BABA YAGA (1973)
Director: Corrado Farina
Blue Underground

Based on a popular adult comic strip by Milan artist Guido Crepax, BABA YAGA attempted to bring his popular creation--the character of Valentina--to the big screen. Director Corrado Farina did numerous short films and documentaries, but only did one other feature besides this one, 1971's THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR FACE with Adolfo Celi as a corporate vampire.

Valentina (French actress Isabelle De Funès) is a fashion photographer who one night in the street meets a mysterious woman named Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker). Valentina seems frightened by, but at the same time is fascinated with Baba who visits her apartment the next morning, and puts her predatory mark on her camera by caressing it. Valentina then stops by the woman's antique house to take photos, discovering such oddities as a large whole in the floor covered only by a rug. Baba gives the girl a disturbing baby doll of a woman dressed in revealing S&M gear, and when she takes it home, strange things occur. Every time Valentina snaps a pic, people end up hurt in some fashion, and the little doll periodically becomes a full-size living doll.

BABA YAGA is indeed a bizarre, trippy film which is very Avant Garde in its ideals. Director Farina takes inspiration from the comic original by making the actors look like their illustrated characters (Valentina was originally modeled after silent movie star Louise Brooks), using comic book frame art and other innovative editing techniques as well. Veteran star Baker (who had already done a number of Italian erotic thrillers for Umberto Lenzi) plays it unglamorous for a change, with the modern witch Baba Yaga appearing pale and ghost-like, and she yields a very understated performance. Italian horror regular George Eastman (who here looks amazingly like a 70s era John Entwistle from The Who) is Valentina's adoring love interest, a commercial director. Somewhat a throwback to 60s pop art mod, BABA YAGA is a visually superior, but sometimes pretentious film filled with eroticism and odd dreams featuring Nazis, lesbianism, and kinky sadism.

Previously issued on DVD by Diamond Entertainment as KISS ME, KILL ME, that disc was nothing more than a soft, grainy, cropped bootleg of an old VHS release by Paragon. Blue Underground's goes back to the original negative, doing things legit and thus delivering a scrumptious transfer. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (with Anamophic enhancement), viewers can now see the impressive camera work without characters and other picture information being obliterated off the screen. The source print is in remarkable shape with excellent detail and mostly brilliant colors (only hints of film grain in dark scenes). The mono soundtrack is clear and free of any problems.

It's no shock that this disc is loaded with extras, starting with a 22-minute video interview with director Farina that's in Italian with English subtitles. Obviously enthusiastic about this project, he explains how he made the film after his dissatisfaction with other big screen comic adaptations of the time. He also gives us tidbits about the production, including the fact that Anne Heywood was originally cast in the lead, but quickly exited to be in TRADER HORN. There is also 10 minutes of deleted/alternate footage (featuring a whacked-out graveyard scene and brief full-frontal shots from Baker and De Funés), a theatrical trailer, a poster/still gallery, and "Freud in Color" -- a short documentary on Guido Crepax and comic art. Another supplement is a DVD-ROM that lets view a comic book-to-film comparison. (George R. Reis)