Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kill, Baby, Kill (FUL Films, 1966)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After the pleasant surprise of The She-Beast I hadn’t expected much from a movie called Kill, Baby, Kill — the title led me to expect a modern-day urban thriller with one or more female psychos — and by an intriguing coincidence, until I realized who “Mike Reeves” really was and that I’d seen other films of his, I thought the credited director of The She-Beast might have been a pseudonym for Italian director Mario Bava. Surprise! Kill, Baby, Kill actually was a Mario Bava film, and it was quite worthwhile seeing for Bava’s marvelous sense of atmospherics and visual style even though its plot makes virtually no sense. One reviewer said Bava “may be the most influential horror director of all time” (not F. W. Murnau? Paul Leni? Tod Browning? James Whale?), and while that’s overstating the case Bava is one of those people (like Michael Powell) who’s probably shaped the film world more through the subsequent directors influenced by him than from his own works. Guillermo del Toro has named Bava as his all-time favorite director, and the Bava influence works its way through almost all of del Toro’s films — as well as those of Dario Argento and quite a few other more recent horror filmmakers. Kill, Baby, Kill takes place at the turn of the (last) century in a small village in Italy (or at least somewhere in mittel-Europa) and it starts with an atmospheric sequence in which a young woman runs through the streets of town, takes a header and impales herself on a series of sharp-pointed fence rails. Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, a considerably better — and better-looking — actor than one expects to find as the “normal” lead of a horror film) comes to town to autopsy the victim, and because he needs a witness with some knowledge of medical science, student Monika Schuftan (Erika Blanc — was her character name a deliberate tribute to the pioneer cinematographer, effects genius and process-screen inventor Eugen Schuftan?), agrees to team up with him.

They find the town in the middle of a murder wave in which people are arranging to kill themselves by impaling themselves on sharp objects, and in every case they see the vision of a child just before they go and this tells them they are doomed and nothing can save them. The child, it turns out, is Melissa Graps (the page on this film doesn’t list who played her but a trivia poster claimed that “she” was really a boy, which would account for her weirdly androgynous appearance), who died at age 7 in 1887 and whose memory is being kept alive by her mother, Baroness Graps (Giana Vivaldi, true name Giovanna Galletti), an embittered blonde who lives alone in her castle. There’s also a mysterious dark-haired woman named Ruth (Fabienne Dali) who’s listed in the cast as “sorcerer” but is on the side of good (at least we think she’s on the side of good); police inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli); and Karl, the town burgomaster (Marc Lawrence, t/n Luciano Catenacci). The ghost of Melissa manages to dispatch Kruger and Karl, and is on the point of knocking off Monika — who’s really her younger sister (don’t ask); Baroness Graps told Monika she was the daughter of a servant couple whom she adopted, but it turns out she’s a blood Graps after all —when Dr. Eswai finally figures it all out: the real killer is Baroness Graps, who’s a long-distance hypnotist who can hypnotize her victims (everyone she blames for the death of her daughter, which turns out to be just about everyone in town) into believing they see Melissa’s image and killing themselves by skewering themselves on the nearest handy object. No, it’s not the sort of film you watch for the plot; it doesn’t make any sense but you don’t really expect it to — you just groove on Bava’s amazing images and enjoy the physical beauty and slow-moving (sometimes a bit too slow-moving for the film’s own good) atmospherics, and appreciate the visual imagination that has gone into making even something this silly. I hadn’t expected films in the “Shocker Internet Drive-In” series to be genuinely interesting works of art — albeit in a disreputable and unpretentious genre — but there they were, stuck in the middle of a nostalgia-inducing presentation that also included ads for the drive-in theatre’s refreshment stand (complete with food-porn close-ups of hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza) and a sleazy music video, though even that (a white singer doing “C’est Si Bon” — she’s hardly Eartha Kitt but she does have a voice, and the band behind her swings) proved unexpectedly good and worth watching.