It is probably safe to say that if you were a horror film maker in the 1970s and even Vincent Price turned down your script, you probably had a big turkey on your hands. However even though this is what happened to Baron Blood or (as it should have been called) Someone’s Left The Fog Machine On, things just click together in a weird and wacky way. Even with a script that is as mad as a box of frogs, Citizen Kane actor Joseph Cotton decided to step in after Price has so politely refused. Brave move, my friend. Brave move…
Made in 1972, Baron Blood tells the story of Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) who has decided to take a break from his studies (presumably in how to get the perfect 1970s mane), and flies to Austria to stay with his uncle Dr. Karl Hummel (Massimo Girotti). Peter is related to the infamous, Otto von Kleist, a local 16th century baron with a penchant for sticking pokers up peoples’ bottoms. Karl takes Peter to visit the dead Baron’s castle which is going to be turned into a hotel, aptly called The Hotel of the Devil.
Whilst there, Peter meets Eva (Elke Sommer) and a team of historians working on the castle. One night, inspired by spooky stories surrounding his ancestor, Peter and Eva summon the Baron back from the dead. Soon the Otto van Kleist is on a murderous rampage to help restore his castle back to how it used to be in the good old days when dead bodies hanged from the tower. Changing Rooms this most certainly ain’t!
It is a real shame that films made in the 1970s just didn’t get how to make a good soundtrack. Instead of spooky violins and tinkling keys, Baron Blood is underpinned with what sounds like Burt Bacharach’s Do You Know The Way To San Jose? The opening is just full of it as Peter travels (on Pan Am no less) over to Austria and then on his journey to the castle. It is just very hard to believe that some serious horror will begin to happen when it sounds like the cast’s radio is stuck on Magic FM.
But the horror does arrive – and my gosh, it brings a lot of red paint with it. The film essentially only has three main characters so naturally a lot of expendable extras are briefly introduced and dispatched as soon as the baron crawls out of his muddy grave. Really though it is Eva who is the star of the show. There is one very lovely set piece where she is being pursued by the baron through the streets, where the fog machine has been turned up to eleven. It is all gloriously backlit and as she runs for her life (“I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose. La la la la la…”) you can see why Mario Bava became the horror legend he is.
The plot is a strange mix of well known clichés and idiotic decisions (don’t ignore the creepy child who saw the baron, it’s also probably best NOT to read the Latin incantation) but it is also wildly unpredictable in the way only 70s films can be. “As you know, my work here at the school involves research into extrasensory perception” says Dr Hummel at one point very much out of the blue, before introducing us to Clarissa, the ESP clairvoyant and medium.
Baron Blood is also full of hilarious coincidences. Everyone they stumble across just so happens to have the charm/spell/locket needed to send the baron back to Hell. Yes, this might seem outdated to modern audiences who used to being left in the dark, but it is plot points like this that make these films so much fun. They are kitsch, brightly coloured, completely bonkers and smothered in Kensington Gore.
There is one thing though that can really be taken away from Baron Blood: if someone asks you “do you know the way to Hotel Devil?” it’s probably best to turn up the radio and just keep driving…