Kill, Baby… Kill! (aka Operazione paura/Operation Fear, 1966) is perhaps the most iconic and influential of Mario Bava’s films, which enjoys a newly remastered Arrow Films special edition release. The film marked a return to Gothic horror for the director, after a three-year break from the genre. Though his only project the year before was Planet of the Vampires (aka Terrorre nello spazio/Terror in Space) – which Bava co-wrote and directed – as the prolific filmmaker’s earlier and later career demonstrates he often produced several films in the space of a year. This was the case in 1966 when, in addition to Kill, Baby… Kill!, he directed I coltelli del vendicatore (Knives of the Avenger), which was a troubled production that Bava joined late in order to rewrite and direct the film in only six days; Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, an American spoof on the spy film, particularly the popular Eurospy films in Italy; and the Spaghetti Western Ringo del Nebraska (Gunman Named Nebraska) that was officially directed by Antonio Romàn but attributed to Bava.
Bava’s career is peppered with such unofficial directorial roles, which was a direct result of the studio system in the post-war years. Bava’s background as a freelance cinematographer allowed him to slide into the director’s chair when called upon; he worked fast and was creative in keeping to budgets with his hands-on approach to technical issues and set designs (see the monster and model work in Caltiki – il mostro immortale/Caltiki (The Immortal Monster, 1959) as just one example). He also worked to specifications, producing a variety of genre content that often reworked popular international films in order to for the Italian industry to cash in on their success with domestic audiences that were censored from foreign products under the Fascist government during the Second World War.
However, despite the volume of his work and its commercial success (even if films were not as popular as Italian studios hoped, the sheer number produced guaranteed revenue), much of Bava’s genre output is often regarded as lacking in substance outside of cult circles. This is what makes the release of Kill, Baby… Kill! in 1966, among the eclectic mix of films released that year, so interesting as it has received an excess of critical acclaim throughout the years.
The film itself revolves around Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) travelling to a remote Carpathian village in order to perform an autopsy on a young woman who has mysteriously died. Monica Shuftan (Erika Blanc) has also returned to her childhood village to visit her parents’ graves. Having escaped the confines of the village, Monica is also somewhat of an outsider and helps Dr Eswai navigate through the superstitions of the locals. The villagers believe that the woman’s death was caused by the ghost of a young girl, as anyone who lays eyes upon the ghostly child is cursed. A meandering mystery follows, with more than a little narrative influence from Bava’s gialli films, and ultimately leads to a violent climax.
The supernatural elements of the film are both hauntingly and beautifully rendered by the ethereal colour scheme and stylised Gothic set design, with exterior shots filmed in Calcutta. The mastery of the camera by Bava and Antonio Rinaldi, which is very much an active and assaultive gaze in the film, also includes a fantastic piece of trickery that aids the building of tension in the final scenes.
Kill, Baby… Kill! is arguably the most critically acclaimed of Bava’s filmography. The use of the image of a young child bouncing a ball is a powerful motif of evil that has permeated horror cinema since the film’s release, which is discussed at length in author and critic Kat Ellinger’s video essay on the film featured on the Arrow Film release’s list of special features: The Devil’s Daughter: Mario Bava and the Gothic Child.
This motif is analysed in further detail within Tim Lucas’ newly recorded audio commentary. Author of the seminal Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (2007), Lucas applies his extensive knowledge of the film and situates it within Bava’s wider filmography. In addition to this, Lamberto Bava is interviewed about his role as Assistant Director on the film, providing a fascinating insight into his professional relationship with his father.
In addition to the 2K restoration, the Arrow Films special edition features the original Italian and English mono audio, which is lossless on the Blu-ray disc, and newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack. It also includes optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on the English soundtrack. The release also boasts newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, presented in a reversible sleeve that includes a further essay on the film by critic Travis Crawford. An interesting addition to this impressive set of special features is the presentation of the short film Yellow (2006), a homage to Bava’s filmography by Semih Tareen. This celebratory approach to Bava’s films reiterates the critical success of Kill, Baby… Kill! and sets this release as a definitive edition for collectors.