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Kill Baby Kill

Kill Baby Kill(1966)

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Kill, Baby...Kill! (Operazione paura, 1966) offers viewers dramatic colors and compositions that are all put to the service of delivering a gothic and psychological horror film that showcase the many talents of Italian director and cinematographer Mario Bava (1914-1980). The story takes place in a small village circa 1907 where we see a young woman meet a grisly fate. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is summoned by Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) to do an autopsy, but his rational approach meets with resistance from the superstitious locals. Of course, you'd be superstitious too if you were being haunted by the ghost of a seven-year-old child who rings the bell tower whenever somebody is marked for death. These villagers know better than to ask for whom that bell is tolling, they all know it tolls for them.

Whether the prospective viewer comes away from Bava's supernatural ghost story feeling it is an "over-rated horror movie" (as listed in the book Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta) or enthusiastically gives it a standing ovation (as Luchino Visconti is said to have done at its premiere screening) will, ultimately, come down to a matter of taste. But if you value mood and atmosphere over modern visceral thrills there's a good chance you'll land in the latter camp. Rich color schemes, crumbling elegant buildings, mist-covered cobble-stoned streets, dusty taverns, swirling spiral stairs, and endless halls with creepy décor and art all help establish a handful of the exteriors and interiors that make the film magical. But then there are psychological interiors too, where a different form of madness seems to lurk in the corners of each inhabitant's eyes as the demonic child taps on their windows or laughs in her swing overlooking the graveyard. This last detail provides but one of many examples for what sets Bava's eye for aesthetics apart from so many other directors; it's a shot that begins with the appearance of a pendulum-like zoom into-and-away-from the graveyard that then pulls back even further to reveal the motion is the ghost child cutting dramatically, ethereally, across the frame on a rope swing that comes swooping out of nowhere. The shot is beautiful, creepy, and elegant. Later in the film there is another shot that is so absolutely inspired it warps the very fabric of space-time-continuum (it is a shot later cribbed by David Lynch in Fire Walk With Me).

With its rich visuals it's hardly a surprise to find out other directors were also influenced by this film, such as Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Federico Fellini in Toby Dammit (1968), part of the trilogy horror film Spirits of the Dead. It's also not surprising that his own son, Lamberto Bava (also an accomplished director), should cite it as a personal favorite among all of his father's films - and keep in mind here that Mario directed or co-directed 24 features from 1960-1978. What is a surprise is that so many of the poetic effects were accomplished using the simplest means, such as rippled glass, or simple mirrors, or reflections in a water glass, with more elaborate means or dollies simply not in the meager budget, estimated at $50,000, something made possible by avoiding big-name actors who worked for half-pay with the director himself never getting paid for his own work on this film.

Bava's legacy to cinema is so vast that it would be a travesty to try to condense it here in a closing paragraph, but suffice to say that others are on the task – including Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, whose much anticipated 1,000+ page definitive reference book, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, may finally see the light of day soon. Lucas was an obvious choice to do the running commentary for the dvd for this film that he lovingly talks about as one that changed his life as a 14-year-old and put him on the path that led to where he is now. It's a dense and studied commentary that expertly weaves in fun trivia that alerts viewers to location shots shared by other films, such as Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974) or Bava's own Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio, 1960), to tackling bigger thematic and structural issues addressed by the film that touch on "twinning images" and how they relate to the presentiment of death and kinship.

The Kill, Baby... Kill! dvd is due to be released by Dark Sky Films in its original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio. The film is dubbed in English and also contains a featurette starring Lamberto Bava, who talks about the film while walking around some of the locations, a still gallery, trailer, and the aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas. However, this DVD may never see the light of day now that Anchor Bay is also releasing a new version of it in their upcoming Mario Bava box set.

by Pablo Kjolseth
With the exception of Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan) (1961), one of the most beautifully atmospheric horror films ever made, the films of Italian director Mario Bava have never enjoyed wide distribution in the United States. When they turned up at all, they were usually altered significantly from their original versions through severe editing (as was the case with The Whip and the Body; released in the U.S. as What) or distributor-imposed "improvements" like new music scores or title sequences. Unfortunately, before the day of the VCR, true Bava fans - and they are an obsessive breed - had to put up with a lot of bastardized versions of the director's work just to experience fleeting moments of the Bava magic. But how things have changed! Now we're in the middle of a major Mario Bava revival. Tim Lucas's comprehensive biography of the director entitled Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark is due out in early 2002 (for details, visit Video Watchdog) and just about every major DVD and video distributor is capitalizing on the growing interest in his work among younger horror fans who can finally see the movies that influenced such filmmakers as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Pupo Avati. Here is a roundup of the best of Bava on DVD and VHS.

VCI is featuring a special Collector's Box Set which includes three of his most influential films (For more information, visit their web site at VCI Entertainment:

Blood and Black Lace (1964) is the film that set the standard for the Italian 'giallo' style of filmmaking and a stunning example of how Technicolor can be used to create a heightened sense of reality combining beauty with horror. Set in a high fashion salon in Rome, the film opens with the brutal murder of a beautiful model but the worst is yet to come for many of the victim's co-workers at the Christiana Haute Couture. This is the uncut, widescreen European version of Blood and Black Lace and features a choice of English or Spanish subtitles with English, Italian, or French audio tracks. Special features include a fascinating audio commentary by Tim Lucas, a bonus music sound track, interviews with cast members Cameron Mitchell and Mary Dawne Arden, and some rare Bava trailers. An extra plus is being able to experience the original Italian credit sequence - it's a knockout! You can now throw out your old dupes of this grand guignol favorite because this is the most stunning transfer you'll ever see!

The Whip and the Body (1963), starring Christopher Lee and Daliah Lavi, is a controversial sado-masochistic horror masterpiece which was mutilated in almost every country when it was initially released. This is the uncut, European Widescreen version and, like VCI's transfer of Blood and Black Lace, the color is remarkable. "There are the deep crimsons of the hooded pall bearers; the luminescent green shadows at the end of the halls; the shimmering yellows of flickering candles, and the deepest, coldest blues seen on motion picture film," states the liner notes by Jay Fenton and he's right on the money. The extras include another entertaining audio commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas, a bonus music sound track by Carlo Rustichelli, trailers, and a photo gallery with sub-title and language options.

Kill, Baby, Kill! (1966) effectively combines a Gothic ghost story with elements of a 'giallo' thriller and is set in a Transylvania village where a centuries old curse is claiming the lives of various female victims - their bodies are found with gold coins embedded in their hearts! Federico Fellini would later pay homage to the creepy little child murderess in this film in "Toby Dammit," his contribution to the Edgar Allan Poe trilogy, Spirits of the Dead (1967) starring Terence Stamp. Kill, Baby, Kill! doesn't offer many extras other than a Bava biography and some previews but this is easily the best looking transfer of this film to date.

While VCI's special Collector's Box Set is a must have, you'll also want to snatch up these other essential Bava titles from Image Entertainment.

Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan) (1961), Mario Bava's directorial debut, is loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's short story, "The Vij," and stars Barbara Steele in a dual role as a 200-year-old witch and the object of her curse. If you are unfamiliar with Bava's work, you should see this one first. Bill Condon, the Oscar-winning screenwriter/director of Gods and Monsters wrote "Mario Bava's imagery recalls the work of the great horror filmmakers of the 1920s and '30s. With witchcraft, mummies, Satanism, empty crypts, and Barbara Steele, Black Sunday has everything a horror movie lover could want!" Amen. This widescreen European version also includes a photo and poster gallery and an audio commentary by Tim Lucas.

Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Fear) (1963) tells three chilling but distinctly different horror tales and runs the gamut from a sadistic killer who torments his victim over the phone before attacking to a family of vampires. When the film was first released in the U.S. by American International, they dubbed it into English, re-arranged the order of the stories, and slapped a new music score on it. Thanks to Image, you can now see Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Fear) in the original widescreen European version which ends with the chilling episode, "The Drop of Water" (it was presented first in the American version), a ghost story about a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux, the mother of french actor Jean-Pierre Leaud) who steals a ring from one of her dead clients. Extra features include a gallery of more than 80 photos and promotional materials from the film but our favorite is the comic coda to the film that features Boris Karloff, the host and star.

I Vampiri (1956), a Gothic tale featuring a female fiend who preys on women in Paris, is a bit of an anomaly since it was directed by Riccardo Freda and photographed by Mario Bava. However, Freda walked off the picture before it was completed and Bava took over the production. And you can clearly see in this movie the emergence of a unique visual stylist from the atmospheric murder of the drug addict to the special effects sequence in which Giselle (Gianna Maria Canale) shows her true age. Rarely seen in this country since it's initial US release as The Devil's Commandment, it's a real treat to see this relatively obscure horror thriller again.

Other Mario Bava titles you might want to investigate on your own include Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Lisa and the Devil (1972), and Baron Blood (1972) which are part of The Mario Bava Collection available through Image (For more information, visit their web site at Image Entertainment), Shock (1977) which is available through Anchor Bay Video (For more information, visit their web site at Anchor Bay), and Planet of the Vampires (1965) which is available through MGM Video (For more information, visit their web site at MGM Video).

By Jeff Stafford

ARCH OBOLER'S LONG-LOST 3-D EXTRAVAGANZA

If Ed Wood had made a 3-D film, it might have looked and sounded something like Domo Arigato (1972), Arch Oboler's rarely seen travelogue/romance filmed in SpaceVision! Now available on VHS from Rhino Video, this jaw-dropping oddity comes with two pairs of 3-D glasses and is presented in the letterbox format.

Although Domo Arigato was Oboler's final film, it wasn't the first time he had worked in the 3-D format. In fact, his 1952 jungle safari flick - Bwana Devil - was partly responsible for starting the whole 3-D craze in the fifties. Not one to let a good gimmick die, Oboler exploited the 3-D effect again in The Bubble, also known as The Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth (1967), a sci-fi mystery thriller in which the residents of a small town are trapped inside an alien force field. While Domo Arigato lacks the fantastic premise of The Bubble, it's definitely a more entertaining film due to the atrocious acting, unbelievable dialogue and the non-stop parade of 3-D effects which seem completely gratuitous in this unlikely romance between two American tourists in Japan. Yes, it's bad - real bad - and yet, the utter awfulness of it has a hypnotic effect and you'll want to share the experience with some friends (Who cares if they never talk to you again!).

For the record, the 3-D effects in Domo Arigato are a mixed bag and some visuals are more sensational than others. For instance, the aquarium scene, the bow and arrow demonstration, a flying kite, and the spinning plates in the circus sequence are a lot more effective than the shots of floating sushi, paper butterflies, flying cream pies, a fireworks display and bowls of rice that seem to levitate in thin air. Still, you gotta love a movie that tries to command your attention by hurling things at you! Look out, here comes a sumo wrestler! But even if you aren't a fan of 3-D, you'll be amazed by the performances of Jason Ledger as Doug, a macho non-conformist, and Bonnie Sher as Tara, a depressed diabetic. What, never heard of them? Once you see this, you'll know why. Mr. Ledger gives new meaning to the term, "the ugly American." Watch him stun the Japanese hotel desk clerk with his request: "Lodgings for the night in your castle, friend." Or consider his smooth pickup line to Ms. Sher as she admires the Japanese countryside: "You really have an orgasm over scenery, don't you?" Then there's the scene at the zoo where he sees her patting a lion cub - "Hey, save some of that for me!" He has his serious side too. When the couple visit an observation tower over the city, Tara says sadly, "So many people, so many problems," prompting this response from Doug: "I don't want to hear about them or about anything else. For a little while, I just don't want to even think about overpopulation or pollution or ecology or the death of the last ring-tailed baboon. I just want to live without thinking." Amen to that and we can promise you that little brain activity is required for viewing Domo Arigato - just good eyes, a sense of humor, and a fondness for movies so bad they're good. For more information on Domo Arigato and other Rhino titles, visit their web site at Rhino Records.

By Jeff Stafford