Mario Bava is one of the most important directors in genre cinema and if you haven't checked out any of his films, now is the perfect time. Bava's background in fashion photography clearly influenced his highly stylized, psychedelically colored, genre films, which have benefitted more than most from Blu-Ray clean-ups. Arrow's new release of Kill Baby Kill (aka Curse of the Dead) is an exquisitely realised revisit of one of Bava's finest moments.
Released in 1966, Kill Baby Kill came after a slew of successful features that put Bava at the front of the Italian film industry. The last of Bava's Euro Gothic films, films which he had found great success with, Kill Baby Kill follows the story of a town in the Carpathian Mountains haunted by the ghost of a little girl who drives her victims to suicide. Bava appears to be riffing on Jack Clayton's The Innocents, but most importantly Mervyn LeRoy's 1956 film The Bad Seed, which perverts the traditional assumptions of childhood in its psychopathic brat Rhoda Penmark. Bava merges LeRoy's cynical new age paranoia with the generic Europe-centric Gothic of increasingly lucrative Hammer productions.
The result is a film void of the stale good vs. evil approach found in much of those Hammer films. Bava's entrancing style, the euphoric sweeps of color, the perfect cinematography, a cool bass-led soundtrack from Carlo Rustichelli, make Kill Baby Kill a perfectly pop Gothic masterpiece. Sticking to sickly greens and yellows, Bava paints a town rotten to its core, where the murderous ghost of a little girl is not as bad as the ignorance and superstition it breeds. And yes, it’s still scary.
Bava was nothing if not an accomplished conductor of atmosphere, dragging the audience into whatever fever dream he desired. For the most part Kill Baby Kill relies on the shock of its deaths and the tension of the girl's appearances, but on another level it triumphs through moral ambiguity and trippy disorientation. In the last act, Bava achieves some wonderfully loopy sequences, which call the casual surrealism of David Lynch to mind, an artist who has cited Bava as an influence. The influence doesn't stop with Lynch though. Fellini in Toby Dammitt would use the image of an angelic little girl in a white dress, playing with a ball. The haunting image of a child scratching at the window would turn up again in Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot. Hell, even the 2006 film adaptation of Silent Hill feels like a thematic remake of Kill Baby Kill.
Bava is now famous for Blood and Black Lace, the film that instigated giallo and laid the blueprint for American Slashers, but he was an accomplished purveyor of Sci-fi, Euro Gothic, and Westerns also. Touches and reference points to Bava can be found far and wide in the horror genre and beyond. Kill Baby Kill is one of his most influential moments, a perfect Gothic horror film, and a kind of sign-off from the "classic" phase of the genre, which had served him so well since Black Sunday in 1960. Arrow's release is gorgeous and has some great bonus features too, including a revealing interview with Bava's son, and a fascinating video essay on the Gothic child from Kat Ellinger.
KILL BABY KILL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: ROMANO MIGLIORINI, ROBERTO NATALE / STARRING: GIACOMO ROSSI-STUART, ERIKA BLANC, FABIENNE DALI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW