The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962)
With a strong hint of what was to come in his future, meaning sex and sadism, Jess Franco helms this effective thriller starring his frequent leading man Howard Vernon in glorious black and white.
It’s the story of a Baron’s curse on his descendants and their inevitability to carry on the family forte of murder, torture and as the title would have us believe, sadism. In the classic plot device of the ghost story, a couple of rowdies tell the story of the ancient Baron around a nightly pub detailing the murders that were pinned on the Baron centuries ago. Low and behold there happens to be a current murder spree of young women happening in and around the village prompting a news reporter played by Fernando Delgado to arrive. Delgado seems to be an old friend of police inspector Georges Rollin and the duo begin their search in the tight knit community for a killer.
Howard Vernon is the current Baron and behaves exactly as we would expect a red herring too. Then again, he is the title character so maybe he’s no red herring at all but the killer of young women the inspector is searching for. Into the tale comes his younger brother returning to the family estate played by Hugo Blanco just in time to witness the death of their Mother due to old age. She speaks of a premonition and leaves Blanco a key before passing. Blanco has also brought along his fiancé who will figure prominently in the film’s final chase and unveiling of the guilty party.
It’s a Jess Franco film and if you know anything of his output then surely you should expect a jazzy score that doesn’t necessarily match the on screen action, swinging hips and low cut tops. Thankfully in this case the usage of the zoom lens is absent though it would become a device he overdid far too often in later years.
Still to come here are the on screen attacks and knife murders of some key ladies in the plot leading police to close in on Vernon’s Baron. There is a chamber below the Baron’s castle that features an ancient diary of “how to” in the arts of torture and sadistic pleasures. Nearer the end of the film is a scene just a few minutes in length that was sure to cause censorship boards the world over in 1962 to condemn the film unless the footage was removed. It’s of a woman being whipped and by all indication, enjoying herself. Frontal nudity and chains are involved. Not something one would expect to see from a film made in 1962 when Doris Day comedies were in vogue. The clip actually plays somewhat like a silent film and is a bit jumpy. Perhaps lost footage reinserted on this Kino Redemption release for the blu ray market.
It’s scenes like this one that would become a Franco trademark as his career continued. Plenty of nudity mixed with S&M. Pick any one film from his heyday and you’ll find they had numerous cuts and alternate scenes filmed for the various continents around the globe. “The clothed” or rather “the unclothed” edition.
There’s still a mystery to solve here in this entertaining thriller of the Krimi variety with a healthy dose of horror film devices mixed in to keep the plot moving and the viewer guessing as to the identity of the killer and whether or not Vernon’s Baron is behind it all as the police suspect.
Director Jess Franco has his cult followers and while I’ve seen a number of his films, I’ve never seen what I would call a classic in the accepted use of the word. That said, I have seen some like this one from his earlier output that are quite watchable (Count Dracula)and some of his late sixties/early seventies titles that just have to be seen to understand what a guilty pleasure really is. Titles like Eugenie…. The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion starring no less than Christopher Lee! or perhaps Vampyros Lesbos which is a popular title getting countless releases in the home video market.
For the uninitiated this would be a good intro to Franco who amassed one heck of a long list of credits to his name, staying busy up until his death in 2013.