Ah, the Oscar push …. December and January are always great movie months with folks rushing to get their “contenders” into the theaters right before the Oscar voting takes place. I, however, did not watch any of those. What I do have for you, dear readers, are two movies that share an important director. And no, I’m not talking about Spielberg or Fincher or Tarantino. No, I’m going to talk about two movies from Italian director Mario Bava.
I want to point out that these are in no way classic movies. I’m not going to talk to you today about From Here To Eternity or Citizen Kane. Instead, I have two movies from the late 60’s / early 70’s that are more about visceral thrill than intellectual stimulation. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Baron Blood [Rated PG]
We’re starting with a horror film this time. Well sort of. It’s not particularly scary (certainly by today’s standards). If you’re hoping for gore, you’re out of luck here too. What you have with Baron Blood is, in essence, an homage to 1930’s monster movies. One could argue that, with our understanding of physics, chemistry, life and death, and technology that we have been robbed of the fun of being afraid of innocent monsters like Frankenstein or the Wolf Man. Baron Blood harkens back to that more wide-eyed time.
A young guy named Peter returns to his homeland in Austria in search of his heritage and, more precisely, information about his ancestor, the notorious Baron Otto von Kleist, or as he is better known to his friends, Baron Blood. Peter meets a woman who is helping to restore the Baron’s castle and decides to impress her by reading aloud an incantation that is supposed to bring about the return of the Baron. One quick note: Reviving the dead … not typically a good idea for a first date. While reading the incantation, the wind blows the only copy of the instructions to send the Baron back to the grave into the fire. Oops.
With the Baron free to kill again and no way to send him back, they have to improvise and contact a medium who will communicate with the dead witch that originally cursed the Baron. That is where the early 70’s psychedelic cinematography and sound effects really kick in. Witches, multiple exposures, fire, spooky analog synthesizer sounds …. well, here, watch the trailer.
Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. But it is really fun. The soundtrack, at least the American version, was written by Les Baxter and is spectacular. Mario Bava had an amazing eye for visuals and while Baron Blood is by no stretch his best, it is very entertaining and perhaps the second best way to get into Bava’s movies. The absolute best, well, that’s the next review.
6 Paws out of 10
Danger: Diabolik [Rated PG-13]
Now, I don’t want to lie to you and say that film historians consider this to be Bava’s greatest film. They don’t, but I disagree. Here, his visual mastery is really on display. Diabolik was filmed at the same time as Roger Vadim’s Barbarella. Both films are commonly lumped together as hallmarks of pop cinema. To me, Diabolik is far more entertaining and visually pleasing. The costumes, the sets – they are all gorgeous.
Diabolik is a master thief and begins the movie by outsmarting the police and escaping in a spectacular car chase (in a spectacular Jaguar E-Type). This sets up a classic cat and mouse story.
Speaking of which, I know this is a tangent, but I really hate that saying. I’m a cat, and I do not chase mice. Shouldn’t it be “house cat and mouse” or “cat and prey?” I just don’t like the insinuation that I eat mice. Gross!
But back to my original point, Danger: Diabolik is a classic house cat and mouse story with gorgeous, pop art inspired scenery and a glorious rock/jazz soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. Diabolik’s underground lair may not be as majestic as a Bond villian’s, but find me one that looks like more fun to hang out in. I dare you. And it’s a shame that you can’t buy the soundtrack to the film. I would love to drive along the coast in a classic sports car bumping the score.
At any rate, it’s fast, fun, silly and really enjoyable. Get it from Netflix and watch it on a Saturday afternoon when you’re just trying to relax. You won’t regret it. Since I pointed you to the trailer in the last review, I might as well do it here too. Also, if someone can get me that revolving bed covered in money, I would really appreciate it.
7.5 Paws out of 10
As a quick note, my friend Beth asked me what I have been reading lately and suggested that perhaps I do a book review. Alas, with the start of school, my reading time has been taken up with textbooks and studying but, fear not, Beth! I did read “The Age of Wire and String” by Ben Marcus over the winter holiday. I’m not particularly skilled at book review, but I will say that the structure of the book (it’s written as a series of 41 “pieces”, for lack of a better word, grouped together by theme) made reading it more, dare I say, interactive, than reading a typical novel. It’s sort of like reading a collection of artifacts and anecdotes from someone cataloging a strange culture and trying to piece together their history. Not my normal everyday read, but it was fun. Whether I would recommend it or not …. that’s really subjective. Not everyone is going to be down with a book that, at first glance, appears to be incomprehensible. I don’t think I get 85 percent of it but it is an experience that I gained some insight from so take that as you will.