Monday, February 22, 2010

Baron Blood:
Stupid Character Syndrome runs rampant

Baron Blood (aka "Chamber of Tortures" and "The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood") (1972)
Starring: Elke Sommer, Antonio Cantafora, Massimo Girotti, Joseph Cotton, and Rada Rassimov
Director: Mario Bava
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

While visiting his ancestral home in Austria, a not-very-bright American grad student (Cantafora) restores his sadistic, blood-thirsty 16th century ancestor to life by reading a incantation that promises to do just that. The ressurected "Baron Blood" is now roaming the countryside, claiming victims, and moron-boy must find a way to undo what he did.

"Baron Blood" is an uneven film, both in its photography, pacing and acting. The camera work ranges from amazing to annoyingly bad--how can the same director/cinematographer who made the gorgeous "Diabolik" be the guy who is responsible for overuse of of crash-zooms and focus-pulls that we are subject to here?--the plot moves with a more jerking pace than a car with a failing transmission, and the acting ranges from passable in some scenes, to completely wooden in others, to so over-the-top scene-chewing in yet others that I am sure injuries must have occured from the flying splinters.

Full of stupid characters doing stupid things, being played by actors who aren't giving their best performances, "Baron Blood" is mostly a mediocre attempt at capturing the look and feel of the Hammer gothic horrors from the 1950s and 1960s--something Bava had previously done a better job at in previous films "Black Sunday" and "Kill, Baby... Kill!"--but which is does feature a few dazzling moments of horror and artistry that will make you understand why those who praise Mario Bava are so in love with his work.

There is fantastic sequence where Anna (Elke Sommer), the film's damsel in distress who eventually saves everyone in the end, in a nice little twist to the genre standards, narrowly escapes ambush by the cloaked Baron Blood and is then persued through the eerily deserted streets of the town. The sequence ends with a wimper instead of the bang it could have and should have ended with, but it almmost makes the movie worth wathing by itself. The filming here is as gorgeous as anything Bava ever recorded and the suspense of the chase will have you on the edge of your seat.

The end of the movie, even with the massive plot holes that get opened and let unresolved as we build toward it, is also spectacularly filmed and intense that the viewer will almost forget the mediocrity that went before it. The resolution to the story also has a couple of elements that I never would have imagined, but they are of the "Wow! Cool!" variety rather than of the eye-rolling, out-of-left-field-to-show-how-clever-the-writer-thinks-he-is variety.

"Baron Blood is worth checking out if you've got nothing else that looks interesting, and it would be a perfect headliner for a "Creepy Castle"-themed Bad Movie Night, but you shouldn't go too far out of your way of it under any circumstance.

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