As B&L productions, he snapped up the rights to Italian films and then sold them to other distributors, including American International Pictures, but would also keep his hand in real estate development, later investing in properties in North Beach, Florida with prominent financier turned film producer David. B Putnam. AIP would have a greater influence over Bava and Leone's work in the early 1960s and through into the mid-1970s but it was during Putnam's ill-feted production of 1968's Four Times That Night (AKA Quante Volte... quella notte) that Leone was first impressed by Bava.
The production of the film was in difficulty and Putnam asked Leone to step in and resolve the issues with the Italian film company Delfino Films. Leone was persuaded to take over production on the Rashomon-inspired sex farce and hired Bava, of whose reputation he had limited knowledge at the time. He particularly admired the way the director managed to boost the production values of a film made on a very small budget. 'Bava and I became good friends by the end of the production of Four Times. Earning his respect did not come easily, however; having proved myself on the set and off was the result. Bava was not excited about Baron Blood or other projects at the time, and it took a great deal of time and patience to convince him to do Baron Blood.' (1)
The script for Baron Blood was by Vincent Fotre, a Hollywood based tennis professional (and author of Why You Lose at Tennis) who had a track record as a screenwriter since the 1950s, contributing scripts and stories to various television shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Lassie, Harbor Command and Target. His screenplays included Missile to the Moon (1958), Operation Cross Eagles (1968) and he was writer-producer of horror film Night of the Witches (1971).
Shown the script for Baron Blood by Irwin Allen's associate producer Jerry Briskin, Leone thought it would be ideal for Bava. However, Bava rejected it because the German co-producers demanded the film be shot on location in Vienna and, as Tim Lucas notes, he was already feeling that directing was 'a young man's game.' His son Lamberto persuaded him to accept the offer. (2)
On their two week location scout in Vienna, Bava and Leone settled on the neo-medieval Burg Kreuzenstein, north-east of Vienna, which occupied the site of a previously destroyed fort. It was constructed in the 19th century out of sections of medieval structures purchased by the family Wilczek from all over Europe to form an authentic-looking castle and house a collection of late-Gothic art objects and armour. It was chosen in preference to the Austrian ‘Schloss Adler', Burg Hohenwerfen location used for Where Eagles Dare (1969).
Before it was shot, in six weeks between September and November 1971, Leone had hoped to secure Vincent Price in the central role of the resurrected Baron Otto von Kleist and his wheelchair-bound alter-ego Alfred Becker. Price had previously worked with Bava on the comedy Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs in 1966 and, recalling what a terrible experience it had been, he turned the film down.
After considering Ray Milland for the role, who turned out to be otherwise engaged, the part was offered to Joseph Cotten, the much respected co-star of Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Third Man (1949) who had, by the late 1960s, started to broaden his TV and film career work with a number of horror films, including Lady Frankenstein (1971) and The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971).
'von Kleist horror house'
For the film's US debut, composer Les Baxter re-scored the film for distributor American International Pictures and about 8 minutes were cut from the film, losing some of the romantic interludes between the lead characters Eva Arnold (Sommer) and Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) and the rituals preceding Christina Hoffmann's (Rada Rassimov) psychic contact with Elisabeth Holle.
The film opens with the ultimate symbol of 1970s modernism and affluence, the Pan-Am 747 flying the aforementioned Peter Kleist to Vienna to meet his uncle, Dr. Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti). A successful and handsome young man, he is the first key in this narrative which concerns itself with ancestral roots, the power of blood ties and the schism between science and superstition, Coca-Cola and the occult.
At the airport he claims he wants to get 'back to the earth, back to my roots' and is fascinated by the ghoulish and bloodthirsty Baron Otto von Kleist whose castle is now being restored and transformed into a jet-age hotel ('a hotel for foreigners, not for the locals' offers Karl). The trappings of modernity surround the two characters as they take a Mercedes out to the castle, Bava's point of view camera showing the car hurtling through streets and then out into the countryside where the contemporary world gives way to nature and medieval ancestry. We also have the incongruous lounge music of Stelvio Cipriani serenading the images, a contemporary sheen over the hidden depths of what Peter jokily refers to as the 'von Kleist horror house'.
Bava's camera is restless, swooping and circling around the castle as we meet Eva Arnold, an architectural student trying to preserve the past as the castle is filled with Coca-Cola vendors, washing machines and televisions. She's also presented, via the extraordinary wardrobe provided to Elke Sommer, as a modern woman battling against the stridently commercial minded Dortmundt (Dieter Tressler) who treats her, in a misogynistic manner, as an exasperating busy body.
The castle is splendidly realised as an uncanny space with Bava's use of high-angle shots, wide-angle lenses and high contrast lighting as Eva goes to check on the armoury and the first of the supernatural visitations in the film occurs. Bava combines this with his painterly knowledge, a visual joke played on her by Fritz the caretaker, referencing Rembrandt, which gets Eva screaming her lungs out. Painting will of course, in typical Bava fashion, be a major ingredient in the revival of the Baron when Peter and Eva discover his likeness, with its face destroyed, in the bowels of the castle.
When the family meal gives way to the legend of a curse placed on the Baron by Elisabeth Holle we're pretty much back in Black Sunday (1960) territory again and it's an indication of how many of his past works Bava will blatantly reference during the course of the film. It tends to turn Baron Blood into a final hurrah to the Gothic trappings of his earlier films while at the same time dragging the modern world into its idiom.
In a way Baron Blood fits into the 1970s revival of interest in the occult, a symptom of the end point of the 1960s as faith in major institutions crumbled and some in society sought out other belief systems. This is reflected with a publishing surge through counter-culture, parapsychology, science fiction and horror reaching a peak and the same interest emerging into mainstream cinema and television.
As an example of this, Hammer were also dabbling and mixing New Age occultism with the revival of Dracula in Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) just as Bava was allowing Peter and Eva to resurect the horribly burned Baron of the past. There's also a suggestion in the Baron's attire, particularly the puritan looking hat and cloak, he was cursed not just for his extreme sadism but also for his narrow religious views. Alan Jones, in his introduction, also links the horrors in the castle to the crimes of the Nazis.
Peter and Eva are skeptics and there is a sense their messing about with ancient incantations is just a bit of fun, a prelude to romance even, but Peter demands they should go back to the castle and perform the ritual properly and in the right setting. They reassure themselves that if they do revive 'the old boy' they have the protection of the incantation and 'if we don't dig him, we'll ditch him'. Bava invests these scenes with very atmospheric lighting, using bright blue and yellow gels to accent the castle interiors. Cipriani's music has also shifted from camp frolics to something more sinister.
'if we don't dig him, we'll ditch him'
Within the span of a ten minute period Bava seems keen to riff on his own work and other classic horror films. When Eva sees blood coming in from under the door of the belltower it's also a nod, as Tim Lucas notes, to Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (1943). Bava returns to Black Sunday again, the Baron crawling out of his grave a specific visual allusion back to the resurrection of Javutich in that film.
Not content with this he references the heaving doorways of Hill House in The Haunting (1961) and the parchment with its enchantment of reversal escaping into the fire a la M.R. James' Casting of the Runes. A number of allusions to Black Sabbath and Blood and Black Lace (1964) also crop up when the disfigured Baron stumbles over to Dr Werner Hessler's premises and murders the hapless medic.
Similarly, Dortmundt's fate at the hands of the Baron underlines many of the film's themes and Bava's indulgence in his own catalogue. Just as Bava takes a nostalgic trip back to his key works, the Baron emerges from the past and strangles Dortmundt as he drops coins into a Coca-Cola machine. The Baron has no truck with modernity and seems quite determined to continue his exploits, returning the castle to its original purpose of torture chamber and symbol of his Vlad the Impaler-styled reign. Deny the violence and cruelty of the past at your peril, he demands. Again, Bava uses the location extremely well with a mix of wide angled lenses, colour gels and vertiginous overhead shots.
This resurrection of past glories reaches its zenith with the Baron's murder of Fritz, that practical joking caretaker, who zealously raids the body of the hanging Dortmundt for its gold ring and then finds himself dumped in a coffin with a lid lined with spikes. He meets the same fate as Princess Asa in Black Sunday and Bava repeats some of the shots - point of view of the spikes as the lid closes and a rather nasty side view of them squashing into Fritz's face.
It's a good three quarters of an hour before we even clap eyes on Joseph Cotten. He glides into view during an auction at the castle in a rather lovely introduction where Bava keeps his wheelchair-bound status as a final reveal. Not only are the proposed hotel's tellys and washing machines going for a song but so is the castle and Cotten's Alfred Becker snaps it up as a bargain. It's patently obvious Becker is the Baron's alter-ego and he's hell-bent on disposing of the cheap, crass commercialism infecting his torture chambers.
'between the living and the dead'outré wardrobe of mini-skirts, bright red shawls and bobble hats, and a multi-coloured patterned jacket. There's a great sequence where Eva talks to Becker above the chapel in the castle, a great deal of it regurgitated exposition, where the power of the ancient supernatural forces overwhelm her and Bava almost induces vertigo with his shots high above the chapel.
Tim Lucas also sees the disfigured Baron, in hat and cloak, and the wheelchair-confined Becker as Bava's homage to the Professor Henry Jarrod character in the 1953 André de Toth film House of Wax. As Lucas intimates, with Price having played Jarrod in the film it's clear why Leone approached him for Baron Blood.
Bava's love for the film is very apparent in the night time chase sequence, beautifully directed and photographed, as the Baron attempts to hunt Eva down through the foggy streets after cornering her in her room at the halls of residence. He gets maximum visual impact as she seemingly goes round in circles in the blue and yellow drenched mists, her face a sweating mask, before finding sanctuary at Karl's house.
Karl's academic career points to something of a solution. He's embroiled in studies of ESP (a very New Age subject in the 1970s) and one of his subjects is Christina Hoffman (Rada Rassimov) who turns out to be a very powerful medium 'between the living and the dead' and may be the only one who can send the Baron back to his grave. In probably the best sequence in the film, Rassimov makes a striking entrance into the film, framed in the centre of a pentagram, and plays Christina as the complete opposite to Eva.
Where Eva is ultra-feminine and vulnerable, Christina is strong, powerful and full of the pent up energy symbolised in her Mother Earth figure and is an essay in female power and its connection to the cycles of nature, life and death. Cipriani's scoring of the scene between them is very subtle, barely heard horns and drums just bubbling away in the background and suggests a sense of great power in Rassimov's performance.
The notion of the supernatural connection to the natural world is conveyed in Christina's clairvoyant ritual which Bava stages in the woods through dappled sunlit trees and water. Bava beautifully frames Christina between the trees and an ancient stone circle before she descends into a trance by a roaring bonfire to contact Elisabeth Holle and charge an amulet with power. As the evening light gradually darkens, the paganistic drums on the soundtrack herald Holle's appearance and Christina indulges in the ritual, knowing full well it will signal her death, and her nobility in the face of the Baron's arrival is perfectly captured.
Like other children in Bava's films, she's carrying a ball, or in this case an apple from which she has taken a bite, and drops it when the force of evil overwhelms her. The symbolism evokes a similar sequence in Fritz Lang's M (1931) and another Bava film, Kill, Baby, Kill (1966). And it's also Gretchen who points out the obvious to the unimaginative adults, that Becker is the Baron and Holle's amulet is the key to destroying him.
The climax sees Becker rising triumphantly from his wheelchair (just as Jarrod did in the House of Wax) and overwhelm Eva, Karl and Peter after he shows off his torture chamber complete with soundtrack of screaming victims and the castle battlements decorated with staked corpses. Karl attempts to shoot him while Eva attempts to ward him off with the amulet.
Bava doesn't go into detail about their defeat but merely dissolves back to the castle's restored dungeon and a prone and injured Eva, Karl tied up to a rack and Peter crucified. Cotten seizes an opportunity to play Becker to the hilt, despite a sense of his reticence in the role, and he's pretty effective when he attempts to brand the unfortunate Peter, now not so curious about his bloodline.
The amulet saves the day by resurrecting the Baron's victims to kill him after Eva drops it onto Fritz's corpse. Becker does a lot of thrashing about before transforming back into the Baron and the three heroes scuttle off out of the castle as the dead string the Baron up on the crucifix and destroy him. As Eva, Karl and Peter speed off in their Mercedes and back into the present day over the Baron's screams, his figure is seen briefly silhouetted on the castle rooftop before it disappears as the voice of Elisabeth Holle demands the monster's heart. The past, its victims and revenge are all bound together.
Baron Blood may well be Bava working on auto-pilot and with the thinnest of material but, as ever, he imbues it with an enormous amount of visual style. His camera is restless and driving and, even though there is an often uncontrolled and over abundance of zooming in and out of shots, his sense of drama is unequalled and this, combined with a lush use of lighting and colour, makes amends for a somewhat lacklustre story. There are some interesting themes about legacy, history and revenge and what James Oliver sees as a reverse to the 'nice, sanitised ye olde times theme-park vision of history' and a warning not to 'invoke the past... unless you're prepared to accept it as it really was.'
(1) Email interview with Alfedo Leone by Troy Howarth, AV Maniacs.com http://www.dvdmaniacs.net/features/interview_alfredo_leone.html
(2) Tim Lucas commentary, Baron Blood
About the transfer
In the main a blemish free transfer with most of the dirt and debris now absent. It's quite a soft, grainy image with a lot of film-like texture but some scenes do display sharpness and depth. The contrast levels are variable and some scenes lack the layering and the requisite deep blacks needed for the darker, shadowy images. However, it often looks detailed (clothes and faces fare well) and colourful with some, particularly reds, greens and blues, looking impressive. Bava's flamboyant lighting schemes are served well and this is a very pleasant viewing experience. The mono LCPM soundtrack can betray a bit of hiss here and there but for the most part dialogue and music sounds perfectly acceptable.
All three versions of Baron Blood playable in 1080p via the menu on Blu-ray and available in standard definition split over two DVD discs.
Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas
As ever the knowledgeable Tim Lucas provides a well researched guide to the making of this Bava classic, the second collaboration between Alfredo Leone and Bava, and he initially touches on the redubbing, rescoring and editing of the film by AIP before delving further into Leone's career and qualities as a producer, a man who demanded audiences see the money up on screen. He discusses how Bava had to be persuaded to leave Italy by his son to film Baron Blood and he eventually settled on the Vienna locations used in the film. Lucas focuses on the themes of ancient families and the split between fantasy and reality that permeate the film. There are notes on all the cast members, providing some background to Elke Sommer's career, the casting of Joseph Cotten, and a focus particularly on those who had worked with Bava before or had forged their reputation in other classics of Italian cinema. Lucas also explains how Bava used Baron Blood to quote many of his own films from the 1960s and others, such as The Leopard Man and House of Wax.
Introduction to Baron Blood (3:21)
Author and critic Alan Jones.
Delirium Italian-style - Ruggero Deodato on Mario Bava (11:17)
Director Deodato (best known for Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the Edge of the Park) explores the golden age of Italian genre films and recalls his first meeting with Bava, Bava's much admired technical and visual skills and the industry's dismissal of horror genre films.
Mario Bava at work
A photo gallery of Bava behind the scenes on his films - from Hercules, Black Sunday, via Black Sabbath, Danger:Diabolik and to The Whip and the Body and Lisa and the Devil.
English trailer (2:17)
Italian trailer (3:06)
Featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.
Featuring an essay 'Gothic Revival: A Reappraisal of Baron Blood' by critic James Oliver, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga / Baron Blood
Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion / Euro America Produzioni Cinematografiche
Arrow Video Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD Edition / FCD777 / Released 29 April 2013 / Cert: 15 / 1.78:1 / Colour / High Definition Blu-ray (AVC 1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of three versions of the film: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga (98mins): Bava’s original version with Italian audio, Baron Blood (98mins): The European Export Version with English audio, and, on home video for the first time, Baron Blood (91mins): the re-edited and re-dubbed AIP Version with alternate score by Les Baxter. Three audio versions: Optional Italian, European English and AIP English re-dub and re-score LPCM 2.0 / English SDH subtitles for both English versions and a new English subtitle translation of the Italian audio / Region B/2