Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966)

Kill, Baby... Kill! (original Italian title Operazione paura) was one of Mario Bava’s gothic horror masterpieces. While Bava worked in many genres and did great work in all of them I have always personally felt that it was gothic horror that provided the opportunity for his visual genius to shine at its brightest.

Kill, Baby... Kill! is a ghost story although as with all of Bava’s movies the imagery is much more important than the plot.

In the early years of the 20th century (the internal evidence of the movie would suggest a date of around 1907) Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) arrives in a village in Transylvania. He has been asked to come by Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) in order to conduct a post-mortem on Irene Hollander, a young woman who has died violently in circumstances that could suggest suicide or murder. The villagers have no doubt why she died. It is a curse, a curse connected with the Villa Graps. This curse has claimed many lives already, its victims all dying in somewhat similar circumstances.

Dr Eswai needs someone with some kind of scientific training to witness the post-mortem. The only person available is science student 22-year-old Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc) who has born in the village but has not been back to her home since early infancy. As we  will later discover Monica’s links with the village are not at all what we were originally led to believe.

Inspector Kruger’s investigation is going nowhere. No-one in the village will tell him anything and although the burgomeister Kierr (Luciano Catenacci) seems willing to help he also seems resigned to the impossibility of getting anything out of the villagers.

The witch Ruth (Fabienne Dali) is the only person the villagers have any faith in. Not surprisingly it proves difficult for someone with her faith in magic to offer much in the way of effective co-operation with a man of science like the doctor, even though Ruth seems less hostile than the other villagers.

More deaths occur and it seems that Monica is destined to be yet another victim of the curse, along with Dr Eswai.

The curse originated with the death of seven-year-old Melissa Graps and it is the hate-filled ghost of this child that has driven so many people to grisly deaths.

The ghost story is a fairly routine one but it is Bava’s visual sorcery that makes the movie compelling. He offers us a series of stunning visual set-pieces, but more importantly he creates a vivid nightmare atmosphere in which reality seems to melt away into a hallucinatory dreamscape. Bava’s enthusiasm for coloured gels is on full display in this movie and this technique combines effectively with some splendidly evocative gothic locations. The movie was shot in various locations in Italy and they really do work superbly.  

The sense of entrapment is all-pervasive as the hapless hero encounters gates that lock behind him, a dizzying spiral staircase and finally reaches a crescendo with the doctor pursuing his own doppelgänger. What doppelgängers have to do with the plot is not clear but it certainly adds to the nightmare atmosphere. A collection of dolls and a child’s rubber ball are used to excellent effect.

Erika Blanc as Monica has little to do other than look frightened and vulnerable. Dr Eswai is mostly rather ineffectual, although he’s courageous enough. The most interesting character is the witch Ruth and Fabienne Dali makes the most of her ambiguous role.

The Anchor Bay DVD offers an excellent transfer that puts most of the earlier (and rather unsatisfactory) DVD releases to shame. Unless or until this movie gets a Blu-Ray release the Anchor Bay DVD certainly offers the best chance to appreciate Bava’s box of visual magical tricks.

Kill, Baby... Kill! is one of the high-points of 1960s eurohorror, a tour-de-force of striking gothic imagery that demonstrates Bava’s effortless mastery of the genre. Highly recommended.

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