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Sadistic Baron Von Klaus, The
The late, great Jess Franco's The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus was made in 1962 and in many ways has more in common with the director's gothic horror like The Awful Doctor Orlof than it does the sexier films he would later become infamous for but in some ways it bridges the gap between them.
When the film begins in the small town of Holfen, Elisa Von Klaus (Maria Frances) lays in her family castle on her death bed, looked over by her brother Max (Howard Vernon). When her son Ludwig (Hugo Blanco) returns home to visit her while he still can, he's told about a curse that has plagued the family for five centuries. It all began with the original Baron Von Klaus went on a bit of a sadistic killing spree. His penchant for murder and cruelty quickly became the stuff of legend and his preferred method of dispatching of many of the lands young female inhabitants was to do away with them at the end of his dagger. Now it appears that his more perverse characteristics have been passed on to future generations of Von Klaus family members as it seems similar murders have begun anew.
Trying to end the recent spree are Police Commissioner Borowsky (Georges Rollin) and a journalist named Karl Steiner (Fernando Delgado). They'll work together to try and find out not only who is behind the murders, but also why… but of course, the clock is ticking, time is running out and it seems that they're always one step behind the murderer.
Set to a great jazz score by Daniel White and pre-dating the Italian Giallo trend by a few years, Franco's film is a bit disjointed but has much to offer fans of black and white atmospheric horror pictures. While the story spends a bit too much time with the wrong characters and the red herring in the film is an obvious one, there's loads of atmosphere here and the handsomely photographed film makes excellent use of its gothic style European locations. Add to that a somewhat infamous scene involving sexual torture considerably more graphic (again, something that would pop up in the Giallos to follow… look for murder scenes involving some black leather gloves in this picture too!) than what theatergoers would have been used to at the time and it's easy to see why The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus would be considered a reasonably influential picture even if it isn't Franco's best.
Performance wise, Maria Frances as the matronly character out to warn her only son of the family curse, fearing that he may be related to the most recent batch of murders. Howard Vernon as her brother overdoes it a little bit but you kind of want that from Howard Vernon sometimes and it doesn't feel out of place in the exaggerated world that the movie takes place in. Hugo Blanco isn't the most dynamic of male leads but he gets the job done while Georges Rollin makes a reasonably efficient and believable cop and Fernando Delgado his believable, if unmemorable, journalist accomplice.
The movie does take a little while to get going. The first half is light on action or suspense and heavy on melodrama and dialogue. This means that things move pretty slowly to start with, but Franco being Franco and therefore fairly infamous for bizarre pacing ramps things up quite nicely in the last half of the film. It's here that the movie becomes less a melodrama and more a pure horror film, albeit one with plenty of sexual overtones to it, some more subtle than others. The film stumbles a bit when doses of humor as tossed into the mix, they don't really fit with the more serious tone of the rest of the film, but there's still a lot to like here. Pop this one into your player and stick with it. If you've an affinity for Giallo style murder mysteries and gothic atmosphere and don't mind Franco's hypersexualized ‘jazz on film' style (fairly restrained here compared to other entries in his massive filmography) then it stands to reason you'll appreciate what The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus has to offer.
Redemption presents The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus on Blu-ray for the first time framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. The image, like most of the transfers in this line to date, hasn't undergone an extensive restoration so expect some vertical scratches here, mostly in the first few minutes. Additionally, there and some spots of print damage throughout the movie. Detail and texture are noticeably improved over the previous Image DVD release of the movie, as they should be as that disc is quite old. Black levels are pretty solid and contrast looks good, it doesn't bloom too often. Shadow detail is also very good for an older low budget feature. It's worth noting, however, that the infamous scene of sexual violence contained in the film looks like it has been taken from a different source. The quality in this scene is more than watchable but the contrast runs a bit hotter and the detail isn't as good. There are also visible stair-stepping lines across certain parts of the female form on display. It's a minor quibble, better to have all the footage included in the feature than not, but it's still worth pointing out.
Audio options are offered in French LPCM Mono only with optional subtitles provided in English. Audio quality is fine, there's a little bit of hiss in a few spots and maybe some minor distortion if you listen for it but the balance is decent and the score sounds good. The dialogue is easy enough to understand and this is okay for the most part.
Aside from static menus and chapter selection, the disc includes the film's theatrical trailer as its only extra feature.
The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus has some great photography, memorable set pieces, decent performances and slick gothic atmosphere and as such, it's worth seeing. Franco would make more interesting films than this but it would seem to have beat the Giallo cycle to the punch by a few years, which offers some interesting food for thought as to its possible influence. The Blu-ray release from Redemption looks and sounds quite good and while it's hardly loaded with extras, it's still easy to recommend for genre buffs and Franco-philes alike.
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.