CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS
Mario Bava's 1972 horror film Baron Blood (original title Gli Orrori Del Castello Di Norimberga) is a bit of a mixed bag of a film. I first saw it back in 1998 at the NFT as part of a Bava retrospective, and remember thinking it was great to look at but the plot was silly. And watching it again, that still holds. It's visually very nice in places with a terrific use of colour (particularly for a chase sequence through the fog) and it has a fantastic castle setting, but it's lumbered with a story that, bizarrely, everyone takes completely seriously. So it rather ends up as nothing more than good looking tosh, which is frankly a shame.
Maths student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) arrives in Vienna for a break from his studies and to investigate his ancestor, the infamous Baron Otto Von Kleist. He's acquired a parchment of a witch's incantation that will supposedly bring him back to life - but before they can return him to Hell with the second half of the ritual, the parchment is destroyed. Can he and architecture student Eva (Elke Sommer) find another way to banish him as the bodies pile up? And who is Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten), the new owner of the castle?
It's not Blood And Black Lace, probably my favourite of the Mario Bava films I've seen over the years (sadly, too many are still unavailable in this country), but it's still well worth seeing. Obviously the plot is absolute twaddle and doesn't bear any scrutiny, as it requires everyone involved to do absurd things without considering just how absurd they are. No-one ridicules the idea of an ancient curse that might have brought the Baron back: it's not just that they accept the possibility, they don't even suggest it might be a terrible idea. Even the police inspector doesn't throw them out of his office the way even the most open-minded detectives of 1972 would surely have done.
Still, if Baron Blood doesn't really work on the plausibility stakes (and let's be honest, a lot of classic horror films don't) it has a wonderful morbid atmosphere about it. It’s got the strange illogical weirdness of Lisa And The Devil with the occasional outright horror of Black Sunday, a fine climax in the Barons' torture dungeon, and Joseph Cotten is enjoyably hammy in a role originally offered to Vincent Price. A bonus for starspotters of Italian horror movies: Kleist's young cousin is played by Nicoletta Elmi, the little girl from The Night Child and Deep Red.
In addition to a wealth of extras including a brief introduction by Alan Jones and a commentary from Tim Lucas, both cuts of the film are included on the Blu: the original Export version (either in English or in Italian with subtitles) and the American AIP release which is edited by about eight minutes (nothing vital is missing) and has a more traditional horror score by Les Baxter score replacing the Stelvio Cipriani original. Personally I prefer this shorter version but the differences aren't that significant; either way it's worth seeing as a colourful and enjoyably wonky horror movie.