Sunday, August 25, 2013

Birthday, Baby Bugg…Birthday!

Though I typically avoid all things ventriloquism due to the art form’s innate sense of PURE EVIL, it felt fitting to bestow some upon my blogging brother in arms, Zach T.L. Bugg Kelly. You see kids, this month marks the five year anniversary of The Lightning Bugg’s Lair, one of the Internet’s most splendifically splendiferous sources for genre movie writing.

And that same Internet tells me one celebrates a five year anniversary with wood.
Zach is not only a great writer, but also, a true friend. I can assure the world that no man rocks a smoking jacket quite like this southern gentleman, and rarely is there a better movie swapper than the same South Carolina stud. Hence the return of the Deadly DollBugg’s Lair Crossover!, wherein Zach and I assign each other a film to watch and review. This being a celebration, I of course had to dig into Netflix Instant’s top shelf output for what I would deem the very best:

Tony Curtis dressed like a wizard, a muscular little person Native American born through a neck tumor , AND lasers?

All I got for my fifth birthday was a lot of Care Bear stuff.

On my end, Zach also went benevolent with Mario Bava’s 1966 ghost story, Kill, Baby…Kill! Overly punctuated title aside, it’s a good one.

Quick Plot: In the early 20th century, an Italian village is cursed by the vengeful spirit of a bitter 8-year-old girl who died during a drunken town festival. The spooked locals know that anyone who catches a glance of the eerily blond Melissa Graps will inevitably meet their own bloody end, though visiting out-of-town coroner Paul Eswai brings the typical man-of-science doubts. As bodies begin to pile up, Paul and the lovely Monica Schuftan—a long-lost daughter of the area who’s returned at exactly the wrong time—must defeat or escape the evil haunting.

As stories go, Kill, Baby…Kill! is quite straightforward. There are a few mysteries thrown around the narrative (Monica’s secret past, Mama Graps ambiguous place in the mechanics of the haunting) but very simply, this is the tale of a ghost. A creeeeeeeeepy girl ghost who giggles incessantly, throws her ball around like she’s auditioning for The Changeling kickball team, and telepathically convinces otherwise normal (if extremely anxious) townies to stab themselves or impale their bodies upon strategically placed spiked fences. Throw in a few dizzying spiral staircases and a whole lot of very thick spider webs and you’ve essentially got the perfect ghost story for a dark stormy night.

A film like this requires the proper design and atmosphere, and Bava nails it with his camera. From winding overhead shots of carefully colored stairs to the slow suicidal terror that manifests in an ill-fated tavern girl’s wide eyes, Kill, Baby…Kill! is clearly devoted to being a good old fashioned scary story.

And it succeeds.

High Points
Considering so much of Italian horror can stumble when it comes to handling female characters, it’s incredibly refreshing to see how Bava portrays his women. They’re both the chief instigators of the horror AND the only ones fully equipped to fight it. There’s also some intriguing subtext to how Paul, your typical leading man, can’t seem to quite comprehend some of the power inherent in the good and evil woman around him, and it’s the men in authority that seem to pay the highest price

Also, dolls. Lots of freaky ass dolls

Low Points
There’s a rather glaring plot/character hole regarding the character of Monica, primarily in how the town’s burgomaster assigns her to assist in an autopsy despite her secret past (that only HE knows of) rendering such a move quite dangerous to all concerned

Lessons Learned
Touching the dead is against nature. Also, kind of icky

Poverty and ignorance + superstition = something sorta like the devil 

The best way to expel an evil ghost child is to beat yourself a little with a birch branch, Russian banya style

Kill, Baby…Kill! is streaming on Instant, and at just under 90 minutes, it’s the perfect answer to a quiet night at home. The film has some flaws (dubbing that nibbles at the tone, an oddly paced ending that mishandles its tension) but overall, it’s an outstanding exercise in atmosphere, from the period setting to the grandly conspicuous instrumental score. It may be the Lightning Bugg’s Lair’s birthday, but this was a true gift.

I mean, it didn’t have LASERS, but still…

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