Archive for Kill Baby Kill!

Operazione Paura

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 13, 2019 by dcairns

It occurs to me that Boris Johnson would be good casting for HG Wells’ invisible man, with his unpigmented hair and psychopathic personality and thirst for power, but there he is, on television, horribly visible.

Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY… KILL! was released in Italy as OPERAZIONE PAURA, which loosely translates as PROJECT FEAR, so I should really have written about it in our Project Fear blogathon, and maybe I can catch up with it on Friday 13th December when the general election results come in. Instead, we watched THE WHIP AND THE BODY and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (really more of a cleaver) but I didn’t get around to saying anything about them.

Bava notoriously made KBK from a script of, I think it was, twenty-five pages. Surely WHIP’s source document must have been ever shorter, given the amount of atmospheric prowling around gloomy corridors the director perpetrates to make up the time. Olivier’s HAMLET has nothing on this. The sadomasochistic relationship at the centre of the story is quite compellingly drawn, though, the photography is luminous, and Chris Lee looks good in that fringe he seemed to acquire for European movies around this time (his No. 2 hairpiece). Too bad he never recorded his own line readings: Lee with someone else’s voice is only half the pleasure.

This is another movie that screwed itself by being too much too soon, like WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? Arguably audiences weren’t ready for such naked sadism in 1963, and censors certainly weren’t, either banning it outright or cutting it until it no longer made even marginal sense.

HATCHET is basically AMERICAN PSYCHO, with similar games played with reality and perception. Stephen Forsyth shows us what that movie would be like with a genuine blank at its centre — a lot less fun to watch. He’s absolutely appropriate but not very entertaining. Bava shot this one himself, but it has neither the Gothic trappings nor the pop-art pizzazz of his finest work.

Interesting, though, for what Bava steals from others — the Hitchcock-Freud recovered memory plot — and from himself — a clip from his own BLACK SABBATH plays on a television.

Project Fear: the banners

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 18, 2019 by dcairns

PROJECT FEAR is probably only a quasi-blogathon, but I think it still ought to have some banners. It’s quasi because very possibly most of the guest writers will be posting here, rather than on their own blogs, which they don’t have.

Since this is a quasi-blogathon not only about European horror movies, for Halloween, but also (subtextually) about Brexit, for Halloween, these banners can all be read as depicting the state of the nation in a hypothetical post-Brexit world which I still hope isn’t going to occur.

Will Britannia be a terrified woman sinking to the floor, disemboweled from within, under the horrified eyes of her loved one, or a stunted zombie outside looking in with the cold eyes of a vengeful corpse? Or else a lonely immortal, knitting in solitude? Or just an eyeball?

Only time, the courts, parliament, and the deeply psychopathic leaders of the Conservative Party, will tell.

I’m still happy for folks to jump on board this thing with contributions. Just let me know at some point. It runs, as the banners hint, between November 27th and the Day of the Dead.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bava Lava

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2015 by dcairns

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I’m finally reading Tim Lucas’s magisterial Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. I can’t fault the scholarship — few filmmakers are lucky enough to get books as exhaustive and considered and respectful as this. It’s all the sweeter since Bava was such an underrated artisan in his lifetime.

I wouldn’t dare to contest Lucas’ unparalleled expertise in this subject, but one little bit where I think he’s not quite right gave me an idea for today’s piece.

The book not only examines Bava’s directorial legacy, it probes into his work as cinematographer, and also provides as full an account of the career of his father, Eugenio Bava, cinematographer and visual effects artist of the silent era. Lucas examines the legendary CABIRIA, whose effects are jointly ascribed to Bava Snr. and the great Segundo de Chomon. Chomon usually gets most of the credit, and Lucas thinks this is probably unfair — he claims Chomon’s effects “were usually rooted in the principles of stop-motion animation.” In fact, I think it’s going to be impossible to make any calls on who did what, other than that we are told Bava Snr. built the model Vesuvius. Chomon’s imitations of Georges Melies’ style saw him performing every kind of trick effect known to the age, to which he added the innovation of stop motion, cunningly integrated into live action sequences. I think it’s fair to say than any of the effects in CABIRIA might have been the work of either man.

Lucas goes on to focus on one spectacular shot of the erupting volcano, a composite in which the bubbling miniature shares screen space with a line of fleeing extras and sheep (do the sheep know they’re fleeing? Perhaps they’re just walking). Lucas notes that smoke pots in the foreground, placed near the extras, waft fumes up across the model volcano, which makes him think the shot could not have been achieved as a matte effect. He deduces that the volcano was filmed through a sheet of angled glass, one corner of which was brightly lit to reflect the extras.

I would suggest that the shot is in fact a pure double exposure, with no mattes. The volcano is dark apart from the bright lava. The shot of the extras is also dark apart from the extras, sheep, and smoke. Double exposed on the same negative, the bright parts register and the black parts stay black. Thus the white smoke can drift up through the frame, appearing transparently over both the darkness and the bubbling Bava-lava.

belle et la bete end

More examples of this effect: at the end of Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, two characters fly off into the sky. The highlights on their figures cut through the superimposed cloudscape, but the shadow areas become transparent, phantasmal, in a way I don’t think the filmmakers intended; and in CITIZEN KANE, Welles crossfades slowly into flashback, with Joseph Cotten remaining solidly visible long after his background has disappeared, a trick achieved by fading the lighting down on the set while keeping Cotten brightly lit — no matte was needed, and had Cotten puffed on one of those cigars he was talking about, the smoke could have drifted across the incoming scenery, provided a sidelight picked it out of the darkness.

Lucas’s reflection trick, a kind of Pepper’s Ghost illusion, would have anticipated the more refined Schufftan effect by more than a decade (Eugen Schüfftan used mirrors to combine miniatures with full-scale action within the same, live shot on METROPOLIS) and Lucas suggests that Mario Bava resented this claiming of an invention his father had anticipated, and makes his disapproval known by including a character called Schüftan in his movie KILL, BABY, KILL. Since I don’t believe Eugenio anticipated Eugen in this technique, I think we can say that the use of the name Schüftan for the film’s heroine is more of an affectionate tribute to a great cinematographer, effects artist and a near-namesake of his dad.

Quibbles aside, I repeat: this is an amazing book.