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GLI ORRORI DEL CASTELLO DI NORIMBERGA (Italian-West German co-production, 1972)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story and Screenplay: Vincent Fotre
Screen Adaptation: William A. Bairn
Camera Operator: Antonio Rinaldi
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
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
SYNOPSIS:

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 end.

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.


CRITIQUE:

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. version).

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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