A gothic castle in Austria, complete with torture chamber and coca cola machines, provides the setting for Mario Bava's modern-day depiction of olde worlde terror. A three hundred year-old witch's curse was placed on Baron Otto Von Kleist as punishment for his sadistic brand of in-house entertainment; a curse that will eventually cause the Baron to return and suffer again and again, at the hands of those he tortured. Enter Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) and architectural student Eva (Elke Sommer), who recite the necessary incantation in the castle's bell tower at midnight, thus reviving an ancient evil and earning the gratitude of another unquiet spirit.
This hardly ground-breaking premise, coupled with a strictly limited budget, placed the director in his accustomed position of attempting to turn water into wine. Once again, he succeeds, albeit to a lesser extent than previous triumphs.
Stories like this may be almost ten-a-penny, but Bava manages to rise above a tired script to create some genuinely chilling moments; some of which bear comparison with his most acclaimed work: the scene where Eva flees the murderous Baron is a case in point, as Bava's camera traverses mist-shrouded streets, while an eerie blue-lit fog of fear serves to amplify Eva's predicament. The aforementioned resurrection scene also scores highly, creating an overwhelming sense of dread as the previously dormant bell chimes twice (marking the hour when the Baron died), convincing Eva that everything they've heard is true.
Cast-wise, Baron Blood more than holds its own, with [Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti and the excellent Joseph Cotten all relishing the scrap, while the wonderful Rada Rassimov is particularly striking as a medium who summons the spirit of the Baron's old adversary, Elizabeth Holly; a supernatural calling-card of the highest order. Genre afficianado's will also note the presence of Euro-moppet Nicoletta Elmi, who once again demonstrates that it's the little girls who understand.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.