KILL, BABY…KILL! (1966) Blu-ray
Director: Mario Bava
Kino Lorber

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 garnishing 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 a significant era in European-made horrors. KILL, BABY...KILL! now makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber

In the early 20th Century, coroner Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH) 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, MY DEAR KILLER) and Karl the burgomaster (Max Lawrence, aka Luciano Catenacci, SYNDICATE SADISTS). Assisting and befriending Eswai is a striking young medical student named Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc, MARK OF THE DEVIL PART II) and together they encounter a number of mysterious, supernatural circumstances. Silver coins are embedded in the hearts of corpses by do-good raven-garbed sorceress Ruth (Fabienne Dali, THE LIBERTINE) 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 (Valerio Valeri), a young girl who was accidentally killed 20 years earlier, and the peculiar Baroness Graps (Giana Vivaldi, THE LOVES OF HERCULES) 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 majority of the film (Antonio Rinaldi did), 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 through bedroom doors only to find himself in the identical room he just left — until he catches up with his sinister 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 WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS and SNOW DEVILS, and Blanc was still years away from being the popular vixen of Euro horrors such as THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE and THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE. The influence of KILL, BABY...KILL! can be found in a number of other films, including Federico Fellini’s “Toby Dammit" segment from the 1968 anthology film SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.

After a number of public domain digital releases (including VCI) of varying quality, KILL, BABY...KILL! was given an official DVD release by Anchor Bay Entertainment as part of a Bava box set in 2007. Just before this, a single release by Dark Sky Films/MPI was pressed but legal action had it stopped after a few copies had gotten out to the public (mostly journalists). Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray arrives at the same time as a UK release by Arrow Video (which we haven’t seen at the time of this writing) but assumedly it uses the same transfer source. KILL, BABY...KILL! has been restored in 2K from 35mm elements in 1080p HD, preserving the film’s original 1.85:1 hard-matted aspect ratio. The compositions of the original framing are accurate here, and long-time fans who have only seen the film on DVD will notice a vast improvement. The Eastman photography looks quite good, bringing out the various palette of colors to grand effect, and close-ups show nice facial features and excellent skin tones. The transfer’s overall detail and texture also impress, with black levels being deep, contrasts appearing natural and the grain structure is consistently healthy and filmic, the way it should be, and there's hardly any blemishes on the source print. There are two language options on the disc, the first being an LPCM mono English track (the language that most of the onscreen actors seem to be speaking). The track has nicely balanced levels of dialogue and music, and despite some occasional background noise, it gets the job done. An Italian language 2.0 track is also included, which is just as good and noticeably cleaner than its English counterpart. Optional English subtitles are included.

The audio commentary with Bava expert and author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, Tim Lucas, is a new one and not that ended up on Dark Sky’s pulled DVD. Lucas does a thoroughly excellent 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!). Originally produced in 2007 (for the pulled Dark Sky DVD) is “Kill, Bava, Kill”, 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! “Erika In Fear: An Interview With Erika Blanc” (10:35) is a new featurette (produced by interviewer Uwe Huber) with the actress telling how well-crafted these low budget and quickly-shot Italian pictures were — including of course the likes of Bava — and goes on to say how everyone in the theater screamed during the scene in KILL, BABY...KILL! where she shows her thigh. She holds up and describes some black & white stills and German lobby cards from the movie, calling Bava a “great artist", and proclaims she had a great time making the film. The alternative German title sequence (3:33) shows the credits over a revealing shot of the little girl (with her bouncing ball) walking down a flight of stairs, followed by outdoor panning shots of the town (the German release translates to "The Dead Eyes of Dr. Dracula"). The international theatrical trailer (2:34) and three different (:60, :30 and :10-second) TV spots (for the 1972 “Orgy of the Dead” triple feature where it played as “Curse of the Living Dead”) round out the extras. (George R. Reis)