Starring Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Valerio Valeri, Erika Blanc, Giana Vivaldi
Directed by Mario Bava
Distributed by Kino Lorber
The name Mario Bava conjures forth images of vivid cinematography and a sumptuous gothic atmosphere; traits that have defined his work and influenced countless filmmakers. Bava was no stranger to these elements when it came time to make Kill, Baby… Kill! (a.k.a. Operazione Paura/Operation Fear, 1966), having already produced all-time classics such as Black Sunday (1960) and Blood and Black Lace (1964) by that point. But Kill, Baby… Kill! plays like an amalgamation of all Bava had done before, concentrating his dripping atmosphere, Victorian romanticism, and stellar, often hallucinatory, camera work into one career-defining feature. Many of his most vocal celebrants, chief among them Bava biographer Tim Lucas, have lauded its spectral elements as iconic to Italian horror cinema. Bava has a rich and varied filmography, one that frequently jumps genres, but for those looking to drink deeply in his oeuvre Kill, Baby… Kill! is a fitting place to start.
In a decaying Carpathian village, a woman plunges to her death after being pursued by an unseen force. Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is sent to perform her autopsy. The locals, however, are a superstitious lot and they believe the woman was done in by the ghost of a young girl who haunts the village. Despite some resistance, Dr. Eswai completes his autopsy, finding a silver coin embedded in the heart of the woman. Later, he learns the story of the supposed spook: Melissa Graps (Valerio Valeri), daughter of Baroness Graps (Giana Vivaldi), who died at a young age and continues to roam the cobblestone streets, killing all she meets. While in town Paul meets Monica (Erika Blanc), a young woman who has returned to visit the grave of her parents. Later, Nadienne (Micaela Esdra), daughter of the local innkeepers, is visited by Melissa but Ruth (Fabienne Dali), a witch, reverses the curse to prevent certain death… for a while. Paul, meanwhile, comes across two gravediggers attempting to bury the body of Inspector Kruger, with whom he was to meet that same night regarding a bit of crucial information.
Eventually, it comes to the light that Melissa is the daughter of Baroness Graps and, furthermore, Monica’s parents were servants in the Graps homestead. Karl (Luciano Catenacci), the town burgomeister, attempts to prove these claims with documentation but, wouldn’t you know it, Melissa kills him before the paperwork can be produced. No one else in town is willing to assist Paul and Monica so they take their suspicions to the Baroness herself, who concedes her role in the town slayings stems from an incident many years back in which Melissa was killed due to sheer negligence on the part of the townspeople. But that isn’t the only revelation to come from the Baroness’ confession, and Paul & Monica’s long night of torment won’t end until someone is laid to rest.
Bava had only been out of the gothic horror game for a few years before he produced this film, and it’s clear the Master of Atmosphere didn’t lose a step in that time. Viewers can consider the story secondary to the austere, gloomy Carpathian environment, which is so sumptuous that drinking it in becomes compulsory. When I think of horror, in maybe a more “classic” sense, the aesthetic Bava achieves here is that concept brought to motion. It isn’t just the atmosphere, but also in the camera angles and framing where Bava gives his film an E.C. Comics feel. The scene where Dr. Eswai comes across a duo of grimy gravediggers might as well have been ripped straight from a splash page in Tales from the Crypt. Much of that sensation can also be attributed to Bava’s love of lush colors, which permeate the earthen environments like a mastered brushstroke.
Adding the necessary accoutrements of romance and haunting regality is composer Carlo Rustichelli’s classical score. Rustichelli had previously provided the soundscape to The Whip and the Body (1963), another one of Bava’s celebrated gothic romances. Although Bava had the great fortune of working with some of Italy’s top film composers – luminaries like Ennio Morricone and Stelvio Cipriani – the music provided by Rustichelli replays in my head most frequently because it perfectly complements the atmosphere Bava sought to achieve. Kill, Baby… Kill! is like a baroque painting come to life, fully immersing viewers in a strange and mystical place.
Kino says this release is sourced from a new 2K scan taken from 35mm film elements, but the results of this 1.85:1 1080p image are less satisfactory than Arrow’s recent U.K. release. For one thing, there is a slight push toward green over the picture. This skews the colors and gives the image a slight malaise. Contrast is acceptable but hardly solid. There is a pronounced softness to many scenes, with fine detail lacking throughout. A few moments near the climax show a distinct shift in quality, too. While this is by no means a bad image it doesn’t appear less faithful and defined than the region-free Arrow edition.
Both English and Italian audio are included, though the former sports an LPCM 2.0 mono track while the latter has to settle for lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The Italian track sounds slightly muffled and has less presence (surprise), while the English dub is more robust and has a less cramped feel. Rustichelli’s score sounds much better in lossless, making the English track a clear winner. Subtitles are available in English.
Former “Video Watchdog” editor and Bava biographer Tim Lucas provides an expectedly scholarly audio commentary track.
“Kill, Bava, Kill!” is a 2007 featurette with Lamberto Bava, son of Mario, discussing his family and visiting some of the filming locations seen here.
An international theatrical trailer and “German Opening Title Sequence” (which looks very rough) are also included, along with “Interview with Erika Blanc”, and a trio of hilarious American TV spots. Seriously, if you watch any bonus feature on this disc make it that one.
- BRAND NEW HD MASTER
- Audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
- English-language soundtrack
- Italian-language soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles
- “Kill, Bava…Kill!” (a 2007 documentary by David Gregory, in which Lamberto Bava revisits the location where the film was shot, 25:02)
- Theatrical trailer (2:32)
- Three TV Spots (:60 :30 :10)
- German title sequence (3:30)
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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