Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) | Mario Bava’s Gothic horror fairytale is a gloriously vivid masterpiece in suspense
In his definitive Mario Bava retrospective, All the Colors of the Dark, Tim Lucas cited Mario Bava’s 1966 Gothic terror Kill, Baby… Kill! (aka Operazione paura) as ‘a perfect synthesis of horror and poetry, realism and surrealism, color and atmosphere, classicism and innovation’. After viewing Arrow’s new 2k high definition digital transfer release, I couldn’t agree more.
In 1907, pathologist Dr Paul Eswai (The Last Man On Earth‘s Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is summoned to a remote Carpathian village to perform an autopsy on a suicide. The locals believe the town to be haunted by the spirit of Melissa Graps, who died aged seven under tragic circumstances.
When a second death occurs, and Eswai’s assistant Monica (played by Euro scream queen Erika Blanc) has a vivid nightmare involving Melissa, the sceptical doctor heads to the crumbling Villa Graps in search of answers…
Made in just four weeks, with a largely improvised script, Bava’s personal photographic style can be seen in every gorgeously-lit shot (just check out those spider webs tinged in green and purple), and in every skewered camera angle as his constantly moving camera lingers on decayed buildings, creepy corridors and (well, every home should have one) the family crypt.
He captures the essence of fear by conjuring some nightmarishly imaginative scenes like one in which the good doctor has a Groundhog Day moment when he confronts himself in a room full of old paintings before getting stuck in a giant cobweb; or when Monica descends a seemingly-endless staircase, it’s dizzy effect causing her (and the audience) to become paralysed with fear.
This is first time I have seen Bava’s dark Gothic fairytale, and – OMG! I was totally transfixed by its look and feel, and by the atmospheric use of real-life locations – including the Villa Lancellotti in Frascati, which stands in for Villa Graps, and the 14th-century town of Faleria (which Bava’s son and assistant, Lamberto, visits in one of the extras – see below).
Kill, Baby, Kill belongs very much to the same dreamscape as Bava’s Black Sabbath (which I absolutely adore), but its elevated here to the point of pure cinematic art with its skilful surreal touches. Look closely and you’ll see shades of Jean Cocteau (the arm candles from La Belle et la Bete) and Luis Buñuel (in the symbolic use of the ringing bell); while the film’s Gothic narrative reeks of Edgar Allan Poe and even Charles’ Dickens (in the Miss Haversham-styled Countess).
But Bava’s master stroke is Melissa’s creepy bouncing ball. It’s probably one of the greatest visual moments in the history of Gothic horror cinema, and it affected Federico Fellini so much that he did his own take on it in his Toby Dammit sequence in 1968’s Spirits of the Dead.
If you haven’t got it already, then you must add Kill, Baby, Kill to your Euro horror collection – and what better release to have than with Arrow Video’s 2K high definition digital transfer on dual format, which comes with a wickedly delicious features.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks
• New English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• Introduction by Erika Blanc
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas (for the last word on the film’s production, influences and legacy – this is a winner)
• The Devil’s Daughter: Mario Bava and the Gothic Child, a new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Kill, Bava, Kill!, a 2007 interview with assistant director Lamberto Bava (This is a must-see ,especially for film location lovers as Lamberto returns to Faleria, now crumbling to dust, to revisit many of the external scenes used in the film, including the church where Melissa tolls her bell, and the Anguillara castle. The big reveal here, by the way, is that Melissa was actually played by a local boy, whom Bario selected only for his protruding, icy eyes)
• Erika in Fear (in this excellent 2014 interview, Erika Blanc talks about how audiences of the day were shocked by the shot of her exposed thigh, and reveals how Bava was a big kid)
• Yellow (this interesting, if a little under-whelming, short film by Semih Tareen pays loving homage to Bava)
• German opening titles
• 1976 Kill, Baby… Kill! (To avoid spoilers, check this super rare photo-comic from Film Horreur after you’ve seen the feature)
• Image gallery
• Original artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only)