Mario Bava’s 1966 film Kill, Baby... Kill! is jam-packed with classic horror tropes: creaky doors, gratuitous cobwebs, shadowy passageways, intense exorcisms, cavernous tombs, ornate candelabras, random green auras, and one revolting baby doll.
The story is classic, too: Following the mysterious death of a young woman, Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) is sent to perform her autopsy in a village in Eastern Europe’s Carpathian Mountains. Eswai’s dismissive voice of reason is not welcomed by the locals, who believe their town is cursed and being ravaged by a murderous ghost. Eswai’s foil is Ruth (Fabienne Dali), a professional sorceress with winged eyeliner who inserts coins into corpses’ hearts.
But the ghost is what makes Kill, Baby... Kill! truly eerie. A pint-sized Goldilocks with a giggle that’ll make your eyeballs sweat, she spends her nights chilling on the swing set in the graveyard, messing with the town’s bell tower, and scaring villagers shitless. Seems like pretty normal kid stuff! Makes you wonder whether her wrath really is an intentional “chain of bloodshed” or simply a game of tag gone horribly wrong.
Each shot is saturated with gothic psychedelia that’s gorgeous and disorienting; the most affecting image comes when Bava turns a child’s toy ball into an instrument of terror as it bounces down a spiral staircase. Actually, the entire film feels like an endless descent down a spiral staircase, as reality begins to unravel with doppelgängers and déjà vu and as Carlo Rustichelli’s lush score is accented by an always-present wind that literally moans.
Granted, the film’s gaudy aesthetics can seem a little hokey in 2017, but Kill, Baby... Kill! is still terrifying 50 years after its release. It’s rooted in a very real horror: dead children and the all-consuming pain of the mothers who grieve them.