Over at MOON IN THE GUTTER, Jeremy has reminded us that Volume 2 of The Mario Bava collection has just started shipping. I've had my copy on order for some weeks now and am greatly looking forward to seeing pristine transfers for, amongst others, LISA AND THE DEVIL and BARON BLOOD; two films that have not fared well on DVD in terms of visual quality. While I patiently wait for this set, I'm working my way through Tim Lucas' staggering book on this great director. This really is the year of the Bava, so I thought I'd post a review of my own favourite film from the vol 1 Bava set. It's a review I wrote a few years back and has been updated with regard to the gorgeous transfer from the aforementioned box.
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 (Rossi-Stuart) and Inspector Kruger (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 (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 , 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 (Vivaldi) presides over the family villa, surrounded by memories and fuelled 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 sorceress (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. Long-time admirers/potential newcomers to this film can now choose between several DVD releases, though Kill, Baby...Kill! has yet to receive the red carpet treatment it so richly deserves. My first encounter ocurred several years ago, courtesy of a 3rd gen bootleg tape, followed by a poor quality print shown at London's NFT during their wonderful Mario Bava retrospective. The release of VCI's Region 1 DVD finally hinted that Kill, Baby...Kill! could turn out to be another piece of Bava eye candy. While it's nice to see a version of this film with acceptable colour saturation, it must be noted that flesh tones are on the dull side and there are many instances of grain and print damage. Brentwood Home Video's Fright Night collection (approx $15) contains 10 movies of varying a/v quality, but their presentation of Kill, Baby...Kill! was the best I'd seen. As one would expect, Brentwood have not delivered a pristine version, but the colours are much bolder than on the VCI disc with more detail in those macabre set designs. Unfortunately, both the Brentwood and VCI discs are pan-and-scan, hampering Bava's widescreen compositions.Happily, the situation was corrected earlier in 2007 via Anchor Bay's marvellous Mario Bava collection Volume 1. Here, you'll find a truly beautiful transfer, in the correct aspect ratio. This reverential treatment ensures we can at last be privy to Bava's original vision and the film look a good deal more eerie, thanks to this long-awaited release. Aka: Curse of the Dead, Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula, Operazione Paura