(I’m cleaning up a few Halloween scraps this week – articles I’d meant to get posted before the holiday, but weren’t quite ready. This is the first.)
Let’s face it: evil little kids in horror films, especially when they have that just-that-much-off giggle, are especially creepy, and never more so than in Mario Bava’s eerily atmospheric creeper Kill, Baby… Kill.
Today considered one of Bava’s best, the movie had what is referred to as a “troubled production” and upon it’s initial release, though it received some critical praise it was not considered a success.
The film takes place in that vacation wonderland Carpathia, specifically the village of Karmingham, where Dr. Paul Eswal has been called in to perform an autopsy on one Irena Hollander, who has died under, as they say, “mysterious circumstances”. Or at least those who will say anything would say that, but you know how these small Carpathian towns are – more often than not, nobody’s saying anything, except perhaps to pronounce some dire warning.
Fortunately for the doctor, the lovely Miss Monica Schufftan who just happens to be a medical student has returned to the village to visit her parent’s graves (pretty, intelligent, and dutiful – better keep an eye on this one, Doc, and make sure those “mysterious circumstances” don’t catch up with her, too) is there to assist with the autopsy.41
Bewilderingly, while performing the autopsy, Dr. Paul and Monica discover that a silver coin has been embedded in the dead woman’s heart. Fortunately Monica has an explanation… or at least a reason – you see, the people of the area have a saying: “only with money in the heart can one who dies a violent death find peace”. And obviously if you have a saying like that, you also have a way to get that money into the heart without leaving a trace.
But medical mysteries are going to have to wait, because we need to squeeze in a romantic walk home between the doctor and Monica before black cats and running children can distract him so he can be attacked by ruffians who are chased off by the sudden appearance of a woman dressed in black who just as mysteriously vanishes.
Upon arriving back at his hotel, he is told by Nadienne, the daughter of the owners, that the inspector has gone to Villa Graps. “Did he tell you when he’d be back?” “You don’t come back from Villa Graps.” Uh, oh! Shouldn’t have said that, Nadienne! And she knows it immediately and tries to recant, but it’s too late, because as soon as the doctor has gone upstairs, she is visited by the face of a young girl in the window. Rushing to get help, no sooner does her father open the door than he finds Ruth, the local witch, who has arrived because she knows there is trouble afoot.
Coming back downstairs, the doctor spies upon a ritual which is designed to keep away evil spirits and apparently involves stripping the young girl and beating her with a branch. Preventative medicine at its finest, obviously.
Exiting, he confronts the witch upon her departure, and she too warns him to stay away from the villa. He does manage to get some ominous mentions of Melissa, but not many answers, because if anyone actually explained what they knew, Scooby Doc would pull the mask off the villain and the movie would be over.
Upon his arrival at the Villa he is told by the old Baroness that the inspector is not there, a fact that we the audience already know, because we have just seen him waiting for Ruth in her home (they are apparently lovers) with another dead body. They conspire together to hide the death, but not before Ruth prepares to do a little surgery of her own. That’s right, it’s time to play hide the penny!
From this point on, the madness just escalates as the Baroness is obviously being haunted by a little girl who also confronts the doctor on his way out. She has a nasty giggle and a little ball that she likes to bounce down the hallways, leading the doctor on a merry chase.
Meanwhile, Monica is dreaming. Of Melissa. Of the doctor. Of stairwells. And of a doll.
A doll which she wakes up to find at the foot of her bed. She reaches out to touch it then recoils, and when she looks again, it has disappeared!
I know I seem to be making light of the movie, and in truth it is kind of silly, but Kill Baby… Kill is also highly atmospheric, slightly hallucinogenic, and thoroughly entertaining. It is Bava at his most stylistic, and there is a definite air of oddness and mystery that sets the viewer on edge and gives one the feeling that everything is not quite right in this little town and that our protagonists may not make it out alive…or sane…
Highly recommended if you’re looking for something with a gothic setting without all of the jump scares of a modern horror.
Here’s your trailer: