Baba Yaga (Blu-ray)
Starring Carroll Baker, Isabelle De Funes, George Eastman
Directed by Corrado Farina
Distributed by Blue Underground
Baba Yaga is something of an anomaly in the canon of Italian horror/exploitation. Based on the work of graphic artist Guido Crepax, it’s an amalgamation of tawdry Euro horror thrills and psychedelic hippie culture. We’re never really sure when reality ends and fantasy begins, and that’s sort of the point. There’s a sleazy, soft core charm to much of the proceedings even if it never quite measures up in a way that’s particularly meaningful or memorable. But hey, it’s sort of a curiosity piece for Euro fans, and besides, Baba Yaga is pretty fun to say, right?
True to Italian horror tradition, the plot involves an attractive fashion photographer named Valentina (Isabelle De Funes), who crosses paths with the titular character (Carroll Baker), a Slavic witch seemingly hellbent on seducing her. Almost instantly our heroine falls under her spell, suffering bizarre Nazi-based hallucinations, succumbing to the obvious advances of a sleazeball director (George Eastman) while various people around her are killed under mysterious circumstances.
Baba Yaga works on a level beneath its most exploitative aspect, focusing on the sexual repression of its main character as a means of illustrating the societal rebellion occurring throughout the late 60s/early 70s. Here, everything happening on screen (under the witch’s lure) is intended to be some kind of expression: her sexual awakening, career mobility, etc. It’s enough to distinguish Baba Yaga from the usual Italian trappings of irredeemable sex and nudity as preambles to mere violence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff, but this one works the brain a bit more than expected.
It’s not always successful, though. The pacing is off, feeling a bit long even at 83 minutes. Director Corrado Farina does an excellent job of replicating the lush visuals of a comic strip through crisp colors and exaggerated performances, but the story never holds together. We’re never that intimidated by Baba Yaga, whose ultimate goal amounts to nothing more than the most elaborate booty call ever staged. She becomes infatuated with our sexy young heroine and decides she must have her at all costs. Hardly terrifying stuff here.
But Baba Yaga is an interesting curiosity for those looking for a groovy Italian oddity. With characteristics intrinsic of 1970s Europe, it’s hard to dislike this slight slice of sauciness. It never quite descends into the depraved depths that many of its peers do, nor does it truly embrace its horror elements beyond fleeting moments. But it is fun. And that’s what’s important.
Blue Underground brings Baba Yaga to Blu-ray in a high quality transfer. Being a previous owner of the 2003 BU DVD, I can attest to the fact that this is a stunning upgrade. Beautiful colors and contrast, healthy skin tones and a rich breadth of textures: all presented here for your approval. I could find no nasty DNR or any other kind of negative manipulation here. If you’re looking to grab this sucker, the Blu-ray is the way to go.
On the audio front the DTS HD Master Audio English track might be in mono, but it’s crystal clear. You couldn’t ask for a better presentation here.
For fans of the film, Blue Underground has slapped some solid extras on this package: a 22-minute interview with director Corrado Farrina, an exploration of the source comic book and a comic book-to-film comparison. There’s also roughly nine minutes worth of deleted scenes that feature some racier material. Allegedly, these scenes were spliced back into foreign releases by way of a 16mm print. These are worth checking out. Finally, a stills gallery of promotional material and a trailer round out the set.
You already know whether or not Baba Yaga is your cup of tea. Fans of this curiosity piece shouldn’t think twice about supporting Blue Underground’s latest high definition upgrade. Those of you who’ve come to appreciate Italian genre filmmaking may also want to give this one a try – it’s certainly unique. For all the rest, I’d recommend trying before you buy.
3 out of 5
3 out of 5