Europe had a steady release of odd horror/sex films in the 1970's, and lesbian vampires were everywhere, with titles such as The Blood Spattered Bride from Spain and The Vampire Lovers from Hammer in England. Italy jumped into the fray with their own spin, only the main “monster” was a witch.
Baba Yagais based on the Italian comic strip Valentina by Guido Crepax, which inspired a series of short films before this feature was produced in 1973. Valentina (Isabelle de Funès) is a fashion photographer who meets the mysterious Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker) one night. The two continue to meet, under more and more odd circumstances, and soon the two strike up a strange “friendship”.
For a film with a reputation for being so sexually provocative, it is fairly tame by today’s standards. In context, it is easy to see how the film’s lesbian S&M moments would be shocking. However, one has to remember this isn’t a sex film. It’s an atmospheric thriller with a creeping undercurrent of a new sexual desire for one of its characters, and as such, the film works. There are a few striking sequences in the film, and a plot device with a doll that Baba gives to Valentina that is really unnerving and deserving of a Twilight Zone episode all its own.
Carroll Baker, whom most will probably remember from Baby Doll, tackles the titular character with a strange sense of detachment. It is a very cold role, and she really only comes alive when seducing Valentina, but perhaps that’s the point. Isabelle de Funès turns in a nicely controlled and surprisingly layered performance considering everyone else around her seems to run on two emotions. George Eastman of the Django films is his usually charming and handsome self, but sadly the role doesn’t ask him to do much more.
Having only seen parts of this film on a full frame version years ago I was quite impressed again with the work of the team over at Blue Underground. The picture is pleasant to look at, with colors and flesh tones appearing faithful. Again, the detail level is impressive considering parts of the film are shot fairly soft. The audio portion has an English and Italian track to choose from as well as the usual English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The Italian dub is tends to be a bit cleaner, although you do lose Baker’s vocal track. However, the woman providing her voice has a nice, strangely seductive lilt, and it works well. Bonus material this time around consist of a nice interview with the film’s director Corrado Farina, a short documentary about Guido Crepax (the mind behind the comic strip that inspired the film), a trailer, a comic book to film comparison, and a poster/still gallery.
Baba Yaga is easily one of the strangest European genre films I’ve ever seen. Its unique blend of witchcraft, a pseudo lesbian relationship, and undertones of a paranoid thriller reminiscent of Polanski really strike an odd note. The film is a bit slow, but it has its charm and it's all odd in a fun way. If for nothing else, it's worth watching this movie for that creepy doll of Baba Yaga’s alone.