• Gabe Powers

Kill, Baby, Kill Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)

A doctor (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) arrives at a remote village to perform an autopsy on a young woman, but his efforts are frustrated by the superstitious townspeople, who live in fear of the murderous spirit of a ghastly child. Dr. Eswai exposes the barbaric rituals of the frightened villagers, only to discover something even more horrifying within the crumbling remains of the notorious Villa Graps. (From Kino’s official synopsis)



It’s a fool’s errand to weigh the influential qualities of Bava’s films against one another, but, setting aside his giallo thrillers and his proto-slasher, Bay of Blood (Italian: Ecologia del delitto]; aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood Bath, 1971), few of his movies have garnered more clout with mainstream Hollywood and prized arthouse filmmakers than Kill, Baby, Kill! (Italian: Operazione paura; aka: Operation Fear, 1966). This strangely named (neither its English or Italian titles really do it any justice), dread-soaked supernatural thriller has been directly referenced by such famed filmmakers as Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation of Christ’s visual representation of Satan is based in part on Kill, Baby, Kill!’s ghostly little girl), Tim Burton (who borrowed images and plot elements for his 1999 Sleepy Hollow adaptation), Federico Fellini (specifically his segment in the 1968 anthology Spirits of the Dead), and Guillermo del Toro (visual themes are recycled throughout all of his supernatural horror films). Basically, all of those ghostly bouncing ball, creepy broken doll, and laughing child motifs you've seen throughout decades of supernatural thrillers have distinctive roots right here.


Kill, Baby, Kill! pushes the concept of dream-logic horror further than any other Italian horror film up to that point. Bava had dabbled in visually striking and irrational scares several times before (the Wurdalak section of Black Sabbath [1963] being a good example), but this return to supernatural horror has an especially hallucinatory, nebulous nature that directly influenced other Italian filmmakers, chiefly Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Bava’s son, Lamberto. The dreamy quality extends beyond obvious things, like untoward plotting, lack of logic, and spooky camera work, into the film’s odd chronological setting. Similar to Bava’s next two supernatural horror films, Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972) and Lisa and the Devil (Italian: Lisa e il diavolo, 1973), Kill, Baby, Kill! doesn’t really exist on a tangible real-world timeline. Modern motifs sit side by side with classical Gothic tropes. One suspects that Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale’s original screenplay might have fit the Roger Corman costume drama mold (the bones of the typical AIP and Hammer story are all present, but ignored quickly), before the director sunk his claws into it, cut it to pieces, and reassembled it into a fever dream (the fact that the producers ran out of money before shooting was finished probably played its part in this too). I personally wouldn’t recommend novices begin an excursion into Bava with Kill, Baby, Kill! (Black Sunday and Blood and Black Lace strike me as the obvious access points), but also agree that it belongs high on any list of his best work.



Video

Kill, Baby, Kill! is one of the most widely available Mario Bava films on home video, because of its dicey copyright status. This led to VHS quality transfers on multi-film DVD sets, alongside an official, non-anamorphic disc from VCI. Eventually, Anchor Bay released an anamorphic version as part of their first Mario Bava Collection and a special edition DVD was set to be released by Dark Sky Films, but it was canceled shortly after review copies were sent to a couple of outlets. Kino Lorber’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer has been taken from a new 2K restoration of the original 35mm elements (I assume it is the same restoration used by Koch and Arrow in DE and the UK). The newer source is also slightly longer than AB’s DVD.


First things first, the clarity and total detail upgrade is huge, but not at the risk of Bava’s purposefully foggy and diffused compositions (the credits list Antonio Rinaldi as cinematographer, but this was most certainly one of Bava’s many aliases). More importantly, the DVD transfer is quite noisy and littered with compression artifacts (mostly edge haloes and blocky chunks). Those issues have been more or less replaced with natural looking grain and subtler gradations, which, again, fit the film’s dreamy photography much better than over-sharpened highlights. One realistic concern is the yellow quality of skin tones and other neutral/brown/tan hues, since a number of recent Italian restorations have been stained way to yellow and teal. However, the palette hasn’t changed very much between the DVD and BD releases. I’m more concerned that the cool hues – though richer in HD – don’t have as much lavender tint to them. Based on other Bava movies, I suspect that the lavender is closer to the intended look.



Audio

Kill, Baby, Kill! is presented with uncompressed LPCM audio mono English and Italian dubs. If I understand the wording correctly, the 2K restoration was derived from an English language version of the film, which would mean that the Italian audio was taken from a non-film source. That said, the differences between the dubs are typical and mostly revolve around the volume levels/clarity of dialogue. The English track has a slight edge in terms of warmth and the total loudness of the performances and incidental effects, while the Italian track is flatter, despite also being a little bit cleaner. The music is credited to Carlo Rustichelli, but, according to Tim Lucas’ notes in All the Colors of the Dark (2007, Video Watchdog), the attribution is tied to the fact that Rustichelli had written cues that the production borrowed from the CAM Music Library in Italy (the mix-and-match music also included bits from Roman Vlad’s I Vampiri score, among others). This song library status may explain why the dubs feature basically identical distortion effects, namely the crackles and pops that crop up at the beginning of each track.



Extras

  • Commentary with Tim Lucas – I believe Lucas recorded this track for Dark Sky’s unreleased 2007 special edition DVD. It is another full-bodied, info-packed affair that acts as a companion piece to the film and his book.

  • Kill, Baby, Kill! (25:05, SD) – This retrospective featurette, directed by David Gregory, was also set to be released with the Dark Sky DVD. In it, the director follows Lamberto Bava, as he talks about his father and revisits the film’s main location.

  • Interview with Erika Blanc (10:35, HD) – Another previously unreleased interview (originally conducted by Uwe Huber in 2014), this time with the lead actress, who fondly recalls working on the film, shares her collection of production stills, and explains why older Italian horror films endure.

  • German release alternate title sequence (3:33, HD) – This is actually the version of the title sequence that appears on the AB DVD, minus the German text.

  • International trailer and three American TV spots



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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