I made the trip out to the Egyptian Theatre yesterday for the penultimate event in the American Cinematheque’s Mario Bava Fest, a double bill of THE WHIP AND THE BODY and KILL, BABY, KILL. The screenings were introduced by Ernest Dickerson, who directed the feature film TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, which I always thought was a pretty nifty movie.
The festival concludes tonight with a triple bill of THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, and CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER. Unfortunately, the latter will be screened from a digital source, not a 35mm print; still, the movie is not available on DVD, so you might not want to miss this chance to see it.
Last night’s event was an interesting experience in contasts, highlighting some of the best and worst of Bava. The evening kicked off with a long explanation for why THE WHIP AND THE BODY was being screened from a DVD rather than a film print (the previously available print, which the Cinematheque had screened 2002, was destroyed during a restoration attempt, but no one bothered to tell the owner of the print). Then Dickerson spoke briefly about his admiration for Bava.
Dickerson recalled seeing ads for BLACK SUNDAY, Bava’s directorial debut, when he was a young boy going to Catholic school: the Legion of Decency condemned the film, but he went anyway. He did not get to see WHIP AND THE BOYD and KILL, BABY, KILL until they arrived on video in the ’90s, and he expressed the opinion that they showed Bava to be one of cinema’s great surrealists, an artist who used deliberately artificial lighting schemes to create atmosphere and to reflect on the inner psychological states of their characters.
High praise indeed, and the subsequent screenings bore it out, at least on a visual level. Both films are Gothic horror in period settings, with lots of old architecture, costumes, shadows, and spiderwebs.
THE WHIP AND THE BODY is one of the Bava films (he made a few like this) that are great to look at but monotonous to sit through. There seems to be about a half-hour of script, padded out with excessive scenes of people wandering down dark corridors and not really finding much at the end of them. The chief appeal lies in its sleazy element, which might be briefly described as S&M from beyond the grave; as intriguing as that sounds, the film exploits it only in a few brief scenes. If ever a movie were ripe for remake, this is it.
KILL, BABY, KILL (despite the title) is much better, portraying small town in the grip of superstitious fear. There is little in the way of shock horror, but there are at least a few disturbing and unsettling moments (as when the camera assumes the point of view of a ghostly little girl riding a swing, sending a spooky chill up your spine). On two or three occasions, Bava chooses to portray the supernatural in terms of temporal-spatial dislocation, creating a surreal effect that suggests either science-fiction of a psychological breakdown. At one point, the hero is racing to save the girl and finds himself running through the same room over and over again, eventually catching himself. He then transports from standing in front of a mural of an old house to the actual house, and finally wakes up, not to learn that it was all just a dream but to be told that he was succumbing to malign spiritual influence that nearly destroyed him.
Anyway, join your fellow fans for the big event tonight, and have fun!