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GLI ORRORI DEL CASTELLO DI NORIMBERGA (Italian-West German
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story and Screenplay:
Screen Adaptation: William A. Bairn
Editing: Carlo Reali
Music: Stelvio Cipriani (U.S.
version re-scored by Les Baxter)
Main Players: Joseph Cotten (Alfred
Bekker / Otto von Kleist); Elke Sommer (Eva); Massimo Girotti (Karl
Hummell); Antonio Cantafora (Peter Kleist); Deiter Tressler (Herr
Dortmundt); Luciano Pigozzi (Fritz); Umberto Raho (Inspector); Rada
Rassimov (Christina Hoffmann); Nicoletta Elmi (Gretchen); Gustavo De
Nardo (Dr. Werner Hessler)
Alternate titles: Baron Blood; The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood
American student Peter Kleist decides to visit his relatives in Austria,
so that he can find out some information on his infamous
great-grandfather, Baron Otto von Kleist. The baron's name still
spreads fear through the local people, as he was a sadist who tortured
and murdered over a hundred of his subjects.
At the airport, Peter is greeted by his uncle, Karl Hummell, who tells
him that the Baron's castle is being remodeled as a hotel for tourists.
Peter persuades his uncle to take him to the castle, where they meet
Herr Dortmundt, the entrepreneur responsible for the renovation, and his
lovely assistant Eva. After a brief tour, Karl invites Eva back to his
house for dinner.
During the course of the meal, Peter brings up the subject of Baron Von
Kleist. He then produces an ancient document he claims to have found
back in America.It is an incantation which, if read in the castle bell
tower at midnight, will bring the baron back to life. Karl warns him
off of trying the ritual, but despite this warning Peter and Eva return
to the castle. They read the incantation aloud, and the bell tolls two
o'clock, despite its being midnight. Eva nervously tells Peter that the
baron was killed at two o'clock. Heavy footsteps approach from outside.
A terrified Eva tries to convince Peter to recant the spell, but before
he can do so, the parchment blows into the fire place. Blood seeps in
from beneath the door, which then flings open. Peter goes to
investigate, but he finds nothing. However, Eva knows the consequences
of what they have done.
That same night, the baron seeks medical attention from Dr. Hessler.
When the doctor insists on phoning for an ambulance for the horribly
mutilated man, the baron slashes his throat. Subsequently, the baron
encounters a drunken grave digger in the woods, who also comes to a bad
The following morning, Peter and Eva tell Karl what they have done.
Despite his insistence that it was all in their imagination, the
killings continue. Herr Dortmundt is hanged from the castle ceiling.
When the castle's half-crazy caretaker Fritz discovers the body, he too
is horribly killed. With Dortmundt out of the way, the hotel project
falls through, and the castle goes up for auction. It is eventually
bought by Alfred Bekker, a mysterious wheel-chair-bound millionaire.
Convinced that Bekker is the baron in disguise, Peter, Karl and Eva try
to confront him. Their suspicions are confirmed when Bekker rises from
his wheelchair and advances towards his prospective victims. Eva
attempts to ward him off with a magic amulet, provided to her by the
psychic Christina Hoffmann, but the baron calmy flings her aside. He
then knocks both of the men unconscious and ties them up in the newly
restored torture chamber. When Eva awakens, she accidentally drops the
amulet on Fritz's corpse. Suddenly, the baron starts to suffer
agonizing pains, and Fritz rises from his coffin. Finally the secret of
how to destroy him comes to light: the baron's victims rise from their
graves, empowered by the magic amulet, and tear him limb from limb. Eva
frees Karl and Peter and they flee, the sounds of the baron's screams
echoing in the night air.
In many ways, GLI ORRORI is a rather minor film for Bava, though the
assuredness of its storytelling and the consistency of its baroque
visual style gives it a tremendous boost. As noted by Phil Hardy in the
seminal ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR FILMS, the film seems a throw-back to the
Italian horrors of the early-to-mid sixties, but it is not without
interest. A fairly high degree of suspense is maintained throughout and
the atmosphere is beautifully evoked. If GLI ORRORI does not represent
a significant thematic advance in Bava's career, it at least serves as a
prime example of how his unique directorial style could rescue even the
most un-promising material; compare Bava's film to any of the other,
typical "ghost-haunting-a-spooky-castle" films of the sixties and early
seventies, including Antonio Margheriti's well-remembered LA DANZA
MACABRA (1963, aka CASTLE OF BLOOD). In broadly general terms, the
films have much in common. The main difference between them boils down
to the greater degree of directorial control exhibited in Bava's film, a
consistency of vision which is quite beyond Margheriti's stunningly
photographed but laughably clichéd and often carelessly staged chiller.
The performances are uniformly convincing, with the legendary Joseph
Cotten stealing every scene he is in as the suavely sinister title
character. Sixties Euro-sex-bunny Elke Sommer is not required to do
much beyond screaming and looking lovely, but she succeeds admirably on
that level, and Massimo Girotti (the star of Luchino Visconti's
controversial OSSESSIONE, 1942) is very good as Karl. Nicoletta Elmi,
last seen as the murderous child in ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO, is very creepy
as Girotti's daughter, while Bava regulars Luciano Pigozzi and Gustavo
De Nardo put in welcome appearances.
Shot largely on location in Vienna, Austria, GLI ORRORI has a positively
overwhelming sense of mood and atmosphere; even if this type of
material has been done to death, it has rarely been treated so
effectively as it is in Bava's expert hands. A number of the film's set
pieces are among the most masterfully executed of Bava's career: the
baron's resurrection, for instance, is at least equal to similar scenes
in TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO and LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO. The film's best
remembered set piece is the baron's night-time pursuit of Sommer through
a maze of foggy, back-lit streets. The sequence owes much to the scene
where Vincent Price stalks Phyllis Kirk in HOUSE OF WAX (1954), but
Bava's own distinctive flair for lighting and camera movement makes the
scene his own.
GLI ORRORI is surprisingly bloody for a gothic film, but perhaps the
idea of a subtle film did not appeal to Bava after the gory excesses of
ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO. The scene in which Pigozzi is brained with a
metal rod is a great "cheap scare" typical of this type of film, but his
subsequent death in a spike-lined coffin is a genuinely gruesome
coup-de-gross. (Not surprisingly, AIP trimmed the scene in the U.S.
On the one hand, GLI ORRORI does not bring anything new to the genre.
The story, at once captivating and predictable, seems more like a
retread of themes and situations previously explored by Bava, and
others, in past films. And yet, there is much of worth in this film.
Without stretching a point too far, it is a film that commemorates the
passing of an era of filmmaking, while acknowledging the need to move on
to fresh horizons. The gimmick of setting an old fashioned ghost story
in a garishly contemporary setting gives the film an added dimension.
Just as the baron tries desperately to recreate the atmosphere of the
past by restoring his castle to its original condition, so does Bava
attempt to recreate the atmospheres of his past gothic classics like
OPERAZIONE PAURA and LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO. Both attempts are doomed
to fail, of course. Like the baron, the film belongs to an earlier era
defined by subtlety and suggestion. Yet, unlike the baron, Bava
recognizes the folly of ignoring the inevitable. Acknowledging this,
the director works in some clever gags and references: the Coca-Cola
machines installed in the castle's hallways, Eva's hideously trendy
outfits, the tape-recorded screams that the baron plays for his guests,
etc. Even if these details fail to register with the viewer on a
conscious level, they still serve as constant reminders that, for Bava,
the time has finally come to forget the past and move onto something
new. Indeed, GLI ORRORI proved to be Bava's last significantly gothic
work. In his remaining four films, he explores the possibility of
modern surrealism, hard-edged realism, psychological anguish, and
unrequited love -- ideas perhaps not totally foreign to his past work,
yet somehow altered by a new sensibility.
Review © Troy Howarth
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