Believe it or not, there was once an early 1970s Italian horror movie I hadn’t seen. That unfortunate state of being has since been rectified with the advent of the new release of Baba Yaga on Blu-ray. Uncensored and with new director interviews, I have to say it was worth the wait.
Reminiscent of Jess Franco’s Succubus from 1968, Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga is stylish satanic panic thriller centering on fashion forward females flush with sinful vices. Blonde beauty Carroll Baker plays the Sappho-rific seductress, while Isabelle de Funes effortlessly channels Louise Brookes lookalike, Valentina. Valentina actually was inspired by the 20s era silent film star, and Italians were introduced to her through the cult comics of Guido Crepax, in which the titular heroine was usually showing said tits. Censors snipped the nips out long ago, but thanks to a racy restoration, Baker and De Funes are back in all their former full frontal glory. Not that the scenes are all that wow-worthy, but for purists: there ya go.
For people like me who don’t know much about the comic or the movie and just want to know if the disc is any good… yes, it is. The story follows high-style shutterbug Valentina from one kind of dark room to another after she falls into a fascination with the mysterious resident of a soon-to-be condemned apartment building. The regal and inscrutable lady gives Valentina a doll named Annette, which somehow hypnotizes her and puts her into freakishly Freudian dream states saturated in lady on lady fantasy.
While not nearly as overt in this sense as, say, a Franco film (but there is a beach sequence recalling Jean Rollin’s sandy-sexy best), there’s subtext o’plenty here and even for those not predisposed, the three leading ladies are quite lovely to behold. As for the horror element, there isn’t a whole lot of blood-letting. Nor is there much about witchcraft. Some of the very dated sociopolitical asides are unnecessary but not egregious, and the clumsy attempts to make “illustrations” as still frames to hark back to Valentina’s comic strip origins are dumb but forgivable.
Still, in spite of lack of story and character, I enjoyed this mysterious mood piece, so beautifully shot and lavishly appointed. For anyone who enjoyed the fashion model scenes in movies like Blow Up, A Perversion Story or even Lipstick, you’re gonna eat Baba Yaga up with a spoon. (But don’t expect the cherry pop colorful kitschy fun of flicks like Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik, Roger Vadim’s Barbarella, or Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise… in fact, in the making of featurette, director Farina comments on those films, bluntly calling Vadim’s vavoom bit of froth [one of my personal faves] outright “awful”.) If anything, Baba Yaga is most like Emilio Miraglia’s de Sade inspired Italian sexploitation from 1972, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.
The extras are pretty good. As I mentioned, Farina is pretty blunt (he only directed two features, eons ago, so it’s not like he’s got anything to lose) and his stories about who he wanted to play the lead roles but didn’t get, why he decided to play a character in Valentina’s warped and surreal fantasy sequences, and how his film was recut without his permission, are pretty entertaining. The other featurettes, Freud in Full Color, and a little background on the source material showing side-by-side comparisons, are pretty weak but at least they’re there for those who have an interest in the inspiration.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson