That wafer- thin line between the living and the dead has been crossed by many directors but few, I'll wager, could walk the walk like Mario Bava. With the sole exception of Lisa And The Devil, Bava had to work with meagre budgets and tight schedules, relying on ingenuity, imagination and those painterly eyes that created some of the most vivid nightmares ever committed to celluloid.
Kill, Baby...Kill! pits science and law against the forces of evil when Dr. Paul Eswai (Rossi-Stuart) and Inspector Kruger (Lulli) arrive at the small Transylvanian village of Kremingen; the latter in response to a letter from one extremely frightened girl who was found impaled on iron railings before Kruger could reach the village. Eswai is asked to perform an autopsy, aided by Monica (Blanc), an ex-local girl who returns home to find her birthplace gripped by fear. As Bava works his magic, we slowly discover the legend of Melissa Graps (played by a young boy , Valeri) , a 7 year old girl who, many years earlier, bled to death following an accident while drunken villagers ignored her cries for help. Now, those who catch sight of her unquiet spirit suffer a similar fate while her mother (Vivaldi) presides over the family villa, surrounded by memories and fuelled by hate.
Although Bava is often cited as a master of style over substance, Kill, Baby...Kill! is a veritable feast for lovers of the macabre who like nothing better than a tale well told. A frightened coach driver who reluctantly delivers Eswai into a place of evil; terrified villagers who form a wall of silence; a scorceress (Dali', echoing Rada Rassimov's character in Bava's Baron Blood) who uses 'the old ways' to ward off the dead; wonderful mist-shrouded night scenes where a tolling bell signals another impending death.... a familiar storyline with stock characters? To an extent, yes, but even though we're on familiar ground, the soil seems firm and fresh, thanks to Bava's supreme technical skill, coupled with his unerring ability to get under the skin of what really scares us. Here, the spectral figure of Melissa Graps takes centre stage, emerging as one of Bava's eeriest and most imitated creations. This 'bambino diavolo' has inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation Of Christ) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, from Spirits Of The Dead), who took note of the images of a child clad in white, emerging from the shadows of half-lit corridors, peering through windows with a malevolent, death-dealing stare or, most chilling of all, perched on a swing, her laughter peeling through the cold night air: wish I had a gold coin (embedded in the heart, perhaps?) for every film that wheels on a child's ball bouncing down the stairs to land at the feet of the living.Melissa's evil mother also succeeds in quickening the pulse rate, at first commanding our sympathy and then moving to the other end of the scale as her part in this story becomes apparent.
Long-time admirers/potential newcomers to this film can now choose between several DVD releases, though Kill, Baby...Kill! has yet to receive the red carpet treatment it so richly deserves. My first encounter occured several years ago, courtesy of a 3rd gen bootleg tape, followed by a poor quality print shown at London's NFT during their wonderful Mario Bava retrospective. The release of VCI's Region 1 DVD finally hinted that Kill, Baby...Kill! could turn out to be another piece of Bava eye candy. While it's nice to see a version of this film with acceptable colour saturation, it must be noted that flesh tones are on the dull side and there are many instances of grain and print damage.
Brentwood Home Video's Fright Night collection (approx $15) contains 10 movies of varying a/v quality, but their presentation of Kill, Baby...Kill! is the best I've seen. As one would expect, Brentwood have not delivered a pristine version, but the colours are much bolder than on the VCI disc with more detail in those macabre set designs. Unfortunately, both the Brentwood and VCI discs are pan-and-scan, hampering Bava's widescreen compositions.
At the time of writing, Diamond Entertainment are preparing to add this film to their catalogue of budget botch-jobs, so those familiar with some of their past releases (Cat O' Nine Tails, anyone?) may prefer to look elsewhere in search of a definitive release. Perhaps the German site amazon.de may be worth a look? There you'll find Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula in Bava's original 1.85:1 cut. Although the audio is German language only, with no English subtitles, picture quality is excellent, by all accounts.
And what of the long-awaited release from Image Entertainment? Well, Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas recorded an audio commentary for this release some 3 years ago, and remarked that the disc should be deliver a drop-dead gorgeous transfer, taken from a 35mm source as opposed to VCI's 16mm materials. Sadly, a legal dispute has placed this most-wanted version in limbo, so we can only hope that Alfredo Leone can resolve matters and give us the real Kill, Baby...Kill!
Aka: Curse of the Dead, Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula, Operazione Paura
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.