As a teenager, Mario Bava's 1972 horror Baron Blood was the scariest film I had ever experienced, and I have never forgotten one particularly gruesome scene in which the Baron lifts up a coffin lid to reveal iron spikes dripping with blood, gore and goo. Four decades later, director Mario Bava’s film may no longer shock me, but it still remains an atmospheric ghost train ride – with a close connection to Vincent Price's 1953 film House of Wax.
Shot on location at Burg Kreuzenstein in Leobendorf, Austria, Baron Blood is probably the closet thing to a Vincent Price horror film NOT featuring the merchant of menace in residence, as it looks like a 1970s version of Price’s 1953 chiller, House of Wax (you know its the 1970s by the eye-wincing clobber, naff zooms and the Pan Am 747 cameo).
When Price turned down the film (he was probably still smarting over appearing in Bava’s terrible Dr Goldfoot sequel), Joseph Cotton (who appeared with Price in The Abominable Dr Phibes two years previously) got to ham it up as the film’s villain. The similarities between Cotton’s Baron and Price’s House of Wax character, Henry Jarrod, are plain to see. Both have been disfigured by fire, and both wear a black fedora and cape while despatching their victims. They are also both wheelchair bound when in their human disguise. There’s even a scene, in which Eva is chased through some foggy streets, that mirrors Price stalking the heroine of the 1953 film.
With the exception of a couple of gory thrills (like that coffin scene), which were removed for the American release, the style and tone of Baron Blood evokes the funereal excesses of Bava’s problematic, but deliriously wonderful, Lisa and the Devil (which has already been given the Arrow treatment). The US version also replaced Stelvio Cipriani’s soundtrack with one by Les Baxter, who did scores for Roger Corman’s 1960s Poe cycle of films, that also featured Price.
Arrow Video’s R2/B release (available from 29 April 2013) features a HD Blu-ray and standard definition DVD presentation of three versions of the film: the Italian original, Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, the European export version with English audio, and the re-edited and re-dubbed US version with the Les Baxter score. I have watched all three, and while I much prefer listening to Joseph Cotton’s fruity voice in English, the Italian version is visually superior, but hearing the Les Baxter score for the first time is a real pleasure.