Isabelle De Funès
Mario M. Giorgetti
81 mins or so.
Early 70s lesbian witchcraft Euro-sleaze
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Baba Yaga (1973)
27th Apr 09
A young Italian photographer spurns the advances of a lesbian witch and gets her camera cursed in the process. George Eastman is on hand to help out.
Review Baba Yaga opens with a rather strange sequence involving a semi-naked model dressed sort of like Pocahontas being pursued by a couple of cops through a wood somewhere. They catch her, pin her down, and one of the cops starts to remove his trousers, only for him to be interrupted by a massive group of hippie Devil worshippers. They split them up, kill the cops, then chant loads of Devil worshipping mumbo jumbo before the real cops arrive, the director yells cut, the actors and crew run in all directions and we, the audience, try to make sense of what’s going on.
From here things start to make more sense. Pretty young photographer Valentina is on set taking photos and so makes a dash for it like the rest of the crew, although along the way home she has time to save a dog from being run over, an act which is witnessed by the mysterious Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga then follows Valentina to her studio, which is also her apartment, and the next day pays Valentina a visit, obviously hoping to seduce her. Valentina spurns her advances as she’s in the early stages of striking up a relationship with George Eastman, who plays Arno, the director of the crazy movie from the intro. This leaves Baba Yaga furious.
Before you know it Baba Yaga has cursed Valentina’s camera, and all those she photographs from then on are damned. But what else is going on? How come her dreams are suddenly nuts and involve Nazis, boxing and jumping down big holes? What’s going on with Baba Yaga’s creepy doll? And will Big George ever believe that anything occult is going on?
All good questions, and thankfully all questions that are answered throughout the running time. This movie is a bit of an acquired taste, and it’s one of those films that you probably already know whether you’re going to like it or not. It’s essentially a witchcraft movie that feels a bit like a slow burning giallo at times, although there are no mysteries as such, except whether Baba Yaga really is a witch or not, and whether George is going to come round and save the day in time or not. It’s slow moving and requires a bit of patience on the part of the viewer, and despite a couple of lesbian fetish S&M sequences, it’s not nearly as pervy as you would expect. Having said that, it is the kind of film where, for example, in one scene Valentina awakes naked with someone knocking on her door, so she has a quick gratuitous nudity stretch before pulling on a jumper that nearly covers her ass and then answers it. And it is of course a model she’s about to photograph semi-nude. Okay, maybe it is a little bit pervy.
But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that, actually, Baga Yaga is a really well shot, really well made tale of witchcraft in 70s Italy. The score is wonderful, the cinematography is a times stunning and the whole movie just feels pretty smart, like the people behind it knew exactly what they were doing. Considering this was based on a comic book before hand, it’s nice to see comic book framing and styling being used too to keep the movie going (think more of the success of Danger: Diabolik than the half arsed attempt of comic book adaptation made by Barbarella a few years before) and the love scene between Valentina and Arno played out through the pages of a comic book itself is remarkable and makes this film a must see just for that reason.
There are other things to look out for though. That doll, the one with the S&M gear on, is fantastically creepy, as is Baba Yaga’s house, although that lingering close up of the sewing machine is perhaps pushing it a bit. The lesbian torture scene (yes, it’s early 70s Euro-sleaze, so obviously there’s a lesbian torture scene) is surprisingly tastefully done, as are the various dream sequences, which jump in and out of reality with relatively little confusion, mainly because the links between dream and real life are so competently handled.
But it’s not all about praises. It is much slower than you’d like, Carroll Baker is perhaps too beautiful to make a super convincing Baba Yaga and, well, some sequences are very hard to take seriously (the movie in movie sequences mainly, especially that crazy commercial shot on dockyard containers with the guy in a white suit who looks like Gene Wilder). But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Baba Yaga is in fact a decent, well acted, spooky, moody movie that fans of this kind of thing should really like.
Fans should also note that this is the most complete version of the movie available, with an extended intro, and extended ending and a few full frontal nude shots put back in for good measure. There’s also a couple of decent extras; the directors documentary on comic books and bringing them to film is enlightening, as is his interview which tells the usual tale of artistic compromise and producers snipping bits out of his film behind his back. It’s good to know that some things never change. Or maybe it’s not.
Versions The Shameless Films version rightly carries the 'Final Cut' label because it is the most complete version available, having had many originally exorcised scenes re-inserted by Corrado Farina himself.