Thursday, 7 September 2017
That wafer- thin line between the living and the dead has been crossed by many directors but few, I'll wager, could walk the walk like Mario Bava. With the sole exception of Lisa And The Devil, Bava had to work with meagre budgets and tight schedules, relying on ingenuity, imagination and those painterly eyes that created some of the most vivid nightmares ever committed to celluloid.
Kill, Baby...Kill! pits science and law against the forces of evil when Dr. Paul Eswai ( Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) and Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) arrive at the small Transylvanian village of Kremingen; the latter in response to a letter from one extremely frightened girl who was found impaled on iron railings before Kruger could reach the village. Eswai is asked to perform an autopsy, aided by Monica ( Erika Blanc), an ex-local girl who returns home to find her birthplace gripped by fear. As Bava works his magic, we slowly discover the legend of Melissa Graps (played by a young boy ,Valerio Valeri) , a 7 year old girl who, many years earlier, bled to death following an accident while drunken villagers ignored her cries for help. Now, those who catch sight of her unquiet spirit suffer a similar fate while her mother (Giana Vivaldi) presides over the family villa, surrounded by memories and fueled by hate.Although Bava is often cited as a master of style over substance, Kill, Baby...Kill! is a veritable feast for lovers of the macabre who like nothing better than a tale well told. A frightened coach driver who reluctantly delivers Eswai into a place of evil; terrified villagers who form a wall of silence; a scorceress ( Fabienne Dali', echoing Rada Rassimov's character in Bava's Baron Blood) who uses 'the old ways' to ward off the dead; wonderful mist-shrouded night scenes where a tolling bell signals another impending death.... a familiar storyline with stock characters? To an extent, yes, but even though we're on familiar ground, the soil seems firm and fresh, thanks to Bava's supreme technical skill, coupled with his unerring ability to get under the skin of what really scares us. Here, the spectral figure of Melissa Graps takes centre stage, emerging as one of Bava's eeriest and most imitated creations. This 'bambino diavolo' has inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation Of Christ) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, from Spirits Of The Dead), who took note of the images of a child clad in white, emerging from the shadows of half-lit corridors, peering through windows with a malevolent, death-dealing stare or, most chilling of all, perched on a swing, her laughter peeling through the cold night air: wish I had a gold coin (embedded in the heart, perhaps?) for every film that wheels on a child's ball bouncing down the stairs to land at the feet of the living.Melissa's evil mother also succeeds in quickening the pulse rate, at first commanding our sympathy and then moving to the other end of the scale as her part in this story becomes apparent.
In many ways, this is possibly Bava's finest achievement and a film that has stood the test of time. Still scary after all these years.
My DVD review copy from Arrow Video unveils a fine presentation of this film, and I found myself contemplating the long journey to finally seeing this film in pristine condition. I first saw "Kill,Baby...Kill!" on a grainy, 3rd gen video copy and graduated, years later, to DVD. I was also lucky enough to see this film on the big screen at London's National Film Theatre, as part of a Mario Bava retrospective, many moons ago. Arrow's superb presentation really does tick all the boxes here, with interior and exterior shots dripping with atmosphere created by Bava's ingenuity, often bathed in greens and blues that highlight the director's eye for creeping unease which so often reaches fever pitch.
The extras being as they should, with a Tim Lucas commentary track. Tim delivers a wealth of information on cast and crew, going on to talk about the history of some of the locations used, and also where they appeared in other Italian films. He discusses the prevalence of low angle shots, and highlights the many 'twinning' instances in the film. "Forbidden Planet", "Twin Peaks", "Toby Dammit" and "Demons 2" are just a few of the films and shows mentioned in this track, and there are interesting snippets from a telephone interview with Erika Blanc also included. It's a stimulating track, which enriches understanding and appreciation of this film.
The Devil's Daughter (21m38s)
This is an excellent video essay from critic Kat Ellinger, which covers a lot of ground in its running time.
Kat takes a look a gothic literature featuring children - such as "Children of the Abbey" by Resina Maria Roche - goes into child mortality rates in the 17th and 18th century, and offers thought-provoking analysis on child trauma in the family., touching on films and novels which include "The Devil's Backbone", "Don't Torture A Duckling", MR James' "Lost Hearts" and "The Turn of the Screw."
It's a beautifully delivered essay, guaranteed to prompt further reading and viewing from its audience.
Kill, Bava, Kill (25m 2s)
This is an interview with Mario's son, Lamberto, where his formative years are discussed, with golden memories of working under his father's stewardship.
Lamberto also takes us back to the locations used for "Kill, Baby...Kill!" in a nostalgic return to a place where time has stood still for 30 years.
It's an emotional piece, with Lamberto still greatly missing his father and justifiably proud of his achievements.
Erika In Fear (11m)
This is a 2014 interview with the still gorgeous (and very lively) Erika Blanc. Erika ehtuses over Bava's expertise, the lighting and colours used and the amtmosphere he conjured, seemingly at will. It's lovely to see this lady talking about her contribution to a great film, and proclaiming herself "a complete horror fanatic."
Yellow (6m 49s)
Semih Tareen's 2006 love letter to Mario Bava, which begins with a couple sitting down to a game of chess in a garishly lit apartment. What could go wrong? The tension is ramped up in this short film, as familiar tropes surface to delicious effect.
Arrow also provides the German opening titles for the main feature (3m 26s), which provides an early glimpse of Melissa Graps, and a 2m 32s international trailer.
Finally, we get to step through an image gallery comprising of 28 German posters and lobby cards under the title "Die Toten Augen Des Dr. Dracula".
There's also a collectors booklet included (which I haven't seen) which contains new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford.