Kill, Baby… Kill!, 1966.
Directed by Mario Bava.
Starring Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, and Piero Lulli.
In the early 1900s a remote village is cursed by the ghost of a little girl.
Despite the misleading title, Kill, Baby… Kill! is not a slasher or a giallo but is a Gothic chiller in the same vein as Mario Bava’s earlier supernatural works Black Sunday and Black Sabbath. Set in the year 1907 in a remote village deep in the Carpathians the film begins on a dark and gloomy note as a distressed woman appears to throw herself onto some spiked railings and it doesn’t let up as determined doctor Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart – The Last Man on Earth) arrives to perform an autopsy. However, as is customary in remote villages with an inn and very little else going on, strangers aren’t taken to very easily – especially ones looking to perform autopsies to determine whether a death was suspicious or not – and the good doctor is soon put in his place by the locals who blame the woman’s death on the ghost of a little girl who was murdered 20 years previously.
But Dr. Eswai and investigating policeman Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli – My Name is Nobody) don’t believe such superstitious nonsense, even when local witch/sorceress Ruth (Fabienne Dali – The Libertine) gets involved and everything that their scientific minds believe appears to be challenged, especially as now more people are dying after having apparently seen the ghost of the little girl.
As with all Bava movies Kill, Baby… Kill! looks fantastic, as the director’s eye for cinematic shots and his knack of creating atmosphere is probably at its peak here with misty graveyards, foggy back alleys and just a general sense of dread permeating every frame in a way that Roger Corman pioneered in The Fall of the House of Usher but never really developed any further. Here, Bava takes that cue, and possibly a bit of a Hammer influence as well, and constructs a set that comes straight out of the pages of a Gothic horror novel but with lighting and decoration that only a visual filmmaker at the top of his game could pull off without it looking naff. Add to that period costumes and an old-fashioned sense of the theatrical then it is no wonder that Kill, Baby… Kill! is often regarded as one of Bava’s greatest works.
And to a point that could well be the case except for one detail, that being the lack of any real plot. Granted, you don’t really go into a Mario Bava movie – or any Italian genre piece, if truth be told – for a compelling story but after the initial setup where Dr. Eswai confers with the inspector and is given the details about the superstitious villagers then the narrative trails off into a series of set pieces as new characters are introduced and usually disposed of at any given moment. The film does pick up towards the end as the full backstory is revealed and Bava employs some shock tactics that many a J-horror movie would pick up and run with a few decades later but the journey getting to that place is a fairly arduous one if you really want to follow the story. The visuals do make it a lot easier to stay invested, as does the comical dubbing that delivers some clumsy dialogue in what was probably a thankless translation job, but for a film that is essentially a simple Gothic ghost story it does feel extremely void of any substance beyond what you can see, even if what you can see is some truly remarkable camerawork and the obvious influence on modern horror movies.
The film itself is fairly grainy in places but when those moonlit cemeteries and the European-style architecture fill the screen under Bava’s studio lights it does look quite stunning in a way that captures the imagination. It is just unfortunate that the images the film creates will likely trigger off a fuller, more fleshed-out story in your imagination than the one that is being played out on the screen. Kill, Baby… Kill! certainly has its merits and could quite easily claim to be Mario Bava’s best-looking movie but narratively it just doesn’t match up to the far superior Black Sabbath or the more iconic Black Sunday.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★