Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill (1966)

Title: Kill, Baby Kill! (1966)

Director: Mario Bava

Written By: Mario Bava, Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale


In Kill Baby Kill (Operazione Paura) Dr. Paul Eswai is called in to try and solve a mystery that is plaguing a small town in Italy. People are dying left and right in strange ways. Upon further inspection, it is discovered that the dead victims all have a silver coin in their hearts! Dr. Paul Eswai must investigate the mystery behind the deaths. Why are these people dying, and why is there a silver coin in their hearts? The Villagers are all scared; could their superstitious fright have a justifiable and believable cause? Or are these people just a bunch of frightened ignorant fools?

Kill Baby Kill is a fine example of Gothic Horror at its best. Like many of Bava’s films, Kill Baby Kill never lets go of its atmosphere which is something that I always appreciate of Mario Bava’s films. That constant never ending atmosphere. At times, Kill Baby Kill feels like an old Hammer horror film. Specially because the story centers around a small village/community in which everyone is collectively scared of something. What it is, non of them seem to want to say. The townsfolk in this film are so scared that even speaking about the origins of their fear is not an option for them. This reminds me of old Hammer films, when a stranger walks into a pub, and all the villagers gathered there look at him strangely, and don’t give too much information save for “leave while you still can!” or the traditional “this town is cursed! Forgotten by god! I can go no further!” So this is a Gothic Horror film through and through, of the likes that Hammer use to make. In my opinion, these Bava movies sometimes surpassed the old Hammer films in terms of over all gothicness.

We follow Dr. Paul Eswai as he arrives at this superstitious town right after a strange death has occurred. No one wants to tell him wants going on, but he is a determined soul, he is not a superstitious individual at all, so he goes onward with his investigation. It reminded me a lot of Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999). You know; the scientist/investigator type whose world views are firmly planted on reality vs. a group of scared highly superstitious individuals. In fact, I think Burton was extremely influenced by Kill Baby Kill when he decided to make Sleepy Hollow. That Burton movie has so many similarities with Kill Baby Kill. A scientist/investigator comes into town having to perform an autopsy on a victim. The people of the town are scared, superstitious and unwilling to help. There is a family mystery involved, a deep rooted secret that on one seems to want to talk about. Similarities between these two movies abound, let’s not forget how drenched in atmosphere Sleepy Hollow is! But I also found some similarities with films like The Wicker Man (1973) as well. The idea of a stranger coming in to investigate something that the town already knows all too well.

The spooky little ghost girl in Kill Baby Kill was actually played by a boy actor called Valerio Valeri

The supernatural takes center stage on this film because it is after all, a ghost movie. I place this one highly amongst ghost movies, particularly amongst ghost movies dealing with the ghost of dead children, like The Changeling (1980), The Shinning (1980), The Ring (2002) and The Devils Backbone (2001). On Kill Baby Kill we get lots of images of the ghost girl looking through windows or simply appearing in hallways to spook people. The thing about this movie is that the ghost girl doesn’t really do much save for looking at people through windows and spooking the shit out of them! This movie is all about that, the little ghost girl looking at you really seriously from somewhere. Interesting thing: the ghost girl was actually played by a boy! His name is Valerio Valeri. Bava probably did this to give the image of the ghost girl an off kilter element. You might get the impression that something is not quite right here just by looking at this little ghost girl.

Bava has us follow Dr. Paul Eswai, through out the film. He is the protagonist we go on the journey with. We stick with this character throughout the whole film because he is the one character who is not spooked by superstition and the supernatural. To him, these things are all hocus pocus, and people are simply acting out of fear and ignorance. What I like about this kind of story is that this character, who’s beliefs are firmly grounded on reality is suddenly thrust into a world of ghosts, magic and the supernatural. So we have that contrast, reality and science vs. the supernatural and magic. Aside from it being a ghost story, we also deal with a theme that Bava loves to deal with in his movies: witches! Many of his films are centered on or star a witch in one way or another. Black Sunday (1960) was about an evil Satan worshipping witch who is trying to come back to life, Baron Blood (1972) has a witch who placed a curse upon the Baron, and on Kill Baby Kill a witch tries to protect the people of the town from the vengeful ghost. Little by little I’m getting to know what Bava is all about, but witches, the supernatural and pagan beliefs are definitely a huge part of what makes a Bava movie a Bava movie.

On this film, the witch is actually the good guy!

Bava also likes for you to take a good look at his sets. He has a lot of these swooping shots where we are simply meant to admire the lighting and the art direction. It’s as if Bava suddenly said “look how cool we illuminated this place! See how spooky it looks? Isn’t that great?” I have to admit, though I love how Bava lights a set and I love the art direction in his films, I don’t like how much he does these shots of people just walking through rooms so we can get a look at them. Some times a scene simply scans through a set, and goes nowhere storywise. He has a lot of shots like this one on Kill Baby Kill. Too much valuable movie time is spent on those shots that go nowhere, shots that are simply there for an aesthetic purpose. Id rather just appreciate the art direction while the story is flowing, instead of stopping everything dead on its tracks so we can get a glimpse at the cool sets. But this is a minor squabble I have with Bava. 

One of Bava's signature visuals is an evil entity looking through the window

This movie also benefits from having some excellent localizations, and that’s something that Italian horror directors like Bava and Argento always took great advantage of. They used all these beautiful old buildings  on their films because they knew these buildings would work wonders in a gothic and atmospheric horror film, and they use these localizations to full advantage. Kill Baby Kill is filled with spooky looking castles and buildings. Streets made of cobble stone, creepy looking homes. It just adds a lot of credibility to the proceedings that all these structures are real and tangible as opposed to the CGI fests we are getting nowadays. What happened to the good old days of shooting a film on an exotic location? But anyways, all in all, Kill Baby Kill was an enjoyable ghost story. It’s a bit slow paced, but that’s the kind of film this is. Its not the action/horror like we are getting nowadays, this is old school slow burner type of horror, where the emphasis is on atmosphere and dread, where the film slowly creeps up on you.

Rating: 4 out of 4

The films original poster translates to "Operation Fear"


Manuel Marrero said...

Bava! Bava!,and more Bava! Bava overload!

Franco Macabro said...

Hey, Im on a Bava role here man gimme a break! Theres a couple more along the way...next one up is Blood and Blacklace. And after that Bay of Blood, so sit tight and enjoy the Bava Fest!

Simon said...


I lie, of course. I've never even heard of this.

But now I have.

Franco Macabro said...

Thats what its about Simon, discovering new stuff, if your starting out with Bava, check out Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, you wont be disappointed if you like old school gothic horror films.

Ive done quite a couple of reviews on Bava's films lately you might wanna check em out if you are interested!

Murphy Screams said...

I was just talking about Kill Baby Kill with a friend of mine. It's definitely my second favorite Bava film (after Black Sunday). Good stuff indeed

Franco Macabro said...

So far, I think I might put it in third place, After Black Sunday and Black Sabbath.

But thats because I havent seen Blood and Black Lace and Bay of Blood, or Diabolik which I need to get down to watchin (and reviewing) sometime this month.

I Like Horror Movies said...

How awesomely creepy was this damn flick? Though it isnt my personal favorite, it is commonly cited by Bava aficionados as being one of his most technically proficient and atmospheric films. Cant wait to rewatch it and glad to see the review Franco!


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