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Director: Mario Bava
Dark Sky Films/MPI

Known in its native Italy as “Operazione paura,” Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY…KILL! is a shining example of the director’s expressive use of stunning visuals and ingenious scare tactics, hence delighting his target audience. Taking full advantage of vivid color photography, authentic crumbling exteriors and convincingly constructed interiors, the film is pure gothic from beginning to end, and never thrifty when it comes to garnish the sets with cobwebs or putting the fog machines on full blast. Almost the perfect chiller, KILL, BABY…KILL! is not only exemplary Bava, but exemplary of what made the 1960s such an significant era in European-made horrors. Issued in the past on DVD through various companies of varying (cropped) quality, Dark Sky Films has released this long-awaited Special Edition with what can easily be termed a definitive transfer.

In the early 20th Century, coroner Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is called to a small, fear-ridden Transylvanian village to investigate the death of a young maid who mysteriously fell to her violent demise. Dr. Eswai is surrounded by superstitious villagers who make it clear they don’t want the autopsy performed, but he gets support from Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) and Karl, the burgomeister (Max Lawrence, aka Luciano Catenacci). Assisting and befriending Eswai is a striking young medical student Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc) and together they encounter a number of mysterious, supernatural circumstances. Silver coins are embedded in the hearts of corpses by a do-good raven-garbed sorceress Ruth (Fabienne Dali) in order to protect the dead from further agony, as a number of prominent and peasant villagers turn up sadistically murdered. All the macabre mayhem relates to the vengeful ghost of Melissa Graps, a young girl who was accidentally killed 20 years earlier, and the peculiar Baroness Graps (Giana Vivaldi) is hiding a secret in the secluded and roomy Villa Graps, an outwardly sinister and haunted and abode if there ever was one.

Aside from a few holes in the plot and Bava’s frequent (and unnecessary) use of the zoom lens, KILL, BABY...KILL! remains one of the genre’s finest achievements. With the intensely gothic exteriors and equally impressive sets (including a misty graveyard seen in several other Italian productions), Bava was able to create an isolated, surreal environment that generates a definite mood of death and decay. The focal point of the film is the pale, piercing-eyed apparition of the child Melissa (played by a boy in drag!), who with her killer glance is able to force her helpless victims to commit “hara-kiri.” Bava augments her appearances with unsettling giggling and a bouncing ball which stumbles into a number of shots, most notably when it rolls across an autopsy fatality.

Although Bava didn’t photograph the film, most of his trademark camera styles are in check, including the colored light gels and a number of distorted and memorably creepy images (the sight of the child killer staring through a grimy windowpane with her hands pressed up against the glass is unforgettable). One of the film’s most unforgettable sequences has Rossi-Stuart’s Dr. Eswai continuously storming though beedroom doors only to find himself in the identical room he just left -- until he catches up with his doppelganger. As the leads, Rossi-Stuart and Blanc are difficult to assess since their dialog was dubbed by other actors, but they do make a solid, attractive duo and carry the film well. The late Rossi-Stuart was a frequent genre presence in films like THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS and SNOW DEVILS, and Blanc was still years away from being the popular vixen of films like THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE and THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE.

Dark Sky presents KILL, BABY…KILL! in an anamorphic widescreen transfer which preserves the film’s original 1.85:1 hard-matted aspect ratio. It’s nice to finally see the compositions looking the way they are supposed to. The Eastman photography looks quite good, bringing out the various palette of colors to grand effect. The image is sharp with bold detail, and there’s hardly any blemishes on the source print. Only the English track is included (the language that most of the onscreen actors seem to be speaking) and despite some occasional background noise, it gets the job done. Optional English subtitles are included.

Extras include an audio commentary with Bava biographer and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. The commentary was originally conducted years ago for an Image Entertainment release which never materialized, but the passing of time hasn’t affected its merit. Lucas does a fine job of discussing the film, its artistic facets, the music score, the influence it had on other movies, the cast and production team, the frequent onscreen “twinning” and he reveals a number of interesting facts (including that Bava never got paid for making it!). “Kill, Bava, Kill” is a wonderful 24-minute featurette which has David Gregory interviewing Bava’s son and assistant director Lamberto. The younger Bava revisits some of the original shooting locations and talks extensively (and fondly) about his father and making KILL, BABY…KILL! A theatrical trailer is included, as well as a still gallery which showcases lots of poster art and lobby cards from different countries (the German release translates to "The Dead Eyes of Dr. Dracula"). Another Region 1 DVD of KILL, BABY…KILL! is supposed to be released this year as part of a Bava box set from Anchor Bay. It will be interesting to see if they could top this transfer (one thing’s for sure, it will not contain the same extras found here). (George R. Reis)