Legendary sex symbol Carroll Baker stars as a mysterious sorceress with an undying hunger for sensual ecstasy and unspeakable . But when she casts a spell over a beautiful young fashion photographer, 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 known 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.
Baba Yaga 7.0
eyelights: its creative use of still pictures. its sexy bits. its mood.
eyesores: its lack of tension.
“Don’t try to tell me who to make love with, because no man has ever done that – let alone a woman.”
Comic book movies are hardly a new thing. Though superhero movies have taken over the mainstream thanks to advances in CGI technology, filmmakers have frequently turned to comics for source material in the past. They just tended to be more fringe, foreign films based on foreign works.
Like ‘Diabolik‘, ‘Baba Yaga’ is an example of this. Based on Guido Crepax’s popular series ‘Valentina’ (which he wrote and drew for well over 25 years!), the 1973 Italian erotic thriller is a picture that barely saw the light of day in European markets, let alone here in North America.
It finds Valentina, a successful fashion photographer and socialite, getting a lift from a mysterious woman after a late night at some friends. Introducing herself as Baba Yaga, the woman tells Valentine that their meeting was preordained and insists on taking a memento as she drops her off.
The next day, Baba Yaga shows up at Valentina’s studio to return the clip she took from her, taking an interest in her photography. But Valentine’s work is impaired after Baba plays with her camera, which now seems to have adverse effects on her subjects. Baba is more than she’d imagined.
Soon Valentina not only has to fend off Baba’s attentions, she must defend her life.
At first glance, ‘Baba Yaga’ may look a lot like many European thrillers of that era: a little death, a little sex, and perhaps a smidge of the supernatural for taste. And it probably would be if not for its roots, which are sadly lost on most audiences – especially North American ones.
But the 1973 motion picture attempted to be faithful to the original’s style, with director Corrado Farina even getting Crepax to create some storyboards. It also merges the genres in a way by having Valentina fantasize in black and white stills, giving the ‘Baba Yaga’ a photonovel quality.
The picture has a very interesting artistic quality to it, from Valentine’s fantasies to her Nazi-inspired nightmares, to the German expressionistic film she and her beau, Arno, go to, even to the locations, which include Baba’s curiosa-filled house. It’s a visually-appealing film.
And there are Valentina’s many sexy photoshoots, which allow us to caress female and male models with our eyes. The sex quotient in the picture isn’t especially high for the genre, but there’s always a hint of it simmering below the surface – and there’s enough skin to please voyeurs.
But, interestingly enough, a lot of the sex is mixed in with politics. For instance, Valentina purposely mixes up races to make socio-political statements, and her flirtations with Arno often lead to deeper discussions. Naive though she may be, Valentina appears progressive and willful.
Otherwise, though, it’s not a very plot-heavy picture, content as it is to let Valentina realize what we’ve come to understand early on: Baba Yaga is attracted to her and even has a power over her. When she finally gets it, she’s in Baba’s clutches, naked, strapped and whipped against her will.
And that’s part of the problem with ‘Baba Yaga’: since we know right at the onset what is going on, we’re left to wait for Valentina to catch up – there’s not much tension and even less mystery for us to savour. Every new twist in Baba Yaga’s tale of obsession is sadly telegraphed to us.
It is said, however, that Farina’s original cut was utterly desiccated by the film’s producers, who removed a full half hour from the picture. No doubt this affected its delivery. Sadly, since they cut right from the negative, there is no hope of ever seeing Farina’s version someday.
Still, all told, ‘Baba Yaga’ isn’t a bad film. It lacks punch, and it’s hampered by a stupid resolution, but it nevertheless creates an interesting mood. As far as genre films go, especially from that era, it’s a decent one; it’s not as lurid as they usually are, and it comes together better than most.
Date of viewing: January 30, 2017