A vengeful witch and her fiendish servant return from the grave and begin a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch's beautiful look-alike descendant. Only the girl's brother and a handsome doctor stand in her way.
Dr. Eswai is called by Inspector Kruger to a small village to perform an autopsy on a woman who has died under suspicious circumstances. Despite help from Ruth, the village witch, Kruger is killed and it is revealed that the dead woman, as well as other villagers, have been killed by the ghost of Melissa, a young girl who, fed by the hatred of her grieving mother, Baroness Graps, exacts her revenge on them. Dr. Eswai, along with Monica, a local nurse, are lured into a fateful confrontation at the Villa Graps. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
One of the Bava films which until recently had been difficult to catch in satisfactory prints, this is quite possibly the ultimate in Gothic horror cinema (to which director Luchino Visconti famously gave a standing ovation on its premiere).
Presenting a startling concept of a creepy little girl willing terrified villagers to a horrible death (though the violence itself is quite subtle), this is essentially a mood piece with the lead characters' disorientation often mirroring that of the viewer himself (for instance during Erika Blanc's remarkable hallucination sequence, while descending into outright surrealism with the legendary scene in which Giacomo Rossi-Stuart chases his own doppelganger and then mysteriously emerges outside the grounds of Villa Graps). Incidentally, the surname of Blanc's character is Schuftan perhaps a nod by former cinematographer Bava to renowned colleague Eugene Schufftan?
Some of the exposition and shock tactics (Bava, like Jess Franco, has been criticized for his excessive use of the zoom) seem a bit mechanical and the plot is, admittedly, somewhat thin resolving itself with scene after scene in which hero Rossi-Stuart scours the village or prowls the sinister, decaying villa. Characterization is still evident, however: Rossi-Stuart himself, interestingly, recalls Dana Andrews (and even looks a bit like him!) in NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957) a practical man of science being forced to reassess his inherent skepticism toward the supernatural; the witch played by Fabienne Dali' resorts to bizarre rites (such as inflicting serious bodily harm on a sympathetic village girl marked for death or embedding silver coins into victims' hearts as a protection against evil) to fight the curse; and Giana Vivaldi as the disheveled and, literally, haunted Baroness Graps (the revenge-seeking manifestations are revealed to be monsters from her own id, as in the Shakespeare-inspired classic sci-fi FORBIDDEN PLANET ).
Troy Howarth, in the "DVD Maniacs" review, perceptively describes how Bava manages to subvert genre conventions throughout the film the hero's presence is far from reassuring, whereas it's the witch (typically a malevolent influence) who eventually puts an end to the village curse. Her character is given a deep, almost masculine voice and shares an unlikely romance with bald-headed burgomaster Max Lawrence (actually a pseudonym for the film's own producer, Luciano Catenacci!) this does, however, make of the witch's showdown with the Baroness/medium (the former knowingly sacrificing her own life in the process) the personal settling of a score. Ultimately, the film draws its lasting power from the emphasis it places on the characters' raw emotions (I've never been fond of any of the titles attached to it, though this aspect is at least clear in the original, OPERAZIONE PAURA), resulting in an overwhelming and unsettling sense of dread (with tavern scenes full of superstitious villagers that link it, more than perhaps any other Italian Gothic outing, to the contemporaneous Hammer films) that has rarely been equaled due, primarily, to its much-imitated spectral girl device (actually played by a boy in drag!).
Carlo Rustichelli's score features an eerie main theme (which anticipates Goblin's later soundtracks for Dario Argento movies) but also re-uses the unforgettable romantic motif from Bava's own THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963) a decision which, perhaps, cheapens it a little (just because the music is so recognizable) but is also a sure sign of the limited budget involved! The film's striking locations were recently revisited by assistant director Lamberto Bava, Mario's son, for a featurette commissioned by Dark Sky for inclusion on their proposed DVD edition but which was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to a legal dispute! However, apart from the visuals, sound is very important in this film: the giggling ghost-child, church-bells tolling by themselves, windows bursting open, etc.
KILL, BABY KILL! undoubtedly emerges as one of Bava's greatest artistic achievements, and its influence is clearly evident in his own LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973). Incidentally, I first watched this via VCI's English-dubbed and washed-out DVD (when I was in Hollywood in late 2005); while I'd still have been enticed to purchase the Dark Sky version for Tim Lucas' Audio Commentary, I'm extremely grateful to Anchor Bay for offering the equally desirable commodity of the Italian-language print in their edition!
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