’t expect to have to break out a metaphoric microscope, as ended up being the case here.

The film begins with a young man, Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora), travelling from America to Austria to visit his Uncle Karl (Massimo Girotti). Karl is a maternal Uncle but, we quickly discover, Peter is very interested in the legends surrounding a paternal forebear Baron Otto von Kleist (Joseph Cotton). Also known as Baron Blood, Uncle Karl warns him that the locals speak not his name, he was very real and a sadistical torturer.

castleThe Baron’s old castle stands there still, on the way to Karl’s house. It has been bought by a business man, who intends to turn it into a hotel. However the locals will not go near there at night. They fear the Baron who, by turns we discover, tortured people for fun, liked to get a bit of impalement done (which obviously has a Vlad overtone) and ended up being cursed. The curse was uttered by a local witch, Elisabeth Hölle (Helena Ronee), when she was burnt at the stake by the Baron. This led to him being attacked and burned to death himself.

the summoningThe castle’s renovation is being overseen by Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer), and it seems that she is there to preserve its historic significance. There ends up with an attraction between Peter and Eva. Peter has a parchment, written by Elisabeth, that contains a summoning ritual for the Baron as well as a ritual to dispel him – the idea being that he can be summoned, tortured and then dispelled, thus prolonging his suffering. How a witch, whilst being burnt alive, drew up such a parchment is not answered.

Anyway, Peter and Eva end up summoning the Baron but chicken out and dispel him before he appears before them. The next night they do the ritual again and a mystic wind blows the parchment into a fire – preventing them from dispelling him. The evil Baron is alive once more and they have no means to get rid of him. But is it vamp?

Baron returnsThe Baron is certainly undead, in the broadest sense of the word. He has risen from the grave, bleeding and burnt, and looks monstrous (in the second summoning there is a fantastic scene where the oak door bevels inwards, spoilt only by the blood pouring beneath it being too bright). However we only see him act with murderous intent and not going around biting folks.

in a non-crisp formWhilst he tends to attack in that form, he can also take a non-burnt form – no-one would know it was him as there are no surviving portraits of the Baron, the face being scratched out of the only surviving one. However there is nothing to indicate that this growing more human like is anything to do with feeding, he can just do it. He can take bullets but there is a specific method of killing him.

invoking the witchAs they have lost the parchment they go to local psychic Christina Hoffmann (Rada Rassimov) for help. She, reluctantly, summons the spirit of Elisabeth. It is interesting to note here that the witch of the story is actually a good guy in this and not the source of the evil as is the norm. It is also curious that the parchment seems to be the source of the spell, rather than the words, or she could have dictated the spell. Instead she cryptically suggests that one of the summoners should use her amulet.

victim in the graveEva does hold the amulet up to the Baron, to no effect, but the witch also mentioned that those the Baron destroyed were the only ones who could actually destroy him. After accidentally dropping the amulet on one of his victims, we see the victim rise zombie like and then a whole host of zombies get him and destroy him.

spooky kidsThe film is patently not one of Bava’s best. The story has holes that you could drive a bus through and the film feels overly long. It does contain some of the Bava trademarks however. Bava certainly knows how to make solemn looking kids appear as spooky as Hell and, despite the washed out print on the DVD, it is clear that some of the trademark fantastic lighting effects were used. Is it Vamp?

impaledThe Baron has a taste for impalement, but whilst that connects with the historic Vlad it does not indicate vampire (as historically, of course, Vlad was no vampire). The Baron is certainly undead, but there is no other indication of vampiric tendency, there is witchcraft, zombies but no vampires. Knock it off the vampire filmographies, I’m afraid.

The imdb page is here.

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