Legendary sex symbol Carroll Baker (BABY DOLL, THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH) stars as a mysterious sorceress with an undying hunger for sensual ecstasy and unspeakable torture. But when she casts a spell over a beautiful young fashion photographer (the gorgeous Isabelle De Funes), Milan's most luscious models are sucked into a nightmare world of lesbian seduction and shocking sadism. Are these carnal crimes the result of one woman's forbidden fantasies or is this the depraved curse of the devil witch known as BABA YAGA?
George Eastman (THE GRIM REAPER) co-stars in this provocative EuroShocker (also know as DEVIL WITCH and KISS ME KILL ME) written and directed by Corrado Farina and based on the notorious S&M comic Valentina by Guido Crepax. Blue Underground is now proud to present BABA YAGA restored from pristine vault materials and packed with eye-popping Extras, including never-before-seen erotic outtakes from the Italian Censor's archives as well as the director's own private collection.
'Baba Yaga' carries some strong Women's Lib connotations throughout. Considering the year of its production, it's a safe bet the story toys around with the political ideologies of the period, as well as touching on a few psychological notes of interest. If for nothing else, the movie, which can accurately be labeled as an erotic thriller, makes for an easy intellectual analysis of the various themes and motifs it appears to flirt with. However, none of the ideas brought up in this 83-minute cut (the unrated, 91-min version will have to be purchased elsewhere) are ever taken to their full extent, making this Giallo rather unusual to assess but entertainingly unique to watch.
Given its source, my seemingly random ramblings are not without warrant or part of some stealthy effort to elevate the film beyond what it is. This curious mix of eroticism and intellectualism is inspired by the works of Guido Crepax, a popular comic-book artist who arguably was the first to introduce a sophisticated, adult-oriented style into the cultural mainstream. His artwork challenged traditional methods of framing by splitting events on the page in such a way as to slow down or speed up the action's pace, similar to what film editing is meant to accomplish. His stories also dealt with complex themes of sexuality and subconscious desires, but presented those ideas as surreal, phantasmagoric hallucinations.
Crepax's most famous heroine is Italian photojournalist Valentina Rosselli. Written and directed by Corrado Farina, 'Baba Yaga' is based on one of the character's many strange and fantastical adventures in eroticism. Played with uncanny likeness by Isabelle De Funès, Valentina has a chance encounter with an attractive, seductive witch named Baba Yaga (1960s sex symbol Carroll Baker). This particular character is loosely based on Russian/Slavic folklore surrounding an old, fearsome woman with iron teeth who lives in a house that stands on chicken legs. Although Farina's movie does show the mysterious woman as someone for Valentina to fear, her other attributes from myth are never seen, which is what I find most interesting about the movie's plot.
This Baba Yaga hints at the magical being's little-known characteristic as the Arch-Crone, imparting knowledge and truth to any stranger willing to listen. So, other than being a creepy old lady who stalks a younger career woman with an even creepier doll that just walked out of a leather bar, the crone seems to affect Valentina in a deeply psychological manner. Only, this weird and wonderful tale of providing wisdom to our heroine involves perplexing Nazi imagery, bisexuality, murderous jealousy, and wacky sadomasochism. All the important ingredients necessary for a sexual revelation and spiritual awakening. Or at least, that's what the narrative seems to suggest because by the end, we don't have a sense of Valentina and her boyfriend (George Eastman) vanquishing evil forces. Instead, we're left with the idea she walks away with a better awareness of her sexuality.
This is partly what makes the movie such a unique watch. Farina indulges in the many bizarre visuals by showing them as Valentina's dreams — as in, they derive from her unconscious. In essence, they are the wild, lustful fantasies of her id, which Baba Yaga appears to have access to and brings forth. Somehow, all this is intertwined with Valentina's political stance because it's made fairly clear she's a left-wing thinker with several copies of Karl Marx's 'Capital' sitting on her bookshelf and who watches Paul Wegener's classic silent horror, 'The Golem,' as a fun night out. The director also imitates Crepax's comic-book style, framing each scene and alternating between point-of-views with the same sort of rhythm and pace. It adds another intriguing layer to a small movie which marks as Farino's last feature-length film. (He is a documentarian and fiction author today.)
'Baba Yaga' may not possess the same kind of cult status as other exploitation or Giallo films, existing practically unnoticed by many admirers of either genre. But it definitely deserves such attention, made with stylish craftsmanship and bizarre visuals — a live-action comic book that's pretty cool to watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground releases 'Baba Yaga' in its 83-minute cut on a Region Free, BD25 disc. It's housed inside a normal blue keepcase and goes straight to the main menu with music and full-motion clips at startup.
According to the press release and the information on the back of the keepcase, This AVC-encoded transfer of 'Baba Yaga' was struck from "pristine vault materials." From the surprisingly excellent quality of the video, there's no reason to doubt the statement, because definition and clarity are at times rather astounding for a nearly 40-year-old movie. Of course, the age of the print can be a visible issue in some scenes as resolution drops ever so slightly and shadows overwhelm background info in several interior shots.
Still, the picture shows great details in more brightly-lit sequences with well-balanced contrast levels and crisp, clean whites. Close-ups of faces, especially, reveal terrific texture on the skin and distinct, fine lines of hair and fur around the costumes. Despite being shot with the use of diffusers, giving the movie a erotically romantic appeal, the transfer is quite sharp and looks better than initialed expected. Blacks are fairly deep and rich, and the image displays a thin layer of film grain throughout, except those scenes mentioned above where it looks a bit more like mosquito noise. The color palette is also bold and animated, making the entire presentation seem refreshed and attractive on Blu-ray.
As with the video, the audio, too, has received a nice restoration, and this Blu-ray features two DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack from which to choose: one in Italian and the other English. Switching between the two, there is no discernible difference as both come with intelligible dialogue reproduction that doesn't always match the lip movement of actors. It's a unique characteristic for this style of filmmaking, proven necessary at the time when working with an international cast, and not a lip-sync issue with the high-rez codec.
Aside from this minor but ultimately understandable trait in the design, the lossless mix is actually an admirable mono presentation. It offers an attractive and surprisingly spacious front soundstage with excellent clarity of background activity. Every time characters walk around in some funky-looking platform shoes, we hear every step echo across the screen with lifelike fidelity. Dynamic range is never pushed far into the upper end, but the few instances of action remain detailed while low bass provides the appropriate depth and punch. The original score by Piero Umiliani is most surprising as it broadens the soundfield at key moments and feels wonderfully engaging. It's a good track for an amusing 1970s cult erotic thriller.
The same set of special features from the 2003 DVD release are ported over to this Blu-ray edition of 'Baba Yaga.'
Though mostly familiar to that circle of exploitation film admirers and enthusiasts, 'Baba Yaga' is a unique erotic thriller within the Giallo subgenre deserving of some attention. Based on the equally distinct comic book series by Guido Crepax, this sexual adventure of dreamlike fantasies delves into Valentina's id, influenced by the dark magic of an old witch from Russian/Slavic folklore. The Blu-ray features a strong audio and video presentation for a nearly 40-year-old horror B-movie. Bonus material is the same seen on a previous DVD release, but the overall package makes a wonderful upgrade nonetheless.