Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review #1,228: 'Kill, Baby... Kill!' (1966)

Horror maestro Mario Bava always had a unique talent for producing the most extraordinary films on the slimmest of budgets. He made Danger: Diabolik, one of his greatest works, for way less than the budget handed to him by super-producer Dino de Laurentis. Kill, Baby... Kill!, also known under the less enticing title of Curse of the Dead, is no different. With the budget provided by small-time Italian production company F.U.L. Films already microscopic, the movie was almost scrapped all together when the budget dried up just days into filming. However, Bava prevailed, and somehow managed to convince the cast and crew to work for next to nothing, and in some cases, for nothing at all. Using his skill for improvisation with camera and lighting, Kill, Baby... Kill! is rich in atmosphere, even offering the odd fright, and is now considered a masterpiece by some and one of Bava's finest achievements.

After a woman mysteriously flings herself onto a set of spikes in an abandoned church, Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) is called to a remote Carpathian village to perform the autopsy. He is immediately met with hostility, as the highly superstitious villagers are used to the more primitive practice of burying the body without medical examination. Already investigating the case is grizzled detective Kruger (Piero Lulli), who warns Eswai of the villagers belief in a ghostly presence around the time that places a curse on a person who always turns up dead shortly after. When Kruger goes missing while paying a visit to the secretive Baroness Graps (Giovanna Galletti), the young daughter of an innkeeper sees the ghostly apparition of a young blonde girl and believes she will be next to take her own life. Questioning everything he sees and hears, Eswai turns to village sorceress Ruth (Fabienne Dali) to try and understand these medieval practices.

While I disagree that Kill, Baby... Kill! even comes close to being Bava's best film, this is without a doubt his greatest achievement. Working with very little, Bava somehow manages to conjure up an incredibly spooky, Gothic atmosphere, with beautifully decorated interiors and stunningly framed exteriors, complement with elegant camera movements. When the action moves away from the lushness of the sets and the story starts to emerge, long periods are spent with Eswai simply wandering from one place to the next. Rossi Stuart is hardly the most charismatic actor, although he certainly isn't helped by the questionable dubbing, and his romance with Monica (Erika Blanc), a native who returns to the village to claim her inheritance, proves to be as equally plodding. Still, while this is relatively routine, formulaic stuff in terms of narrative, Bava more than makes up for it with a sumptuous colour palette, and some of the most striking imagery to be found in horror.

Directed by: Mario Bava
Starring: Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Piero Lulli, Luciano Catenacci
Country: Italy

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Kill Baby, Kill (1966) on IMDb

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