This Isn't Sorcery, This Is Torture: Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

There may be nothing worse in regards to film viewing then committing to a movie that is almost good, but in the end falls short and proves to be absolutely average.  While it may be a reactionary element on my part to the particular stylings of filmmakers like Dario Argento, Jean Rollin and in the case of Kill Baby, Kill director Mario Bava I feel as though the film in question is almost on tap to something excellent but manages to be to preoccupied with narrative closure and normalcy to commit to its zany direction.  I am also aware that I am watching this film with dubbing, which can prove grating in the case of a film that is not necessarily aided by absurdly terrible translations and delivery.  Kill Baby, Kill is a solid film and it has many shining moments, particularly a handful of experimental shots that would suggest a brilliant idea under the surface of vain concerns for attractive people with paranormal problems.  I will admit openly that I am quite unaware of Bava's process as a filmmaker, but the film seriously wreaks of being tampered with, in so much as it has some rather jarring and enjoyable breaks form linear narrative, only to continually resituate itself within the traditional filmic structure, most times with no explanation as to why.  It is one thing for me to engage with a film that purposefully avoids providing characters with names, but it is entirely another matter when I am rather certain that I am being told characters names repeatedly, but have little memory of what they might be scenes later.  Hell, I recently went on a tequila fueled night of Spanish films and undertook watching a Santo film only to be disappointed to discover that it had no subtitles, nor did it possess dubbing.  That being said, I continued to watch the film and managed to glean a plot to some degree, although to be fair it could have just been some elaborate fever dream brought on by the aforementioned tequila.  I offer this aside only to say this about Kill Baby, Kill, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a film and understand that many of its faults are indicative of its era and technological restraints, but there is absolutely nothing more frustrating than seeing moments of genius sandwiched in the middle of a subpar filmmaking.  I would equate it to placing delicious savory brie in the middle of dollar store slices of bread, if that is your course of action it is better just to eat the cheese on its own, much like this would have been a far better film it were just a set of experimental flairs detached from an attempt at cohesive narrative.

I will attempt to hash out some degree of plot from a film that is surprisingly assured that it has a direct plot.  Viewers are introduced to some dark decaying Victorian world in which a woman appears to be nonsensically running about a mansion, only to catch sight of an incredibly sharp spike on a gate.  Upon seeing this she jumps to her death, impaling herself.  This action leads to the county coroner arriving, one Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), only to discover that the town is incredibly unreceptive to his presence, existing instead in an outdated frame of mind that values sorcery and witchcraft over any degree of scientific truth.  This situation makes it insanely difficult for Eswai to get information or make a case for what he assumes to be murders.  As his movement through the area increases he becomes aware of many inexplicable deaths, mostly women, who lose large amounts of blood in the process.  The supernatural activities of the town, Eswai discovers are enacted to counter the demonic spells of Baroness Graps (Giovanna Galletti).  At this point, Eswai becomes incredibly confused as to what the truth of the matter is as it relates to the village, finding no aid when navigating between talismans and scientific truth, yet as more of his friends and trusted colleagues die, Eswai realizes that time is very much lacking and confronts Graps, only to discover that she has enacted such spells as a form of retribution against the town whose drunken oversights resulted in the death of her daughter, who was trampled by horses and slowly bled to death.  Graps believes that her daughters painful death is now the onus of the entire village, create a cycle of death as a means to assure revenge. Yet, Graps is also baffled when she realizes that her daughters spirit also navigates the spaces of the town exacting her own revenge, masked in eerie playfulness.  Fortunately, Eswai realizes the complexities of the situation at the last possible moment and saves his love interest while also assuring the destruction of Graps, although at the hands of another woman whose story is also seemingly important.

Cyclicality in film is not a terrible thing, in fact, it is a necessity in time travel films, and work quite nicely in the recent Men in Black III, however, it can be a bit frustrating when a film wants to offer this great non-linear focus on a cycle of issues, only to go about it in a terribly straightforward manner.  This, again, is my problem with Kill Baby, Kill, it is a narrative of a straight line, whose moments of experimentation seem like hiccups on a seismology reading.  The reminder that a good being is navigating the filmic space results in a narrative where sparks of zeal and camerawork that move through the environment as though they were their own character are ultimately lost, because they, aside from looking stellar, seem to have little affect on the narrative.  Earlier today, I listened to some of a podcasts from the excellent show Filmspotting, and they were making a less harsh criticism of Rami's initial Evil Dead film, suggesting that his use of bizarre camera work occasionally draws in viewers about their relationship with a horror occurring, particularly question within what sort of temporal and spatial world a paranormal narrative can exist.  Again think of the ways the Paranormal Activity franchise managed to challenge how viewers understand a linear horror film narrative, I know I am amongst a minor group of defenders for the films, but they really did revitalize how horror exists, and have for the worst created a set of offsprings that seem to betray the original, much in the ways that Kill Baby, Kill does with non-linear narrative.  Bava's work seems so intent on being surrealistic that when it does have the moments of such a degree of insanity they seem to be secondary to a lackluster plot.  I know that this film predates the original The Wicker Man by quite a few years, but it is clear that the sort of paranormal space created within that latter, is realized from the opening moments of the film, as opposed to be something that comes and goes at the whim of narrative normalcy.

Key Scene:  P.O.V swingset shot.

This is not a terrible film, but it is really damn frustrating.  I want it to be something it is not and I realize much of this is my own problem. With that in mind watch it instantly on Netflix and feel free to tell me that I am completely misreading the film, it is quite possibly the truth.

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