AKA: Kiss Me Kill Me
DIRECTED BY: Corrado Farina
FEATURING: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funès,
PLOT: A fashion photographer is beguiled by a lesbian witch who seeks to dominate, seduce and consume her.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Bab Yaga is straight Euro-thriller. While such films have an unconventional feel by US standards, the style is characteristic of this distinctive 1960’s-’70’s genre, and therefore very conventional on its own terms.
COMMENTS: Baba Yaga is a very stylish Italian occult film in the Euro horror tradition of Suspiria. It is based on artist Guido Crepax’s highly stylized graphic novel about a sorceress who tries to bewitch a fashion photographer. Crepax adapted the novel from his risqué S&M comic .
Valentina (De Funès) is an up and coming fashion photographer with a knack for controversial shoots. After she has a chance encounter with the fashionable and alluring society matron Baba Yaga, her life takes strange and eerie turns. Yaga discovers Valentina on a darkened street, becomes attracted to her and begins to inject herself into the young shutterbug’s life in odd ways. Yaga develops a strange fixation on Valentina, one that is more than platonic.
Yaga lives in a striking Gothic Revival mansion, it’s interiors bedecked with layers of satin, red velvet –and heavy leather in the boudoir. While the house is very luxurious, it is in need of a few repairs. There is a nasty hole under the oriental rug in the drawing room—the opening of a bottomless pit to Hell. It is only fitting to have an eccentric home, because the owner isn’t exactly mainstream. Babs is taken with keeping vipers and Australian fruit bats for pets, has some creepy taxidermy a la Norman Bates, and owns a collection of cursed curios.
In a gesture of benevolence, Baba Yaga gives Valentina a large Victorian doll “to protect” her. Valentina counters that she doesn’t need any protection. Well, she does now! The doll, named Annette, sportingly attired in a skimpy leather bondage and discipline suit has a mind of her own. When Annette isn’t coming to life and parading her bare-breasted charms, she is busy stabbing Valentina’s models with a sharp, poisoned hat pin.
In the meantime, Valentina has been having sexually twisted hallucinations involving Nazis, cruelty, bottomless pits, and Baba Yaga. It seems that Signora Yaga has plans for Valentina that are a tad unconventional. She wants to bestow upon her wealth, success, beauty and cosmic secrets. In return all Yaga expects is total psychic and sexual subordination. This includes submission to a little S &M, such as a good periodic whipping, and complete domination over Valentina’s sex life. And Signora Yaga would also like a an occasional kiss and a feel here and there, maybe more as the mood strikes her.
Crepax’s comics were better known in the 1960’s-70’s. His style has been compared to Frank Miller’s Sin City books. Adapting Crepax’s otherworldly, abstract visual storytelling produces a dreamlike, stylized, and optically imaginative film. The set decoration and art direction are explicit if not extravagant, similar to the production quality of Suspiria. The backdrop of 1970’s fashion and Italian pop culture adds a swank, bold, but not over-the-top cinematic quality that is a treat for the eyes. The focus of Baba Yaga is on striking images and concepts more than it is on sheer horror. The film is more stylish than bloody, and more pensive than suspenseful. In other words, it is slow; however, the lack of spatter is counterbalanced by a generous infusion of chic, arty nudity. Baba Yaga will appeal to fans of Roger Vadim and Dario Argento.
The name Baba Yaga comes from a particularly colorful occult story in Russian folklore. Baba Yaga is played by actress/sex symbol Carroll Baker (Baby Doll). Baker is still active in film and television. Actress/fashion model Isabelle De Funès is well cast as Valentina. George Eastman can be seen as The Grim Reaper in 2008’s Grindhouse Universe.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“‘Weird’ [is] the operative word here. Though framed by a simple story, director Corrado Farina’s approach to the film is every bit as avant garde and surrealist as its source material… the plot had me scratching my head in bewilderment, compelling visuals kept me watching.”–Brain Lindsey, Eccentric Cinema (DVD)