*** (out of ****)
Italian filmmaking maestro Mario Bava was a key figure in the giallo sub-genre of horror films along with Dario Argento. With the passing years Mr. Bava's name hasn't lived on as well. Only adventurous film goers, with an appetite for a little blood and gore and "B" level production values, may be familiar with the work of Mr. Bava. That is too bad.
Mr. Bava may be best known for titles such as "Blood and Black Lace" (1964) and "Black Sunday" (1960) but for some film buffs and historians it is "Kill, Baby, Kill" (1966) that just might be his crowning achievement with its giallo story elements and Gothic inspired visuals. It is a good contender, though I do remember enjoying "Black Sunday" quite a bit, which also has Gothic elements to it.
Over the years I have always wanted to review some of Mr. Bava's movies in the month of October, as I celebrate Halloween. I would watch some of his movies and then decide against it, because I simply didn't know what I could add to the conversation (that is actually my ultimate determination on which classic films I review). Instead I would review the films of Mr. Argento, who is still with us today, making movies. Mr. Bava died in 1980.
I am not sure what I can add to the national conversation regarding "Kill, Baby, Kill" however, I couldn't let another year go by and not review something by this filmmaker. While I may not offer any new insights into Mr. Bava's work, at the very least I hope someone who reads my reviews, may not have heard of this director or this film, and I, in some small part, can help introduce people to it.
For American audiences "giallo" generally refers to horror movies that have supernatural elements to them as well as murder mystery. Giallo was originally a genre in literature, the covers would usually be yellow, hence why they were called giallo (yellow in Italian). The films, in particular, usually feature very gruesome death sequences and in the case of Mr. Argento, an almost fetish for blood.
"Kill, Baby, Kill" nicely fits into this genre, although I believe the violence is tame. The camera doesn't linger on dead bodies and blood. The death sequences are not as elaborate as I have seen in other movies. What makes "Kill, Baby, Kill" work for me is the atmosphere. I find this to be the number one reason why so many horror movies don't work. There is no atmosphere. No sense of dread. Too many of today's movies rely on serial killers cutting up their victims and wanting to gross out the audience. That isn't scary to me. It is simply disgusting. I like a movie to play around with lighting, camera angles and effective music. You may not find the Universal monster movies of the 1930s scary but what great production values they had. There was real craft which went into those movies. That is what I like. "Kill, Baby, Kill" has a touch of that to it.
Plot descriptions I have read over the Internet claim the movie's setting is either in the Carpathians or Transylvania (Romania is in the Eastern and Southern part of the Carpathians). However, I do not recall anyone stating a location nor do I remember a caption appearing on-screen stating a setting. Regardless, the movie begins with Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) arriving in a small town via horse and carriage. The driver will not take Dr. Eswai any further and makes the doctor walk to the town's inn, where he is expected. The set-up immediately recalls "Dracula" when Reinfeld arrives to a Transylvanian town and is told of various superstitions by the villagers, encouraging him not to continue any further. Which may explain why some believe "Kill, Baby, Kill" also takes place in Transylvania.
Waiting for Dr. Eswai is police inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli), who would like the doctor to perform an autopsy on the body of a young woman found dead the night before. Was it murder? Suicide? The villagers believe recent deaths are the cause of a curse placed on the town by the Graps family, after one of Baroness Graps' (Giana Vivaldi) childern, a daughter, was killed, when a horse and carriage rode over the girl and no one would come to the girl's aide. Since then sightings have been reported of the girl. Who ever sees the child is usually found dead. Is the ghost of the child getting revenge on the town? That's what the villagers believe.
The set-up is not unlike several classic horror movies centered around a character presented as a man of science who must either fight an evil force or prove to the town a conspiracy is at hand and there is a perfectly good explanation for the supernatural activities the villagers encounter. "Kill, Baby, Kill" is a bit of much with a mystery element thrown in.
Although the plot may be predictable or at a minimum familiar, there are some good moments of suspense. The acting is far from memorable, as some performances are barely better than amateurish, the visuals are the real star of the movie and make "Kill, Baby, Kill" a watchable, which is arguably the reason why the movie enjoys such a positive reputation among both movie goers and critics. One memorable sequence involves a spiral staircase as one character chases after another. Some have compared the color scheme to another giallo movie, Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (1977), suggesting Mr. Argento may have been influenced by this movie. Many have commented on the heavy use of the color red (disclosure, I am color blind and did not notice this) as another common element found in both movies, although, since giallo movies are known for graphic violence, the use of red (meaning blood) is quite common.
Another star of the movie is the Graps' mansion, with hanging cobwebs, dark hallways and ghostly sightings. An entire movie could have easily been made exclusively in the mansion alone, as these sequences borrow from the haunted house genre.
Those not familiar with Mr. Bavo's movies may want to start here as those not familiar with giallo may as well. The title suggest sensationalism but the movie has, for the most part, a classic structure. It has its flaws, weak acting and clumsy dialogue, but the visuals and overall atmosphere make this one worth watching.