When people trot out the titles of their favorite ghost story movies, you rarely hear Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL mentioned. Maybe it’s the grindhouse-redolent title that puts people off. Although the original Italian title, which translates as “Operation Terror” isn’t much of an improvement. This is a pity because KILL, BABY, KILL really is a unique visual and aural experience. Bava packs so much mood into his dying mountain community that it almost doesn’t need a plot; just wander through the twisting deserting streets, where burials are carried out in secret and at night–that is unnerving enough.

Bava is so thorough in his evocation of the gothic that even the dead girl’s portrait is creepy and unsettling. But the ghost-girl, an all-in-white apparition named Melissa, isn’t the true monster of the film. That would be her mother, the Baroness Grapps who lives a Miss Haversham-like existence in her decaying villa. She’s crazy alright–but she’s also a medium who can summon up the spirit of her dead daughter at will to wreck vengeance upon the villagers she blames for the girl’s death. So there is a certain element of mystery here. First Bava teases us with the question of exactly what keeps these villagers in a state of mortal terror, then when we assume that the answer is Melissa, he reveals that mama is the true power.

People have written at length about the unique visual qualities of this film and I can only add that everything they say is true. It really is like a walking nightmare. Bava made a series of great films, and KILL, BABY, KILL is far from being the least of them. This one stands out for it’s being purely a ghost story, without the satanic overtones of his late masterpiece LISA AND THE DEVIL. As a ghost story I think it is one of the best.


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