Mario Bava's 1972 picture Baron Blood marked a return to gothic horror for the director after making an early slasher with Bay Of Blood the year before and turning in a Spaghetti Western with Roy Colt And Winchester Jack the year before that. The story revolves around an American named Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) who decides to learn more about his ancestor, Baron Otto Von Kleist. In order to make this happen, he travels to Austria to stay with his uncle, Dr. Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti), and do some detective work. As it turns out, Baron Von Kleist was a sick and twisted individual with a penchant for cruelty who died under some rather unorthodox circumstances.
Soon, Peter meets up with a foxy student named Eva (Elke Sommer). The two hit it off quickly and before you know it, she's decided to help him uncover the truth about his distant relative. The two travel to the late Baron's massive old castle where they uncover an aged piece of parchment paper. When they read aloud what the parchment says, they unwittingly resurrect the Baron who, rotted face and all, soon gets up to his old tricks and starts murdering a few of the town's unlucky locals. Once he's back in the swing of things, the Baron morphs into a healthier looking version of himself (played by Joseph Cotton) so that he can buy back his castle and get back to torturing people to death. Of course, Peter, Eva and Uncle Karl decide it'd be best if they didn't let the Baron get back to his old ways and so the three of them set out to stop him before it's too late.
A fantastic looking and wonderfully colorful film shot on location in Austria, Baron Blood has a lot more in common with Bava's gothic classics Black Sunday and Kill, Baby... Kill! than with the carnage laden giallo that he made only a year before. While the script by Vincent Fotre isn't the strongest he'd ever had to work with, it's obvious that the director was having fun on the film as there is plenty of insanely stylish lighting and cinematography and a fun comic book feel to the picture. The contrast provided by the swinging mod culture of the Europe of the early seventies playing against the bleak, dreary gothic castle provides some interesting eye candy and a few fun chase scenes allow the director to play with some genuine tension. There are also plenty of bizarre camera angles used throughout the movie to help build tension and keep things interesting looking.
As far as the performances go, Antonio Cantafora doesn't exactly light up the screen as the male lead but Elke Sommer looks great and at least shows some genuine enthusiasm for the part, even if it isn't the most demanding role of her career. Massimo Girotti is good as the Uncle but the real star of the show is Joseph Cotton as the Baron's alter-ego (in a part originally intended for Vincent Price). He throws himself into the part and looks to be really enjoying playing the bad guy. If Baron Blood isn't Bava's best films it is certainly a really enjoyable and classy looking B-movie. Think of this one as an homage to some of the director's earlier pictures or as a nod to the Vincent Price movies made for AIP in the sixties and you're bound to have a good time with it. It moves at a great pace and features an impressive score from Stelvio Cipriani. There are enough interesting little touches throughout the film, such as the spiked coffin or the funky fridge red sweater that Sommer wears in one scene. Details like this help to add flair while the gothic elements of the story add the horror. It's a good mix, the kind that Bava had made a strong name for himself with by this point in his career.
The AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray from Kino is a pretty big improvement over the previous DVD releases, both the remastered one that appeared in Anchor Bay's boxed set and even more so the non-anamorphic release from Image that came out years back. Colors are much stronger and considerably bolder without ever looking artificially boosted. This allows some of the more 'pop' looking elements in the movie to really come to life. Detail is as strong as the source elements will likely allow, and not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well. You can notice the texture in the clothing seen throughout the movie as well as in background props like the grain in the wood behind the coffin or fabric of a curtain hanging over a window. There are scenes that still look soft, and that stems back to the original photography it would seem, but this is a nicely shot movie that takes advantage of the upgrade that the new transfer taken from the 35mm negative allows. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement nor is there any noticeable noise reduction. As is the norm with most of Kino's titles, the film hasn't undergone a massive frame by frame restoration but it has been taken from elements that were obviously in nice shape to begin with. Some minor specks appear and maybe a few tiny scratches here and there but outside of that, the picture is clean, strong and stable. The first few seconds where the Pan Am airplane is flying over the opening credits shows some dirt but once we get past that, it's a nice, clean but still very film like presentation.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track. It sounds fine for what it is an offer a bit more depth than previous DVD releases could provide. You'll notice that the voice work sounds a bit more natural and that the score has a bit more weight behind it. The levels are properly balanced throughout and there are no problems with any audible hiss or distortion to complain about. There are no alternate language options, closed captions or subtitles of any kind provided here.
The main extra feature on this disc is another audio commentary from Tim Lucas which is carried over from the older Anchor Bay DVD from a few years ago. Lucas talks about AIP's tinkering with the film and provides a good, overall history of the picture and he does a solid job this time around of explaining the importance of various cast members and about spilling some interesting details about the different locations that the picture was shot on. He also covers some of the films that probably influenced Bava's movie and talks about some of the effects set pieces and design work constructed for the picture. As is the norm with Lucas' commentaries for Bava films, it's a very strong and rather engaging track that provides a veritable crash course in the film's history and importance - anyone with an interest in the movie or those who made it is encouraged to give this track a listen.
Also included here are the alternate opening (2:28) and closing (2:05) Italian Title Sequences - these are curiosity items more than anything else but it's cool to see them included here. Both Italian and English theatrical trailers are provided for the feature and there are also trailers included here for Black Sunday, Hatchet For The Honeymoon, Lisa And The Devil and it's bastardized counterpart House Of Exorcism. Rounding out the extra features is a trio of radio promo spots, static menus and chapter stops. All of the extras are presented in high definition.
Baron Blood probably won't ever be regarded as Mario Bava's best picture but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's a really enjoyable and completely entertaining slice of gothic horror. It's slick, stylish, well paced and it features a solid cast and Kino's new Blu-ray release carries over the great commentary from the past DVD and presents it, along with a few other extras, in great shape. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.