Mario Bava deserves the title of master of Italian horror film far more than Dario Argento ever did, even though Argento certainly had his moments. Bava’s best films are more rooted in classic gothic literature, so atmosphere and mood are vital. A special focus on inventive visual techniques makes his films incredibly unique within the genre.
Kill, Baby… Kill! is often heralded as one of his finest achievements, and the reason is very obvious. It’s a surrealist, gothic, tour de force of a ghost story.
The film’s plot is fairly basic: a pathologist comes to a small village to perform an autopsy on a woman who died under mysterious circumstances. The locals are all convinced they are being haunted by the ghost of a little girl, who may be responsible for the murders. Soon his rational views start to crack as he investigates further and uncovers evidence of strange goings-on.
The film’s narrative isn’t really important in the end, because it’s such a visually lush and inventive film with hallucinogenic cinematography. Roger Corman utilised a similar style with his Edgar Allan Poe cycle, and when the Bava films came out in the US they were often sold as films of this ilk (it helped that AIP distributed both.) Kill, Baby… Kill! has that sense of a hazy, dreamy unreality that the best gothic horror films have, with a sense of ’60s psychedelia thrown in for good measure. His most “’60s” film would be Danger: Diabolik, which came out soon after Kill, Baby… Kill!, and which has one of the most extreme colour palettes of any film ever made.
Kill, Baby… Kill!‘s most indelible image is that of the ghostly young girl representing evil. The evil children motif was used in gothic literature since its birth, but had not really made its way into cinema. The success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist would soon change that and throughout the ’70s it was arguably one, of if not the, preeminent horror motif of the decade. The use of ghostly children also had a undeniable influence on Guilllermo Del Toro whose films The Devil’s Backbone and Crimson Peak have Bava’s fingerprints all over them.
Kill, Baby… Kill! remains a groundbreaking horror film, and is certainly one of Bava’s three finest achievements in an extraordinary body of work, the majority of which is now available from Arrow Video. The disc includes a commentary from Tim Lucas, which is just as should be expected, because he wrote THE book on Bava. It includes a visual essay on Bava and the Gothic child motif, some interviews, and the Giallo-inspired short film Yellow. Bava also basically invented the Giallo genre, but it seems like an odd inclusion with one of his gothic films, especially since it’s on the Blood and Black Lace disc already. The initial printing has a booklet with new writing from Travis Crawford.