Sadistic Baron Von Klaus
= Highest Rating
to this review I'd only seen Franco films from
the 1970s onward. So I was naturally skeptical
about giving this murder mystery helmed by the
Spanish sleazemeister a go. While interesting,
his flesh-filled Vampyros
Lesbos is a semi-coherent acid trip; 1998's
Lust for Frankenstein
is an unwatchable piece of crap. Thus The
Sadistic Baron Von Klaus came as a mild
surprise. It showcases some atmospheric black
and white cinematography and competent, even stylish
direction. The story actually makes sense. And
can you believe it?... No zoom shots!
When women turn up mysteriously murdered
in the Austrian village of Holfen, a peculiar
legend involving the local nobility comes to light.
Centuries earlier, Baron Von Klaus
tortured and killed a number of young women
to satisfy his warped, wicked desires. This reign
of terror lasted until the Baron himself perished
in quicksand in the bog surrounding his castle.
Periodically, over ensuing years more murders
occurred. The Von Klaus family was always suspected;
stories of a ghostly "swamp phantom"
circulated among the locals. The villagers believed
that the malignant spirit of the evil Baron lived
on in each generation of his male descendants.
Now, with new victims turning up, suspicion again
turns to the denizens of Castle Von Klaus. There
are only two remaining members of this noble line:
Max (Women in
Cellblock 9's Howard Vernon), the current
holder of the title, and his nephew Ludwig (Hugo
Blanco), a young concert pianist recently engaged
to pretty Karine (Paula Martel).
Smart-aleck journalist Karl Steiner (Fernando
Delgado), reporter for the lurid "True Crime"
tabloid Murder and Maidens, is dispatched
to Holfen to snoop out a suitably juicy story.
The provincial police commander, no-nonsense Commissioner
Borowsky (Georges Rollin), isn't the type to lend
credence to old legends when it comes to investigating
a homicide. Still, all the clues would seem to
point straight to Castle Von Klaus. When a cabaret
singer is stabbed to death after her performance
at the local hotel, Max is brought in for questioning.
Uncooperative, with no real alibi, the sinister-looking
nobleman is arrested for murder. But is he really
The mystery angle of
The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus
is pretty transparent. You'll have the murderer's
identity pegged very early on.
Given that fact, the pace of the story can be
rather pedestrian. Some scenes go on much longer
than necessary; the film could easily be pruned
of 10 minutes' running time to
much better effect. More time is spent with superstitious
villagers and the police procedural than the cursed
family of the title. A shame, too, as Vernon in
particular is a very interesting performer to
watch. Born in Europe to American parents, he
had a very long career as a character actor on
the Continent, appearing in numerous horror films
directed by Franco. (The most famous of these
being The Awful Dr.
Orlof.) Undeniably creepy looking, with a
simple look or gesture Vernon is able to channel
the spirit of Peter Lorre by way of Boris Karloff.
His introduction in the film is one of its most
Aside from Vernon the film
does offer other points of interest. Franco fashions
a number of effective, well-mounted compositions.
The cinematography is excellent — most readily
apparent in a sequence in which the murderer's
chased through the cobbled streets of the village
— and the (relatively tame) stalking/murder scenes
clearly foreshadow the black-gloved killer of
the Italian giallo. Totally devoid of blood and
gore, the exploitation elements don't kick in
until the final 20 minutes. In what was certainly
a shocking sequence in its day, hotel barmaid
Margaret (shapely Gogo Robins) is kidnapped and
taken to the castle's dungeon, where she is stripped
down to her G-string, whipped, shackled and otherwise
generally abused by the villain. (He's reaching
for the red-hot torture irons when the scene finally
cuts away.) Unfortunately this titillating bit
of sleaze is marred by a badly looped piece of
Despite its numerous
flaws, The Sadistic Baron
Von Klaus — which, as I probably should've
pointed out earlier, is in French with English
subtitles — is an interesting (if not truly satisfying)
thriller. Worth a look for fans of Eurohorror
— even if, like me, one isn't an ardent admirer
American Francophiles (yes, they do exist)
will no doubt rejoice with Image's release of this
virtually unseen film. Video quality of the anamorphic
widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is very good, with
little print damage; in most instances the moody
black and white photography is well served. Sound
quality is more problematic. A low hiss is omnipresent,
with a bit of static here and there. We didn't detect
any distortion during passages of loud music or
sound effects, however. (Not that there's a lot
of that to begin with. Aurally, this is a fairly
sedate film.) The English subtitles are clear and
easy to read.
a rare flick, extras on the disc are understandably
light. The long — almost four minutes — French trailer
is included, along with a selection of "alternate"
footage demonstrating how much of the dungeon torture
sequence was cut for distribution in some countries.
(Almost all of the nudity and the entire whipping
scene get snipped.) While not animated, the DVD's
menu screens feature cool, stylized artwork.
a bio/filmography of the interesting Howard Vernon
is not included. It would've been a nice touch.