Director - Corrado Farina
Cast - Carroll Baker Isabelle De Funes, George Eastman
Country of Origin - Italy
Discs - 1
MSRP - $29.98
Distributor - Blue Underground
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (4.5/5)
When Blue Underground announced Baba Yaga a few months back, there was an odd backlash in the underground film community. I kept hearing things like "of all the titles Blue Underground owns why Baba Yaga?" So when it finally arrived in my mailbox, I'll admit it it went into my player with some trepidation. Apparently it had a reputation as a dull plodding film. A Franco-esque film, when they could actually be releasing some Franco. Also, it stars Carroll Baker, who with a few exceptions, I tend to not like as an actress. This resistance would dissapate within the openings minutes of Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga is a supernatural horror film based on the erotic fumetti (Italian Comics) Valentina written by Guido Crepax. The film follows erotic/fashion photographer Valentina (Isabelle De Funes), a woman who finds herself wandering home after a party in the middle of the night only to run into a witch named Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga takes an immediate "interest" in Valentina, and immediately goes about putting her under her spell.
Almost immediately Valentina's life is taken over by the influence of Baba Yaga from the curse placed upon her camera that causes tragedy to those she photographs, to the porcelain doll Baba Yaga gave to Valentina for her personal protection, but is now "guarding" her a little too well. Valentina and her boyfriend/lover Arno must go about finding a way to stop Baba Yaga's influence on Valentina before she can be taken over completely.
This synopsis does not even come close to doing Baba Yaga justice. To be perfectly clear Baba Yaga blends elements of horror, erotica, comics, and the surreal. In many ways Baba Yaga fits into all these genres, in others ways it feels like it exist as an entity in opposition to them all. It is a horror film without blood, without scares. The erotic sequences are short, and frequently intruded upon by comic book frames, and even with it's lack of a straight forward plot, it feels too straight forward to be surreal, and yet it feels like an enticing blend of all these elements creating an interesting film cocktail.
It is interesting to note that the director of the film in the supplementary material on the Blu-ray called the film as an adaptation ultimately a failure. However, the film itself feels like an oddball success. The direction by Corrado Farina (who sadly has not directed a film since Baba Yaga) is fantastic. His compositions are tight, and stylistic Baba Yaga is an absolutely success.
As I said previously I am no fan of Carroll Baker's work, and Baba Yaga has not changed that. The director also noted that she was far from his first choice for the role, and I can definitely see why that is. He makes the same claim about star Isabelle De Funes, however, in both cases he is making this claim based on there resemblance to the comic character. I felt the performance by De Funes was a notable success, and felt that aside from the stellar direction and stylistic choices by Farrina, she really helped sell the film, and make it what it is.
Overall, Baba Yaga is definitely a slow nonlinear sort of film. It is not for everyone, but for those people who love truly strange cinema this is truly a treasure trove of weirdness. It is releases like this in between their releases of established "classics" that really make Blue Underground an exciting label for the obsessive cinephile looking for another interesting fix.
Blue Underground has presented Baba Yaga in a truly fantastic 1:85:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The level of fine detail on display here is excellent, the colors pop, and the black levels are deep. There is a amount of grain on display offering a film like presentation to the transfer. That being said there are some soft spots in the films brighter moments, obviously, these aren't the fault of the transfer, and stem from the original production, but they are the only major weak spots in what is an excellent restoration.
Blue Underground has presented Baba Yaga with 2 audio tracks both DTS-HD Master Audio Mono tracks in Italian and English. They are both serviceable, and since Italian movies of the period were shot without sound on set, it comes down to a matter of personal preference. The dialogue is completely audible throughout the tracks, and it is mixed well enough with the music and effects. That being said there is some minor hissing on the Italian language track that I could not notice upon viewing the film in English.
Blue Underground has put together a nice slate of extras for their Blu-ray release of Baba Yaga. They are carried over from the prior DVD release, but what is on here is interesting, and well worth your time. The disc kicks off with about 10 minute of deleted and censored scenes including a bit in a cemetery, and moments that feature more explicit nudity from both Carroll Baker and Isabelle De Funes. We then have a 22 minute interview called Valentina and Farina that interviews the director of the film about the genesis of Baba Yaga, and to an extent the rest of his short career. We then have a 12 minute documentary on Guido Crepax called Freud in Color. The disc is rounded off by a comic to film comparison, a poster and stills gallery, and the films trailer.
While not for everyone's taste Baba Yaga is an absolutely bizarre and dreamy Eurohorror cocktail. It successfully blends elements of comic book movies with horror, erotica, and the surreal to come up with something truly fantastic. The transfer courtesy of Blue Underground is fantastic, although the audio is a bit lacking in spots. The extras are a good mix of entertaining, and informative. Recommended to fans of truly bizarre cinema.