As if plucked from a table full of discarded Vincent Price scripts, Joseph Cotton continued his journey into the world of horror and fantasy in the this delicious thriller by way of genre favorite Mario Bava. The casting of the photogenic Elke Sommer only compliments the camera and foggy ray of colors Bava captures for our viewing senses.
Bava’s thriller gives audiences of 1972 a modern day thriller with overtones of his earlier work by setting this eerie tale in a spooky castle in Vienna up for auction and ultimately renovation. Antonio Cantafora arrives at the castle, a direct descendant of “The Baron” who was infamous for his torture methods throughout the area in medieval times. Under reconstruction, Cantafora meets Miss Elke who was surely the best looking historian available at the time going over the many antiquities throughout the castle as they are prepped for auction.
The pair unite as if they are destined to be lovers and late that same night pay a visit to a specific room the Baron was known to carry on his devilry and read an incantation from an old piece of parchment that has been unearthed. Shortly thereafter something’s moving about and rising from the grave to the sounds of Elke’s screams and whimpers. Things do get a bit hysterical when a caped shadowy figure, not unlike Price’s ghoul in House of Wax is moving about with a face and hands torn apart exposing the rotted flesh of the risen baron.
Murders ensue around the castle grounds and in the depths of the torture chambers beneath and sure enough when the Castle goes to auction, Joseph Cotton turns up in a wheelchair (not unlike Price again in House of Wax) to place the winning bid. One look at Elke’s curvy figure and Cotton decides to have her carry on as his lead curator. By this time Cotton is either guilty as sin or one hell of a convincing red herring. You be the judge upon your next viewing.
Games of cat and mouse begin when Elke is convinced the Baron has risen following a foggy night when the caped figure of the Baron pursues her under Bava’s colorful direction and guidance. Once again a scene very reminiscent of Price tracking Phyllis Kirk through the cobblestoned streets of the Andre de Toth 3D Classic. Things are going to culminate in a Pit and the Pendulum styled frenzy for the central cast members leaving fans like yours truly satisfied overall with the previous ninety odd minutes of terrifying fun.
Strictly by the numbers, this is still quite an enjoyable Bava effort when the horror genre was morphing into the Exorcist years ahead. Bava even has a character put to death in an iron maiden leaving the victim with a face not unlike Barbara Steele from Black Sunday, one of Bava’s most influential efforts if not the most influential film of his career. Having a castle at his disposal gives Mario a nice canvas to work his magic on for this seventies shocker. Uncredited make up artist on this film is Carlo Rimbaldi. Carlo would go on to win Oscars for his work on Alien and designing the lovable E.T.
According to the Arrow Video release of this on blu ray, Vincent Price was approached to star in this (makes sense to me) but turned the offer down leaving Cottten a decent substitute. The former Orson Welles stablemate was by this time finding a home in Euro horrors having already appeared opposite Price in the wonderful Dr. Phibes and took on the role of another Baron named Frankenstein in another “must see” Lady Frankenstien prior to this effort with Bava. Add in a couple of TV terrors, The Screaming Woman and The Devil’s Daughter and Cotton becomes an official though somewhat minor entry in the galleon of horror stars.
I’m sure he’d much rather be remembered for his work with Orson and company if given a choice.
It had been a while since I’d seen this one and though I prefer Mario Bava’s work from the 1960’s, this is still a perfect late night thriller to catch during the Halloween season.