Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


A series of grisly murders in the remote village of Holfen convinces the locals that the town is still cursed by the spirit of a 17th-century baron who maintained an elaborate torture chamber in the dungeon of his estate. Undaunted by the villagers' superstitions, a detective (Georges Rollin) quickly focuses his investigation upon the creepy Max von Klaus (Howard Vernon). Meanwhile, the youngest male descendent of the Von Klaus bloodline (Hugo Blanco) returns home to mourn the death of his mother and must wrestle with his own connection to the cursed family. (From Redemption’s official synopsis)

 Sadistic Baron von Klaus, The
Before he became one of the most (if not the most) prolific filmmakers of all time, Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco made a name for himself with expressionistic horror films that pushed the boundaries of censorship in General Franco’s (no relation) fascist Spain. His first international hit was The Awful Dr. Orloff ( Gritos en la Noche, 1962), which led to a number of official and unofficial sequels and remakes. Just before he was branded as an ‘Orloff machine,’ he threw together a lesser known thriller called The Sadistic Baron von Klaus (aka: La Mano de un Hombre Muerto, also 1962). It lacks the delightful delirium of Awful Dr. Orloff or The Diabolical Dr. Z (1965), but is, for most of its runtime, an admirable sampling of his abilities as a mainstream filmmaker.

For this particularly hip and jazzy mix of murder mystery and gothic horror sensibilities, Franco takes some lessons from Hitchcock, but is more indebted to French noir filmmakers, most specifically Jules Dassin (Franco would make one of several official-ish sequels to Dassin’s Rififi called Rififi in the City the next year) and the expressionistic horror of filmmakers, like James Whale. While mimicking his cinematic progenitors with surprising grace, he also manages to foreshadow the on-coming Italian giallo wave by cladding his killer in black gloves and a black hat two full years before Mario Bava did it in Blood and Black Lace (1964). In its uncut form, The Sadistic Baron von Klaus even anticipates gialli with shocking (for the time), sexually-charged murder and torture sequences.

The entire film is divided between noir and gothic styles, from cinematographer Godofredo Pacheco’s compositions, to Daniel White’s musical score and Andrés Vallvé’s production design. This is probably considered a weakness by most viewers – especially those not already accustomed to the odd shifts that accompany many European B-movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s – but I find the indecision quite charming. It’s like getting two genre shorts, neither of which is remarkable on its own merits, and adding value by occasionally crashing them into each other. Sure, it’s kind of awkward, but it’s difficult to get bored. Despite being sort of detached and scattershot, the screenplay (credited to Pío Ballesteros, Juan Cobos, Gonzalo Sebastián de Erice, and Franco himself) is easy enough to follow in broad strokes. The characters have little in common with the nebulous ciphers and hard-line wackos with which Franco would populate his more famous and hallucinatory movies, and are anchored in likeable respectable performances from an international cast. This charming tonal imbalance extends to the actors, who are themselves divided between naturalistic and melodramatic camps – sometimes switching even sides from scene to scene.

 Sadistic Baron von Klaus, The
Do note that Redemption Films is using the French cut of the film as the basis for this Blu-ray, which is shorter than the Spanish cut (unusual, since censorship was so strict in Franco’s Spain). They have replaced the sado-masochistic climatic murder – the one scene that best defines the film for most fans (more on that below) – but a bit of research tells me that a brief, pre-credit murder is still missing.

Video


The Sadistic Baron von Klaus was first released on anamorphic DVD via Image Entertainment as part of their EuroShock Collection. Later, it appeared on Netflix streaming, where it is still available, but it is a censored, SD version. Redemption Films hasn’t supplied any specifics as to their remastering process, but it’s clear that this new 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over both of the fuzzy SD versions. Details are tight, especially in well-lit, wide-angle shots. The gradations are even, contrast/gamma levels appear accurate, and there are very few instances of white level blow-out or black crush. Grain is prevalent and sometimes irregular (there’s a pretty big uptake at the beginning and end of some scenes), but rarely invasive. Considerable issues with print damage artefacts flutter throughout the transfer, including harmless flecks of white and much more intrusive vertical lines that slowly creep from the right side of the screen to the left during one or two sequences. It also looks to me like the image is slightly horizontally stretched, but it may be my imagination.

 Sadistic Baron von Klaus, The
Overall, it is a nice transfer and a worthy upgrade with one very important exception – the climatic sex/torture scene. It appears that there wasn’t an original film source available for this sequence (as mentioned, it was cut from the French release) and the image quality drops significantly as the mayhem begins. The image becomes fuzzy, grain is thickened, and the haloed edges turn really blocky (see the final screen capture on this page). It’s not the end of the world, of course, because the footage is important to the film, but Redemption probably should’ve stuck some kind of warning either at the top of the film or on the back of the Blu-ray box.

Audio


The Sadistic Baron von Klaus was likely shot with limited on-set sound, which means that extensive ADR was required. That said, because they were working from the French version of the film, Redemption has only included the French-language dub (the same one that accompanied the Image DVD and Netflix stream). Some of the actors seem to be speaking French, while others are probably speaking Spanish or English, but, even when the lip shapes match, the sync is often way, way off. The uncompressed, LPCM 2.0 mono track is otherwise pretty well-balanced, showing only minor signs of damage during harsher, louder noises. Daniel White’s sometimes jazzy, sometimes spooky score sounds particularly crisp, even if it’s overwhelmed by sound effects during its more delicate moments. Oddly, there is a tiny bit of surviving French dialogue and effects for the cut footage, but the bulk of the sequences play out with a looped piano piece.

 Sadistic Baron von Klaus, The

Extras


The only extra is a trailer.

Overall


The Sadistic Baron von Klaus is an attractive, surprisingly mainstream entry in Jess Franco’s early filmography. It’s also an oddly enduring mix of noir and gothic elements. Redemption’s Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over previous DVD and Netflix streaming versions, but was taken from a French source that was missing two sequences. The more substantial of the sequences has been reinstated in a standard definition form, which is a bummer.

 Sadistic Baron von Klaus, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: