Here’s a weird one for you, folks! Based on the controversial graphic novel series by architect-turned-cartoonist, Guido Crepax, the 1973 oddity, Baba Yaga chronicles the sexually charged adventures of Valentina (Isabelle De Funès), a successful photographer who draws the attention of the mysterious Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker). Baba Yaga holds some sort of hypnotic power over Valentina, and begins to slowly infiltrate her world. At first, Valentina dismisses the woman as an eccentric, but when Baba puts the mojo on Valentina's camera, resulting in accidents or death for whoever is photographed by it, she soon realizes that Baba is something more. With the assistance of her boyfriend Arno (George Eastman), Valentina sets out to investigate Baba Yaga’s past in hopes of severing the strange connection between them.
I was first turned on to this fun flick back in the early days of DVD, in a haphazardly edited and poorly mastered Diamond Video special, released under the alternate title, Kiss Me, Kill Me. I’d watched the film a few times, but, between the horrible video quality and near-incoherent plot, I never considered it much more than a mildly diverting piece of light Euro sleaze. It wasn’t until Blue Underground released Baba Yaga on DVD in all its wild and wacky glory that I truly understood what director, Corrado Farina, was aiming for. It's equal parts mild sexploitation film and living comic book, paying homage to the source material, by interspersing high contrast photographs with the actual film, creating halftone style "panels". While the script is a bit on the flimsy side, and the story somehow manages to be both simple and confusing all at once, visually, Baba Yaga is a remarkable film. Farina has a great eye for scenery and atmosphere, and photographs his subjects in a flattering old Hollywood style glamour style that's a sharp contrast to the usual "hard" look of low-budget erotica. It's actually a stretch to include Baba Yaga in that genre at all, since there isn't really all that much sex going on (although there's more than enough nudity to qualify).
Blue Underground has given Baba Yaga yet another facelift – this time of the HD variety, presenting the film on Blu-ray with an image that, for a film of its vintage and origins, borders on the pristine! This is an immensely colorful, visually “busy” film, and Blue Underground’s transfer proves more than up to task. Colors are crisp and vibrant, and, most surprisingly, there’s an impressive amount of fine detail evident in faces and fabrics – something that’s not common with films of this period, especially the soft-core erotica types which were often filmed with myriad filters and diffusers to heighten the dreamlike aesthetic that was popular at the time.
The audio has also been cleaned up a great deal. With a pair of DTS HD 2.0 tracks – one in Italian with English Subs, and, of course, the English Dub. Both tracks feature fairly crisp dialogue and surprisingly proficient bass, but there is a hint of the tininess that I’ve grown to expect part from lower budget films of this period.
Extras are carried over from the DVD release, and feature an interview with Farina (SD), in which he discusses the film and the comic book art with great fondness, but more importantly proves that he does, in fact, exist (back in the Diamond Days, this film was widely credited to Umberto Lenzi)! There's also a short but interesting mini-documentary on Crepax (SD) that outlines his career and body of work, a comic to film comparison of Baba Yaga, and a ten minute reel of deleted footage (SD) that includes three full-frontal nudity scenes that producers demanded removed from the film, and later asked be reincorporated for international audiences. Unfortunately, Farina's third edit made it impossible to reincorporate the scenes due to the way they were cut. Rounding out the extras is a stills and ephemera gallery (SD), as well as the film's trailer (HD).
It's a bit of a disservice to Baba Yaga that it was marketed as an erotic horror film, because it's really neither all that erotic or particularly scary. It's more of an artsy comedy that just happens to have some erotic and horror elements, and is a heck of a lot of fun when viewed as such. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release offers a superb transfer, serviceable audio, and a nice selection of quality extras. Definitely one worth checking out!