This mid-sixties creepfest
is one of the most famous and influential films of Italy’s legendary Mario Bava.
I don’t consider it the maestro’s best work, but do find it shivery and
disquieting, with its impossible-to-forget ghostly girl with a bouncing ball,
surely one of the most enduring sights in horror history.
In retrospect KILL, BABY...KILL! (OPERAZIONE PAURA; 1966) can be viewed as
a sort of bridge between Mario Bava’s stately early films (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK
SABBATH) and later exploitation quickies (THREE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, BARON
BLOOD). It looks great, with artful color photography, but, with its tacky film
stock and overuse of the zoom lens, lacks the care and beauty of Bava’s finest
work. Bava here, unlike in most of his other films, did not act as his own
cinematographer, and it shows.
Dr. Eswai, a coroner, is called to a small Transylvanian village. There a
police inspector wants Eswai to autopsy the body of a woman who fell to her
death the night before. Eswai meets Monica, an attractive young lady whose
scientific education makes her the only person qualified to assist him. Later
that night Eswai gets into a scrap with two local punks but a mysterious woman
scares the guys off...and then vanishes into thin air.
Such occurrences are standard in the town, where a creepy little girl is
constantly showing up and then disappearing. Eswai spots the girl while
investigating an old castle where Monica is staying; the girl appears in an
upper hallway of the place, identifies herself as Melissa and then vanishes,
leaving a bouncing ball and unearthly giggling in her place.
The town, it seems, is under a curse that commenced
when young Melissa Graps, the girl Eswai spotted, was murdered in plain view of
the townspeople, who did nothing to stop the killing. Since then over ten
people have met with suspicious deaths.
Eswai attempts to warn the townspeople of the danger in their midst, but is
unsuccessful. He and Monica find themselves in a family crypt underneath the
accursed mansion--which Monica finds strangely familiar--where Melissa’s corpse
is interred. They manage to make their way to the upper floors of the mansion,
where they confront the ancient Baroness Graps, who it turns out is the mother
of Melissa--and of Monica as well. There’s a dark secret the hag is about to
divulge that will put an entirely new spin on all the preceding events, not to
mention a surprise appearance by the ghostly woman Eswai spotted earlier, who
has a troubling bond with the Baroness.
Although ahead of its time in many respects, KILL, BABY...KILL! is still
very much a product of it, with distorted rippling effects used to convey dream
states, much zoom lens abuse, an overwrought musical score and a clichéd old
dark castle setting (an obligatory element in sixties Euro-horror). Bava’s
great innovation was to combine old school gothic terrors of the type favored by
his mentor Riccardo Faeda (director of classics like THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR
HITCHCOCK and I, VAMPIRI) with those of the emerging Italian crime/mystery (or
giallo) format, which Bava pioneered in THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and which is evident here in the fairly intense (for the
time) gore scenes and whodunit narrative.
What resonates today is that wide-eyed girl with her bouncing ball,
unearthly giggle and retinue of creepy dolls. The ghostly Melissa has remained
with me, not to mention the many filmmakers who’ve recycled the image over the
years--see Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” episode of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, THE SHINING
and the countless J-horror flicks that feature pasty ghost kids. All owe a
substantial debt to KILL, BABY...KILL!
KILL, BABY...KILL! (OPERAZIONE
Producers: Nando Pisani, Luciano Catenacci
Screenplay: Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Mario Bava
Cinematography: Antonio Rinaldi
Editing: Romana Fortini
Cast: Erica Blanc, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Fabienne Dali, Giana Vivaldi, Piero
Lulli, Max Lawrence, Micaela Esdra, Franca Dominici, Giuseppe Addobbati, Mirilla
Ranfli, Valerio Valeri