3/3/09

Terrifying Tuesday: Kill, Baby, Kill (1966)

I just can’t get enough vengeful daughters this week, but tonight’s female on the warpath leaves behind the science in favor of a more macabre solution to her issues. Also tonight we leave Spain behind and travel to Italy to visit an old friend. Sometimes, in the deluge of films to watch, I find myself unable to revisit some directors that I dearly love. For pure visual delight, Mario Bava always manages to dazzle. In tonight’s tale we are treated to another feast for the eyes when Bava plays with an array of dazzling color and set design.  
Kill, Baby, Kill [Italian: Operazione paura] (1966) starring Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Valerio Valeri, and Giovanna Galletti. Directed by Mario Bava. 

Dr. Eswai (Rossi-Stuart), a coroner, is called to a remote Transylvanian village to assist Inspector Kruger in the investigation of a death of a young girl. The locals object to the meddling of the Coroner and try to obstruct him from tampering with the body. When he is finally able to perform the autopsy, he finds a coin has been placed in the girl’s heart. He learns of the local superstition from the nurse, Monica (Blanc), who has been sent to assist him. As a native of the area, she knows the villagers believe that only a gold coin in the heart will grant peace in the afterlife to a soul which has met a violent end. 

As the Doctor begins to investigate, he uncovers the tale of Melissa (Valeri), a young girl trampled to death at a village festival. The citizens of the town believe they are haunted by the vengeful spirit of the little girl, but Eswai scoffs at them. He believes they are haunted by their own guilt coupled with ignorant superstition. However when Inspector Krugar is found dead of a self inflicted gunshot, Eswai begins to question his own beliefs. With the help of local witch Ruth, the mystery of Melissa and her mother, Baroness Grafs (Galletti), slowly begins to come to light, and the good doctor and Monica are drawn to the Baroness’ castle where the truth will all be known. 

Film Facts

--Two weeks into filming, the producers ran out of money. Bava and the cast finished the film without any pay. 

--This was the first of his father’s films that Lambert Bava served as Assistant Director. 

--Carlo Rustic Elli, who handled the massive score, was a veteran composer with 156 credits to his name before Kill, Baby, Kill. He would go on to turn in music for Fulci’s 1973 film White Fang and Joe D’Amato’s fantasy film Ator, the Invincible among many others. 

--Piero Lulli appeared here as Inspector Kruger, but he had a long career that spanned across many genres. He ended his career in 1977 after his turn in the infamous Nazi Love Camp 27

The Bug Speaks
A triumph of style and depth, the screen is filled with a series of sumptuous delights for the eyes for nearly the whole of Kill, Baby, Kill’s 85 minute running time. From the moment we see daylight as the Doctor arrives in town, we are plunged into a world ruled by tones of black, blue, and green. Each scene seems to have been given a thorough working by the lightning department, and Bava, working a with frequent collaborator cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi, takes full advantage of each shot. The screen is alive with colors, and with the richly detailed sets, I believe they were also playing with perspective. 

I would love to say that this film is a feast for all the senses, but other than for sight, I don’t think it does much for the rest of the gang. Perhaps I’m wrong though, let’s check. Well, as far as smell, there’s the titles this film has repeatedly been saddled with. Kill, Baby, Kill conjures hipster notions and sounds a bit more like Russ Meyer fare. The original Italian title, Operazione paura, has a literal translation of Operation Fear. While the spy film was certainly in vogue by ‘66, this film decidedly does not fit that bill. The German Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula (The dead eyes of Dr. Dracula) is equally as baffling, and the list goes on with Don’t Walk in the Park and Curse of the Living Dead. The fact that this Gothic horror defies description boggles the mind, and probably is at fault for the lack of praise this film receives. 

To keep up the exploration of the senses (after all I’ve started it now), you will hear a good bit of Carlo Rustichelli’s score, and this is where the film begins to lose footing. The orchestral score is so pervasive that often it feels that Bava was leaning too heavily on the score to create tension though some rather bland, slowly paced scenes. Perhaps intended to strike the tone that many Hammer film scores achieve, it instead quickly becomes a nuisance. The feeling of the film suffers from this as well, but some of the acting touches such a nerve that it is wonderful to watch.

 While neither of the leads, the Doctor or Monika, provide much entertainment. (Although Erika Blanc is quite fetching.), Fabienne Dali’s witchy woman Ruth and her paramour Burgomeister Karl (Luciano Catenacci) provide the most inspired acting. Dali commands the screen every time she appears, and ultimately she supplants the erstwhile Doctor as the film’s true hero.  Luciano Catenacci gives a thrilling performance that will remain the best bug eyed frenzy I have seen from an actor this side of Peter Lorre. This is enhances by some of the scenes where Bava did some beautiful work with shadow on the Burgomeister’s bald head. 

Another character whose role is defined by the camera is Valerio Valeri as Melissa. Valeri is actually a little dark haired boy dressed up like a little blonde girl. Now that’s no kind of Sleepaway Camp-esque spoiler (Oops, I managed to spoil SC by denying a spoiler! Curses!), Bava met with many young girls for the part, but when he saw Valerio, Mario found his spectral little girl. Melissa’s slightly masculine features manage to add to the creepiness of her supernatural menace. Kill, Baby, Kill also might have served as inspiration for Stanley Kubrick in The Shining. The long hallway shots of the little blonde girl playing with a ball are very reminiscent of those in the Stephen King adaptation. 

In the end the question is what kind of taste did this film leave in my mouth. Well, after licking the DVD for some time, I decided a literal answer might not be what I was looking for. (If you want one, one word: Pears.) Instead I’ll say that Kill, Baby, Kill is again another triumph of Bava’s vision as a film maker. However the shaky story and slow pacing do detract from this film, but while these had their effect, my overall enjoyment factor of the film was quite high. Had it not been for the dazzling visuals (and I didn’t even get a chance to touch on the eerie dream sequences with the killer baby doll), I may have lost interest in the film. It really didn’t offer up much in the way of story. Fans of Bava’s will want to see this one for it’s stylistic qualities, and anyone interested in the obscure Hammer films will probably find much to like. 



Bug Rating 


5 comments:

  1. I'm convinced. Searching for it now.

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  2. Pears? Really? Okay, I liked your review. I saw this one quite a while back, and I liked it. 3 bugs is a fair rating. And, I like the new banner!

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  3. Hey Matt thanks for the comment. I don't think I've seen you around these parts, and hope you come back to the lair soon. Check this one out I think you will enjoy.

    And thanks for the comment as always Fran!

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  4. I agree, not one of Bava's best, but still...you can't go wrong with Bava. I even love "Planet of the Vampires", a terrible movie but great visuals. "Kill Baby Kill" is one of the first DVD's I bought. When I got my first DVD player, Best Buy was offering about 50 bucks worth of DVD's for free to go along with it. I picked up "Suspiria", "Pink Flamingos/Female Trouble" and I had a chunk of change left so I picked up this movie. They had it for about 5 bucks or so.

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  5. That older bird looks like a middle aged Julie Christie.

    ReplyDelete

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