Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1966, 83 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali, Piero Lulli, Max Lawrence, Gianna Vivaldi
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Wicked Vision (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Dark Sky (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Laser Paradise (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL), VCI (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)


This Kill Baby Killoppressive and Kill Baby Killvisually overwhelming exercise in the conjuring of atmosphere allowed Mario Bava to crank the creepy stylized look of Black Sunday into colorful overdrive, finally permitting him to churn out scene after scene of hallucinatory intensity with only the barest threads of a plot to hold it all together. The avenging demonic forces of his past films have been distilled here into the single, chilling image of a ghostly young girl, rolling a sinister pale ball down hallways and street corners as she drives those around her to certain death. Rarely has a more haunting or unforgettable specter graced the horror cinema, and even had he never made another film after this, Bava would have already proven himself as a master filmmaker.

A young coroner named Dr. Eswai (or Eswe, depending on your source) (Rossi-Stuart) arrives at a desolate Eastern European village and makes the acquaintance of the beautiful Monica (Blanc), a medically trained native who has recently returned to her home. Together they perform an autopsy on a young maid who died under mysterious circumstances while employed at the eerie Villa Graps on the edge of town. The autopsy turns up a gold coin embedded into the girl's heart, a local superstition carried out by the local witch, Ruth (Dali), who uses home remedies to aid her townspeople. Eswai goes to the Villa Graps where the reclusive Baroness (Vivaldi) Kill Baby Killproves to be less than forthcoming. Apparently the villagers' callous irresponsibility led to the death of her young daughter, Melissa, who now haunts the town at night and strikes down those who even Kill Baby Killdare to mention her name.

Years before he exploded the conventions of spatial reality in Lisa and the Devil, Bava was already tampering quite daringly with cinematic storytelling in this film. The final half hour contains some magnificent sequences bound to disorient the hardiest viewer, including effective use of a seemingly endless spiraling staircase and a brilliant, Avengers-like conceit which finds the doctor trapped in endless circle within the same cluster of room. Fans of Euro starlets will also enjoy the presence of Blanc, who later steamed up drive-in screens as the star of The Devil's Nightmare. The soundtrack is an effective pastiche of existing tracks from other films, sampling everything from Carlo Rustichelli's work on Bava's The Whip and the Body to Roman Vlad's I Vampiri and Francesco De Masi's The Murder Clinic (among others).

Though picked up by MGM for one of its many theatrical runs, Kill, Baby... Kill! (original title: Operaziona Paura, or Operation Fear) has remained one of the more difficult Bava horror titles to see in a form even close Kill Baby Killto its creator's intentions. A heavily truncated version entitled Curse of the Living Dead Kill Baby Killmade the rounds as part of a notorious "Living Dead" triple bill in the late '60s, while the original version occasionally turned up on late night television and various public domain video labels. Relatively speaking, the 2000 DVD from VCI was the most watchable of the early available options, thanks to the restoration of Bava's vibrant color schemes in which unnatural bursts of green, red, and blue accompany the characters' gradual descent into supernatural madness. The cropping from the original compositions results in actors' faces scraping perilously close to the edge of frame. The disc also includes trailers for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Blood and Black Lace, and The Night Visitor, all accessible from a menu screen decorated in puzzling fashion with butcher knives. Soon after the film was slated for release by Image Entertainment licensed through Alfredo Leone's Films, but it languished in limbo for at last two years due to substantial issues with the original elements that would only be resolved a few years later.

In 2007, the film became the subject of some unexpected home video drama when rival releases licensed from different owners were announced at the same time, from Dark Sky (via the Italian licensors) and Anchor Bay Kill Baby Kill(via Alfredo Leone). Both were culled from a remastered widescreen transfer and looked much better, though some variations in the color scheme were obvious. The Kill Baby KillDark Sky disc ended up being canceled just as it was about to hit the shelves, though early review copies were sent out and can be found for absurd amounts of money if you're really diligent. That disc included a fine audio commentary by Tim Lucas noting facts about the film's speedy (12 days!) impoverished production, Bava's lack of payment for his efforts (though he loved the film), and the backgrounds of the various cast and crew members who stuck around without pay to complete the project. Also included on the Dark Sky were the international trailer, a stills gallery, and an interview with Bava's son, Lamberto Bava (a director in his own right), for the featurette "Kill, Bava, Kill!" (25m3s) about his father's working methods and ability to spin cinematic gold out of the most meager strands of straw. The Anchor Bay disc that did emerge to the public only had a trailer, TV spots, and a Bava bio as extras.

In early 2017, German label Wicked Vision through Koch Media issued a mediabook Blu-ray and DVD editions containing a remastered HD version (more on that below) complete with an updated, revised Tim Lucas commentary, Kill Baby Killwhich adds a note at the beginning about Kill Baby Killhis Bava book and does a skillful job of digging deeply into every facet of the film you can possibly imagine. Also included are some video extras, most non English friendly, including a Blanc intro, trailers (German, Italian, and two English, plus TV spots), an image gallery, the "Kill, Bava, Kill!" featurette, Italian interviews with Blanc (10m32s and 28m5s) and Melissa Geist (31m41s), and an illustrated liner notes booklet.

Later in 2017, both the UK and US got nearly simultaneous special edition Blu-rays from Arrow Video and Kino Lorber respectively. Though not available for review at this moment (that will be rectified soon), the Arrow release has the newer Lucas commentary, Blanc intro, "Kill, Bava, Kill!," the 10-minute Blanc interview, German opening, international trailer, photo comic, image gallery, and on the new video front, a 21-minute Kat Ellinger scholarly breakdown called "The Devil's Daughter: Mario Bava and the Gothic Child" and Semih Tareen's short film salute to Bava, "Yellow." Liner notes by Travis Crawford are also included in the first pressing.

The Kill Baby KillKino Lorber release also sports the new Tim Lucas commentary, the once elusive "Kill, Bava, Kill!," the international trailer, the 10-minute Blanc interview, German title sequence (which features a Kill Baby Killreally cool font), and three American TV spots (60s, 30s, and 10s). It appears that all Blu-ray releases are sourced from the same scan, and it looks excellent given the film's grainy, low budget origins with beautiful saturated colors and far more depth than any past transfers. More image info is visible at the edges, and the yellow push visible on the prior DVDs is considerably less apparent. The okay English track and the more sensitive, effective Italian one (both are dubbed, per usual for Italian genre films at the time) are included as DTS-HD MA mono tracks and sound satisfying, with optional English subtitles. It's worth noting that the new HD transfer contains the bloodier, more enigmatic opening credits focusing extensively on bloody spikes instead of the shots of Melissa's feet and the desolate village shots, so if you're a die-hard fan, you may want to hang on to your older version just for comparison.

 

Updated review on September 28, 2017.