Today's film is the 1972 Mario Bava shlocker, Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, roughly translated as The Horrors of Nuremberg Castle - or simply, Baron Blood. As with most of these low budget Italian imports, the writers phoned in both the plot and the dialogue. Here is a condensed version:
Peter: “I’m glad to be here in Germany to witness the selling of my long-dead relative Baron Otto Von Kleist's castle.”
Eva: “They called him Baron Blood, you know. He liked to kill people and impale them in spikes around the parapets. A witch cursed him to a violent death.”
Peter: “My family’s always been rather strange. Hey, I also happened to bring along this incantation I found in my attic that should bring him back to life.”
Eva: “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
Peter: “C’mon, it’ll be fun. Let’s try it.”
Eva: "Oh, alright."
They succeed sure enough, and the parchment (which also happened to contain a banishment spell) burns in the fireplace. The scarred creeper - played by Joseph Cotton, no less - pulls himself out of the dirt and starts murdering everyone he comes across for no good reason, save that that’s just what Baron Blood does.
Lest you think this PG-rated movie would be safe for your kids to watch, I’ll warn you the death scenes are rather gruesome. Baron Blood had a mean collection of torture devices, and he makes appropriate use of them. T
he plot twist at the end makes about as much sense as the dialogue, which (if you’re familiar with these sorts of movies) you'll understand was clearly dubbed in post production. Everything's in English, mind you - it was just easier and cheaper to shoot silent and add sound later.
I’m VERY familiar with these sorts of movies because, as I explained last year, 1970’s era Italian Horror and Giallo pictures fill a particular hole in my heart, nestled comfortably between Japanese giant monster movies and any film involving Satanic cults. There's no other film I'd rather watch after midnight.
There are three reasons for this:
The Technicolor color film stock and lighting techniques used in the 60’s and 70’s era had an otherworldly grain that records light and color in ways I cannot express in words. Colors are either candy-bright or muddy, depending on the amount of available light; lens flare effects have an icy, dreamlike quality; skin tones become harsh and bold; and blood looks like red paint.
70’s European fashion in these films are bold and inventive, and the women are strikingly beautiful. Scarves and hats, bellbottoms, suits that only come in plaid or white…I’m no Bill Cunningham, but I’d venture to say they’d be considered stylish today, in a retro sort of way.
And I’m not just talking about clothing. Unlike the browns and oranges, the shag carpet and wood paneling of 1970s America, European buildings and home decor are modern, sleek and elegant - like every interior was shot in an Ikea. From the charming opening sequence in the airplane and airport, Baron Blood does not disappoint in this department. My, how times have changed.
You don’t watch Baron Blood for the plot or the characters. You watch it for the atmosphere it creates. Like any good film noir, legendary director Mario Bava douses each frame in shadow. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's even happening, letting your imagination fill in the blanks. Highly stylized, voyeuristic camera angles elevate it beyond its budget.
The Italian giallo and horror pictures are rarely high art overall, but the cinematography never fails to be inventive. It's what keeps this movie watchable.
Mario Bava notwithstanding, Baron Blood stands miles away from the "best" Italian horror film I've seen. If you do decide to watch it, see it with friends so you can laugh at the ridiculous plot and the frankness of the dialogue.
But if you’re willing to look beyond such things, this is the kind of movie you want playing at your Halloween party - even if only in the background.