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June 3, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #22 - Kill, Baby...Kill!

Italian super-director Mario Bava may be most known for his Barbara Steele and Boris Karloff films Black Sabbath and Black Sunday, but relatively lost among his filmography is the excellent 1966 ghost story Kill, Baby... Kill! (which will be known as KBK for the rest of the review, because I already overuse punctuation as is). I suppose it's unfair to say the film is lost, since you can find it on dozens of bargain bin DVDs and "Horror Classics" collections thanks to its residence in the public domain. But there are only a couple of restored widescreen versions of the film out there (one is only in a box set with four other Bava films, the other was never actually released by Dark Sky Films and existing copies go for over $100 on Amazon), and their limited availability is what makes it difficult for a fan who really wants to experience Bava's film. Thankfully, the film is pretty darn good, even in a transferred-from-VHS-and-washed-out-in-full-frame presentation.

KBK (also known as Curse of the Living Dead or Operation Fear; the latter of which sounds like a G.I. Joe episode) opens with a coroner arriving in a small village to look at some oddly departed victims, particularly a young woman who is seen throwing herself on a gate's spires in the film's first minutes. His findings? Gold coins inside each victim, which turn out to be the work of a sorceress who jumps into the story. Also involved is the village redhead, a medical student played by Italian beauty Erika Blanc, who might be the next victim.
In comparison to most Italian horrors of the '60s and '70s, KBK has a relatively straightforward haunting plot. But anyone familiar with his work knows that Bava does succeed when the film veers into the surreal, including a fabulous scene where the lead (played by The Last Man on Earth's Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) runs through a repetitive series of rooms while chasing a doppleganger to each door. The film also benefits greatly from some unique lighting choices. Bava had perfectly harnessed black & white photography in earlier works like Black Sunday and I Vampiri, but here he offers a lot of blues and oranges that seem like a beautiful flash-forward to John Carpenter's Halloween to this viewer. (The DVD presentation I viewed doesn't do these justice, as you'll see in the trailer at the end of this post.)

Child ghosts with a vengeance have evolved to become quite a profitable subgenre in horror over the last 50 years, and it's easy to see the influence Bava's film had on future filmmakers in that regard too. The sets are rich with wafting fog and dimly lit hallways (reminding me of films like The Others), and off-screen giggling has become a mainstay in haunted house films as well. But while KBK offers up these future mainstays, it still feels fresh in comparison to the films that followed, thanks to the intensity Bava's eerie setting and aggressive musical score add to the film.
I lust for the day when a high quality version of KBK finds its way to my doorstep, because I would like to call this one of the most visually striking horror films I've ever seen. There's a contrast between exterior and interior shots that is most interesting - exterior scenes show deeper colors than the interiors, but when the spiritual forces at play enter a building these colors seem to follow them in. KBK bucks the trend of most film hauntings, as pure darkness is rarely shown in the film's most tense moments.

While it may be difficult to find the film in a proper aspect ratio with proper colors, Kill, Baby...Kill! should be a treat for any horror fan looking for something visually enticing. Also should be a requirement for anyone interested in Italian horror (and maybe even Asian horror, which has milked the "ghost of young girl" thing for all it's worth). It might just be Mario Bava's best work.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


Emily said...

This definitely sounds like one I'll have to get ahold of to watch! I feel like although I've seen a few of his films (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, and Bay of Blood), Mario Bava's work is something I haven't explored enough of! Plus, I love ghost stories!!

Jose Cruz said...

Woohoo! This is indeed a great film. I actually do have this one in one of those value packs you talked about. For that reason I always pushed it aside, thinking that since I got it along with 8 other movies for $13.99 that it must be sub-par. Geez, was I off mark! It's incredibly effective and some scenes are downright chilling. Awesome review, man!

I Like Horror Movies said...

KBK is just dripping with atmosphere, I appreciate this one more and more with each viewing. May not be my favorite Bava entry, but with so many awesome films, who can pick just one?