Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

Psychedelic/Pop Art Dreams & Nightmares, and The Supernatural

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #1)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version and the Director’s Cut)

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Baba Yaga (The Devil Witch) (1973) **** R

Carroll Baker: Baba Yaga

Isabelle De Funes: Valentina Rosselli

George Eastman: Arno Trevese

Ely Galleani: Annette, the Dominatrix Doll

Angela Covello: Toni, Erotic Cowboy Model

Daniela Balzaretti: Romina, Underwear/Free Love Model

Mario Mattia Giorgetti: Carlo the Hippie (as Mario Giorgetti)

Sergio Masieri: Sandro, Comic Artist

Written by: Corrado Farina, with assistance from Giulio Berruti (Additional Footage) & François de Lannurien (Additional Dialogue), based upon the Comic Book Series Valentina by Guido Crepax

Directed by: Corrado Farina

Synopsis: Activist Photographer Artist Valentina is offered a free ride home by eccentric older woman Baba Yaga after nearly hitting her with her car. She tells her destiny has brought them together. When accidents begin plaguing Valentina and her models, she realizes Baba Yaga is a powerful witch, and has ideas of making Valentina her lover.

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Guido Crepax, an aspiring writer and artist, caused quite a sensation in the late 60’s when he abandoned his popular superhero comic character Neutron for a more erotic and adult series of stories centered on Neutron’s photographer wife Valentina. Even more surprising, the comic actually garnered a cult following among the teen generation who were protesting Vietnam and other issues, and remained in publication for thirty years, ending sometime in the late 90’s. Aspiring filmmaker Corrado Farina was a fan of Crepax’s work, and had even done two short documentaries on the man and the impact his work had on Italy at the time. When he was given the opportunity to do a feature length film of his choosing, Farina contacted Crepax about doing something based on the Valentina series. What he came up with was a psychedelic, hallucinogenic, and eerie tale of the beautiful photographer’s encounter with an equally beautiful and deadly lesbian witch, intent on luring the woman into her bed and world of dark magic. Farina was also a liberal radical of the times, and inserted many jabs at commercialism, consumerism, and artistic identity among the many characters. Farina also mixes unique filming techniques with Crepax’s dizzying and scattered imagery, made up mostly of photographer sample prints, telling a very unusual cat and mouse game story between two equally independent and fierce women.

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Carroll Baker, an American actress who enjoyed a second career over in Italy, gives a very fine, sultry, and at times menacing performance as the title character Baba Yaga. A seemingly eccentric and mysterious middle-aged woman with unusual interests, Baba Yaga is in fact a centuries old and powerful witch, who uses a form of magic similar to voodoo to entice and terrify the objects of her desire and experiments. How she first notices Valentina is never revealed, but their first face to face is when she nearly “hits” her with her car. Baba Yaga is immediately smitten with the dark-haired beauty, and decides to place spells on Valentina’s subconscious and her favorite camera to force the woman to come to her. From the seclusion of an old mansion, Baba Yaga weaves her web with objects associated to voodoo and witchcraft, plays mind games with Valentina, and brings to life a doll (and at times is hinted is also a lover) to aid her in bringing Valentina closer to the breaking point to see her.

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Isabelle De Funes, a French model and actress, is interesting and alluring in the role of Valentina. Determined to change the world through controversial, mind-bending, and bizarre still photographs, Valentina is a brilliant and independent woman who just wants to make things better in an always crazy world. When she’s nearly arrested for taking part in a bizarre Hippie protest against capitalism, she encounters Baba Yaga, a mysterious older woman who takes a peculiar interest in her. After being told by the woman she’ll eventually seek her out, Valentina begins experience extreme nightmares and visions. After several of her model friends experience unusual accidents and fainting spells, Valentina suspects her favorite camera has been hexed. Deciding to see of visiting Baba Yaga will put an end to the incidents, Valentina goes to the older woman’s dilapidated mansion. Baba Yaga, to thank Valentina for humoring her, gives her a doll dressed like a dominatrix, saying it will protect her. Not long after, Valentina’s close friend Valentina is attacked by the doll when it takes human form, and dies not long after, convincing Valentina to finally have it out with the witch woman, in spite of fearing Baba Yaga wants not only her soul, but her body as well.

(Side Note: This film convinced Isabelle De Funes to return to her childhood passion of photography, and is still active in that profession to this day. Also, for fans of Louis De Funes, Isabelle is the comedian’s niece on his sister’s side.)

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Luigi Montefiori, better known by his Americanized stage name George Eastman, gives a surprisingly believable good guy performance in the role of Arno. Known primarily for heavy, psychopath, villainous, and human monster roles, Montefiori gets the rare opportunity to play a heroic style role, and does it very well. A filmmaker who travels between both the intellectual scene and the commercial, Arno flaunts his blunt honesty that he’s a sellout in that he plays both ends while everyone else hides a behind a façade to keep their false identities. Valentina’s independence and fierce spirit to keep her body and mind her own impresses Arno and only makes him love her even more. Initially convinced Valentina’s been working too hard, he tries to be supportive and get her to take it easy, but after personally witnessing some of the happenings himself, he starts to wonder if there’s any truth to the supernatural. Realizing the danger Valentina is in, he puts aside thoughts of his own safety to save the woman he loves.

(Ironically, Montefiori’s primary reason for being cast was that he physically fit the part)

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Director Farina was initially unhappy with his female leads Baker and De Funes. He had in fact wanted British character actress Anne Heywood for Baba Yaga and Italian starlet Elsa Martinelli as Valentina. Heywood had originally signed on for the film, but unknown and unexplained reasons led to her having to leave the project, while Martinelli expressed interest, but couldn’t take part due to various other commitments. Farina did state he loved Carroll Baker’s performance and like many others, feels it was one of her best later roles, but he couldn’t help feeling Baker hadn’t been the right age for the character. Valentina ended up being cast last minute, and was between Italian actress Stefania Casini, and French TV actress Isabelle De Funes. Farina didn’t think either woman was suitable, but De Funes proved to be the only actress who matched the physical and facial appearance of Crepax’s heroine protagonist, and landed the part.

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Mixing chills and thrills with the psychedelic craze the Hippie generation brought to the world of Television and films, Baba Yaga is an underseen and underrated gem of a Thriller with Horror overtones. A throwback to the old school Horror of the 40’s mixed in with Hammer atmosphere and Italian sensuality, the film is a mishmash that works very well, and offers up something completely different to the Horror genre. A little more artsy than one would expect for a mainstream feature, this addition adds to the film quite a bit and gives it a body it probably would’ve lacked otherwise. The intellectual barbs involving some of the cast proves to be a little much at times, but because the comic and film are contemporary, and set during the current period, made sense to include it.

(I do recommend giving this film a spin as its uniquely different and smartly done. Some of the sequences are indeed bizarre and look like something out of an Andy Warhol or other Post-Modernist type art painting, but it’s not done in excessiveness and just enough to let the audience know that something very unusual is happening and being done to Valentina. While the film does have a US Blu Ray release that looks very good, the purchase to go with is the Shameless Entertainment Special Edition DVD from the UK. Farina’s initial cut of the film had been butchered when the producers literally took scissors to the original negative and cut them out, leading many to believe Farina’s original cut was lost. Luckily Farina got the aid of Shameless Films and was able to track down most of the footage and reinserted back into the film. The scenes are worn in some spots compared to the restored elements, but not hindering at all. It’s not totally uncut as some small pieces are still to be found, but Farina himself believes it to fit his vision very well. The DVD also includes both of Farina’s short documentaries on Crepax and the Fumetti craze as extras and well as an interview with Farina himself. Both the Italian soundtrack with English subtitles is included as well as the English dub track.

(All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

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Buying options:


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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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