Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bava delivers stylish tale of gothic hauntings

Kill, Baby... Kill!
(aka "Curse of the Dead", "Don't Walk in the Park", and "Operation Fear") (1966)

Starring: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dalin, and Max Lawrence, Valeria Valeri, and Giana Vivaldi
Director: Mario Bava
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Dr. Paul Eswai (Rossi-Stuart) arrives to assist with a murder investigation in a remote village. He finds the place gripped in fear of some evil whose name they don't even dare to mention. Although he at first dismisses it as superstitious nonsense, Paul finds it increasingly difficult to deny that the town is being haunted by the ghost of a vengeful little girl (Valeri)... particularly after he and a young woman with a mysterious past (Blanc) become targets of the spirit's wrath. Will he discover the secret behind the hauntings before it's too late to save himself?

"Kill, Baby... Kill!" is an Italian production that has all the production values and moodiness of some of the best Hammer gothic horror films from the late 1950s and early 1960s. If it wasn't for the bizarre color schemes that director and cinematographer Mario Bava likes to use to light his sets--lots of reds and greens, even in outdoor night shots-- and a somewhat more ponderous pace throughout, one might mistake this film as coming from the hands of the likes of Terence Fisher.

The film has a decent cast, an engaging, convoluted story that keeps twisting and turning up to nearly the very last moment of the film, and a very creepy little girl ghost. (Yes, the stringy-haired Japanese ghost chicks weren't the first underage phantoms in skirts to massacre the fearful.)

On the downside, the film suffers from a pace that never quite gets to where it should be. Bava treats us to some great visuals but he goes overboard with them and they become drags on the film at several different times than mood setters... there's just a little too much calling attention to the tricks of the trade than simply applying them. (And here's where Fisher leaves Bava in the dust... he made gorgeous, moody pictures, but he never felt the need to call the audience's attention to his work... instead, we just absorbed the whole.)

Aside from Bava's cries for attention throughout the movie, the end also suffers from a touch of "deux ex machina". It's an ending that makes sense and which is well-founded in the events of the film, but I would have liked the hero and heroine to have been just a little more directly involved in the resolution. I can see the rationale for why they weren't--the fact that the village sorceress (Dalin) is ultimately the one who stops the ghost plays into the conflict between science and superstition that is part of the movie's core. However, I think the ending would have worked better if science and sorcery came together to resolve the curse that gripped the town.

(And, frankly, given the way the sorceress deals with the root of the problem, even Erika Blank's damsel-in-distress character could have played a part.)

Although flawed, "Kill, Baby... Kill!" is a decent ghost movie. Fans of European horror films from the '60s and '70s should enjoy it. Heck, the fans of stringy-haired Japanese ghost girls will find quite a bit to like in this film, too.

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