Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Operazione paura (1966)

...aka: Curse of the Dead
...aka: Curse of the Living Dead
...aka: Don't Walk in the Park
...aka: Kill, Baby... Kill!
...aka: Operation Fear

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Don't let the stupid American title (Kill, Baby... Kill!) or even the vague and somewhat misleading original release title (Operation Fear) keep you from enjoying this gem of Gothic horror. It's very easy to find on various bargain horror collections but you'll need to do your research if you want the full visual experience. The two best releases to date have come from Dark Sky (who strangely recalled the film soon after releasing it so now it's hard to find) and Anchor Bay (who offer it in their Mario Bava Collection, Volume 1 box set, which is still easy to find at an affordable price). There are few horror films I can think of off hand that can match this film's densely beautiful color cinematography, imaginative camerawork and atmospheric art direction. It's not only amazing to look at, but it's also competently plotted and has plenty of memorably eerie moments. Far from a masterwork when it comes to conventional storytelling, but it does know its strong points. I don't want to get too involved in the plot (it always takes a backseat to the visual aspects, anyway) other than to say this film involves a ghostly little blonde girl spreading fear (and death) around a small Transylvanian village.
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (a doctor called in to help) and Erika Blanc (a college educated woman who was born there but left as a child) investigate a string of strange deaths (which are presumed to be suicides) in the village, with autopsies revealing that the victims have gold coins embedded in their hearts. Fabienne Dali is an exotic-looking witch who uses some rather unorthodox techniques to shield characters from evil and Luciano Catenacci (also one of the producers) is a bald, sinister-looking burgomaster. Other characters include an inspector (Piero Lulli) and a wealthy baroness who's hiding an important secret ("Gianna Vivaldi"/Giovanna Galletti). Plotwise, the film meanders and drags at times and the dubbed dialogue (though reasonably well recorded compared to other Euro-horrors of the era) is utterly forgettable. But the film scores a bullseye at what its attempting to do and that's creating an ethereal, eerie supernatural mood.

The irony of having an angelic-looking blonde girl representing evil was later copied by Fellini for "Toby Dammit" (his segment from the anthology Spirits of the Dead) and Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ. My favorite bit of camera trickery was a repeated zoom lens shot going in and out and finally pulling back to show it's a little girl on a swing. The movie is full of clever touches just like that. It's also very foggy, boldly colorful, has a creepy score from Carlo Rustichelli and is much more technically imaginative than other films coming out in the 1960s. Definitely a must see for horror buffs as well as future filmmakers who want to learn how to take make much out of limited resources. The photography is credited to Antonio Rinaldi, though Bava certainly had his hand in there as well.


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