Directed by Mario Bava

[Baron Blood]
[* * ]
[Lisa and the Devil]
[*** ]

Maybe nobody else saw the necessity for a reissue of these horror films from the pioneering Italian director Mario Bava. That's probably why the good folks at Elite Entertainment, a laserdisc company based in New Jersey, have bestowed upon us this double dose of early 70s gothic, Euro style. Certainly Bava has more famous films (such delicious titles as Blood and Black Lace or Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, come to mind), but kicks don't get much better than seeing this unlikely double feature, which seems perhaps best-suited to run on late-night TV, fully restored, letterboxed, and rereleased in the video fetishist's medium of choice.

Baron Blood is a crazy little film about an Austrian castle that's being restored (including the torture chamber!) and turned into bait for American tourists. Elke Sommer stars as a Eve, a local who spends a little bit too much time with one of those Americans, who's somehow convinced that it would be a good idea to visit the castle in the dead of night to read an incantation aloud in the room where the sadistic "Baron Blood" was burned alive by angry villagers. The supposed effect of the chant? Why, it's to bring the Baron back to life, of course!

According to my copy of Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia, Elke Sommer speaks seven different languages fluently. She certainly seems to have a little more on the ball than her kitschy reputation would indicate. Nobody in this film is particularly good at the acting thing, but Sommer is the only one who seems even remotely grounded -- that's important if we're to care about what happens to anybody in a supernatural film. As the Baron himself, Joseph Cotten is cast to what must have been the desired effect, but he's not asked to do much. It's hard to categorize his performance, but you could maybe call it "edgy." The rest of the cast is remarkably unremarkable. The cinematography is another story, and the world according to Bava is a creepy, shifty place that gets under your skin and stays there.

It's too bad that the film doesn't pick up any momentum until about two-thirds of the way through, when the Baron gets up to his old tricks, and it may have been a budgetary concern. I like the second film, Leonard Maltin's ostensible "BOMB," better, and this is the one where Bava was supposedly written a million-dollar blank check by producer Alfredo Leone. Sommer is back, back, back, as the titular Lisa, and this time she's cast opposite Telly Savalas, who plays Leandre, a skulking, lollipop-chewing butler who also happens to be, probably, well uh Satan.

Even more so than Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil is as long on atmospherics as it is short on conventional narrative. Primary colors are the order of the day, and even though some of the camera angles and fisheye lenses are a little tiresome, at least Cecilio Paniagua lost the zoom-lens fixation that marked BB. There's story to spare here, with several murders, an incoherent gimmick having to do with wax dummies that are often indistinguishable from the corpses that start piling up, and a brash non sequitur for a climax. To wit: "Huh?"

The laserdisc supplements include a more graphic shot of one murder scene, but the bulk of the new footage is of interest mainly to the lecherous (the 106-minute running time of Lisa cited on the jacket seems to include the supplemental footage). We see some impossibly explicit footage from one sex scene, part of which seems to have been shown in early European prints of the film, and part of which never had a soundtrack added (Sommers' body, in particular, is exhibited to greater advantage here). Theatrical trailers, which give away pretty much the entire story of both films, are also included. The movies are obviously labors of love, and are quite entertaining if you like this sort of thing. The price is certainly right ... you'd could barely buy bootleg videotapes of these two movies for the price of the laserdisc set (look for a discount), and by giving your money to Elite, you encourage the further release of Bava rarities. The discs are recommended most highly to Bava fans and historians, but other horror buffs should feel free to proceed with caution.

Reviews by Bryant Frazer