Synopsis: An American student’s family curse, an ancient Austrian castle of torture and a demonic incantation that resurrects the infamous 16th Century sadist known as ‘Baron Blood’. Director Mario Bava returns to his gothic roots — albeit with a modern day Technicolor twist — in this indelibly atmospheric thriller that pays tribute to the sumptuous horror classics of the ’30s and ’40s while delivering the black humor and grisly shocks of the drive-in ’70s. Joseph Cotton, Elke Sommer and Massimo Girotti star in one of the most visually haunting films of Bava’s later career.
eyelights: its atmosphere. its locations.
eyesores: its thin script. its performances. its make-up effects.
“Coming face-to-face with my ancestor from the 16th century, monster or not, is an experience I wouldn’t want to pass up.”
Mario Bava once has both stated that he wasn’t one to judge a script, and that he just took what producers gave him. He wasn’t an especially demanding director, it seems, which accounts for the conditions under which he made films and the quality of the work he landed.
‘Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga’ is a perfect example of why this agreeable manner isn’t always effective: it’s barely a script, a loose horror film spun around a few trite urban legends. It’s a movie that forced Bava to kill on-screen time with atmospheric shots.
That alone is reason enough to watch the 1972 picture (which is inaccurately listed as Bava’s return to horror after a six-year absence, even though he’d just made two in the last two years). If one wants to see a creative cinematographer construct a film, it’s well worth it.
But there’s little else of note here.
The plot, if one might call it that, revolves around Peter Kleist’s visit to Austria to learn about his family history, particularly about his great-grandfather Baron Otto von Kleist, a sadist who used to torture and murder the locals and who died a horrible death.
Naturally, Peter’s brought with him a parchment with an incantation to bring the so-called Baron Blood back to life. Peter decides to try it while in the Baron’s castle. On it, is an incantation that returns the Baron to the dead. Of course, it is destroyed before he can recite it.
Now Baron Blood is loose.
Basically, ‘Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga’ has all the qualities of your average slasher: a crazed killer, an atmospheric setting, and plenty of victims to be felled in various ghastly ways. And that’s pretty much what we get for little more than 90 minutes.
The problem is that there’s no enjoyment in it: none of the kills are especially viscerally pleasing or emotionally satisfying. And there’s very little sense of dread either, as there is little doubt that our leads will survive their encounter with the Baron.
Not that we care, anyway: though both Antonio Cantafore and Elke Sommer are charming, they’re amateurish in their delivery. Sommer is particularly inept in the many moments in which her character is chased and/or frightened, acting all hysterical but eliciting laughter.
Even screen legend Joseph Cotton stinks up the screen as Alfred Becker, a mysterious but wealthy invalid who buys the Baron’s castle at an auction and proceeds to restore it – miraculously completing the work in mere days. Cotton hams it up like he couldn’t give a !@#$.
The real star of the picture, here, is Burg Kreuzenstein, the Austrian castle that was used for the shoot. Bava really milked the location for its mood, getting the actors to walk around every bit of it over and over again. Well… at least padding a film never looked so good.
One has to give credit to Bava for making a whole movie out of nothing, and making it work. Mostly. But ‘Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga’ remains bereft of any substance or real chills. It’s an empty experience even by the already low standards of horror films.
Baron Blood kills time well, and that’s about it.
Date of viewing: July 8, 2017