Here's the summary I wrote down as I was watching this Mario Bava classic last night: "Doctor Flinty McChinjaw and his assistant Cheekbones Magee must investigate a spate of murders in Ruraleuropeville, a town full of assholes."
I was in a mood, apparently.
You may want to keep that in mind during this review. In general I enjoy Bava's work, but I need to be in a particular mood to truly enjoy it. I should probably re-watch Twitch of the Death Nerve because I HATED that movie, and everyone I know who's seen it calls it a classic. I didn't much like 5 Dolls for an August Moon, either. On the other hand I really enjoyed Black Sabbath, Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires.
|They fight crime!|
Amazon Prime again. This was another of a number of 'boxed' movies I've seen on the platform - that is, the entire film has a black frame around all four sides. My awareness of it went away eventually, but it's annoying. The picture quality was also not particularly good and I get the feeling I'd have been much more impressed by the cinematography if I could watch it in high def.
My earlier description is flippant, but apt - a Doctor (Paul, I think - I had to look it up, I really do just think of him as Flinty McChinjaw) arrives in a small, isolated European town to conduct an autopsy on a murder victim. Its vaguely late 19th century and he arrives by carriage (the driver refuses to enter the actual town). He's meeting an inspector, but the townsfolk seem none too happy to see him. In fact, a couple of men try to bury the victim before he can 'desecrate' the body.
It's interesting right away, because there's this conflict between the Gothic trappings and the more modern sensibilities of both the doctor and the inspector. Much hay is made of this, with the Doctor repeatedly cursing "superstition" and "ignorance" while the townsfolk try and work around the authorities who simply don't 'get it.'
Because science will be no help here.
|"Why do they hate you so, Flinty?"|
"No everyone appreciates steely-eyed condescension and moral superiority, Magee."
What's really going on is that the ghost of a seven year old girl is haunting the town, and causing those she blames for her death (pretty much everyone) to take their own lives. The girl's appearances are nicely creepy, with silhouettes, hands on window panes and occasional giggling echos while a ball bounces down an empty alleyway.
The good doctor loses track of the inspector early on and spends much of his time with a recently returned local woman (again, her name is apparently Monica, but I think of her as Cheekbones Magee). Together they investigate the mystery and run a lot - sometimes screaming or looking perplexed. As far as I can tell most of the time they put people into positions where they'll be killed. When McChinjaw removes the protection from the innkeeper's child (citing "science!" and "superstitious nonsense") she ends up being forced by the ghost girl to impale herself. The innkeeper almost shoots McChinjaw, and I kind of wanted him to.
|"What are you doing, Notawitch?"|
"It doesn't really matter, as McChinjaw will just screw it up."
Some people try to help. The burgomeister, Almost Yulbrynner, and his wife, Crazyhair Notawitch, point him in the direction of the local castle... er, estate, where the old Baroness Graps lives. It's her daughter who's the ghost, you see. And Cheekbones Magee has a connection to the Graps as well.
|They all shared a 'my first lobotomy' doll.|
The dubbing is mostly terrible, with only a couple of characters managing anything more than a stern monotone. It's been at least a decade and probably more since the girl's death (by horses at a festival) and there's just not that many people in the town. At the rate people die during the film she should have had the whole damn place cleared out in a few months. Maybe Crazyhair Notawitch helped fend her off? The cinematography is grainy and washed out on streaming, but there remains enough of the detail to get a sense that it probably looks tremendous in a good copy.
There are plenty of good things in the film as well - There's some nice framing and set design and parts of the town are like an eerie labyrinth. One sequence where McChinJaw chases a man through a repeating set of rooms only to see himself turn when he finally catches him is wonderfully surreal.
|This is where they put a swingset. It's a creepy town, I'm just saying.|
The Bottom Line
I wish I'd been more settled down when I watched Kill, Baby, Kill! as I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it is I was able to enjoy some bits of it, while making fun of others. And that name - it really needs to be something else. Even the original title - Operation Fear - doesn't work. Dead Mean Girl, maybe? The Town that Dreaded Science? Ghost Girl Already Hates You?