May 10, 2017

Baba Yaga

For the most part, I loathe comic book film adaptations and the sort of collective autistic escapism and delusional of grandeur that they sire, including basic bitch Hollywood liberal actor Chris Evans—a spiritual eunuch with a Jewess fetish that is probably best known for portraying the extremely gay ass Marvel Comics character Captain America—thinking that he is somehow a righteous superhero in real-life and passive-aggressively threatening to beat up Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo (who righteously punched some violent female commie antifa-thug-cum-porn-star that has been fittingly nicknamed ‘Moldylocks’). Indeed, there are few things I find more repugnant than seeing some obscenely overweight middle-aged neckbeard in public sporting some superhero shirt that would normally be worn by a 7-year-old kid. Needless to say, it should be no surprise that some of my favorite cinematic comic adaptations are films that I did not realize were comic adaptations the first time I watched them. For example, Italian horror maestro Michele Soavi’s darkly comedic and even merrily misanthropic zombie flick Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) aka Cemetery Man—a film based on a novel by the author Tiziano Sclavi’s own Dylan Dog horror comic (which inspired the horrendous celluloid turd Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011))—is a personal favorite and a film that is just too cool, sexy, and non-autistic to seem like it was made appeal to virginal fanboys that fap to Harley Quinn fan art.

Decades before Soavi, another Italian auteur named Corrado Farina, who had next to nil success during his short-lived career as a feature filmmaker, created what is indubitably one of the most erotically oneiric and visually arresting comic adaptations ever made. Based on Italian architect turned comic artist Guido Crepax’s comic Valentina—a very ‘cinematic’ comic strip series of the erotically-charged counterculture orientated sort that features an eponymous heroine inspired by iconic silent film actress Louise Brooks—Farina’s second and final feature Baba Yaga (1973) aka The Devil Witch aka Baba Yaga, Devil Witch aka Black Magic aka Kiss Me Kill Me is undoubtedly one of the great forgotten Italian horror films of the 1970s as a fairly idiosyncratic flick that totally transcends its mostly formulaic genre. The Guido answer to Belgian auteur Harry Kümel’s carpet-muncher cult classic Daughters of Darkness (1971) in terms of atmospheric lesbo horror between a powerful yet evil older woman and a younger and sexually vulnerable chick, Farina’s flick is loaded with a number of unforgettable visual orgasms. Indeed, a work of rather refined aesthetic decadence, Baba Yaga—a film that is indubitably too artsy fartsy and non-linear for gorehounds and too trashy and politically correct for anally retentive arthouse fags—is a virtual Gothic counterculture fashion show in cinematic form that is equal doses heaven and hell in terms of sheer imagery and atmosphere. While based on the comics of a so-called ‘revolutionary’ artiste that was heavily influenced by the leftist zeitgeist of the late-1960s, the film is also flagrantly ‘fascist chic’ and features hot chicks in SS and Prussian uniforms. Indeed, forget the pseudo-blonde she-bitches with retarded fake kraut accents in Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) and related nauseatingly insipid Nazisploitation trash, the Sapphic SS sluts in Farina's flick have a certain demonic diva elegance that transcends hokey historical clichés. 

 Long before he directed his underrated first feature Hanno cambiato faccia (1971) aka They Have Changed Their Face (1971)—an allegorical vampire flick featuring corporate bloodsuckers that pays tribute to the great cinematic masterworks of German Expressionism (e.g. the lead vampire’s name is ‘Giovanni Nosferatu’)—Farina refined his filmmaking craft by directing tons of commercials and documentary shorts. In fact, he once directed an insightful short doc entitled Freud a fumetti (1970) about comic artist and Baba Yaga source writer Guido Crepax. Undoubtedly, Farina’s short but sweet 10-minute doc makes a great primer for his feature as it reveals Crepax’s strong cinematic influences and how his comic work is highly suitable for filmic adaptation. In fact, erotica maestro Tinto Brass was so impressed with Crepax’s work that he hired him to create storyboards for his early candy-colored giallo Col cuore in gola (1967) aka Deadly Sweet aka I Am What I Am. Notably, Crepax was so obsessed with cinema and cinema history that he not only included iconic cinematic figures ranging from Erich von Stroheim to Louise Brookes to Ingmar Bergman to Boris Karloff in his work, but he also adapted a scene from Sergei Eisenstein’s classic anti-Teuton war epic Alexander Nevsky (1938) in comic form in a intricate manner that closely mimics the musical rhythm of the film in terms of how he laid out of the images. Needless to say, like Crepax’s comics, Baba Yaga features a sort of refined cinephilia that pays tribute to the darker side of classic cinema. Indeed, the film references everything from German master auteur F.W. Murnau’s lost flick Der Januskopf (1920)—an unofficial adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—to Jean-Luc Godard’s classic feature Pierrot le Fou (1965). Thankfully, the film does not feature the sort of masturbatory and carelessly contrived postmodern cinephilia that is typical of someone like Tarantino.  For example, the heroine and her beau go to a screening of German Expressionist classic Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) aka The Golem: How He Came into the World directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, only for said characters to later encounter a sort of non-Judaic neo-Golem in the form of a porcelain baby doll in bondage that comes to life as a result of a powerful witch that uses the object to kill and torture her enemies.  Thankfully, the killer doll in Farina's film is more sensually sinister than the evil ventriloquist dummy featured in the old school British horror flick Devil Doll (1964) directed by Lindsay Shonteff.

 As a general rule, I find it nearly impossible to take comic books nerds, especially adult ones, seriously, yet auteur Farina seems to have fairly good reasoning for obsessing over the cultivated doodling of comic maestro Crepax. Indeed, to Farina, Crepax created an entire an entire elaborate metapolitical Weltanschauung that not only transcended the comic medium, but also aesthetics and politics, or as the filmmaker articulated in the Blue Underground featurette Farina & Valentina, “It was revolutionary in terms of content, because it dealt with mysteries or magic or esoteric themes. The stories were ever more esoteric, bizarre and difficult to decode. But more than anything, it was linguistically revolutionary. By this, I mean that Crepax brought to the language of the comic strip an amazing breath of innovation comparable to what Jean-Luc Godard had done a few years previously for the cinema.” For better or worse, Baba Yaga is certainly a metapolitically revolutionary work that is very much of its rather debauched time, but thankfully it is also a fetishistically phantasmagoric fever dream featuring Sapphic SS sluts and statuesque beauties with shapely jumbo jugs that features the nice little novelty of incessantly blurring the line between risqué reality and fucked fantasy.  In that sense, the film deserves to be favorably compared to frog filmmaker Roger Vadim's underrated quasi-Cocteau-esque lesbo Gothic horror flick Et mourir de plaisir (1960) aka Blood and Roses.

 About a decade ago or so, I used to think archetypal flapper Louise Brookes was fairly hot despite her proto-clithopper haircut and fairly average and not-so-curvy body, but then I realized she was a less than dainty dyke and her overall dykeness became too painfully obvious to me to the point where I found her more annoying than arousing. Undoubtedly, Farina puts Brookes’ lily-licker legacy to great use in Baba Yaga, which features a Brookes-esque heroine named Valentina Rosselli (French actress Isabelle De Funès in her most famous acting role)—a fashion photographer that likes taking photos of half-naked woman and black-on-white miscegenation—that comes under the spell of a sinisterly Sapphic eponymous blonde witch with savagely sadistic tendencies. Valentina is a somewhat uptight bitch that not only regularly denies pussy to her hack filmmaker boyfriend Arno Treves (George Eastman of the nasty celluloid turd Antropophagus (1980) directed by Joe D'Amato), but also says a lot of pretentious bullshit to him, including trashing his hero Godard as indicated by her snidely expressed remark, “Your guru hasn’t done anything of merit since PIERROT LE FOU. I’d much rather see Laurel and Hardy. You can expect a laugh.” Indeed, it is only when the heroine comes into contact with a literal witch that kills her hot female friends that she realizes the importance of a good man and seems to get over her rather dubious donut-bumper phase.  Featuring Carroll Baker of Baby Doll (1956) in an underrated role as a mischievous MILF that attempts to use both her well preserved body (notably, Baker actually convinced auteur Farina to do a full-frontal nude scene for the film, though it was cut when it was originally released due to censors) and evil magic powers to enslave a girl that seems to have forgotten that she has more of an innate thirst for cock than cunt, Baba Yaga is—whether intentional or not—a cautionary tale about the perils of dykedom and how a woman always make for a sad and sorry replacement when it comes to a man's job.

 In what ultimately proves to be her first big mistake, Valentina—a proud armchair ‘revolutionary’ that is not beneath calling her best friends ‘fascists’ if they dare to not tow the pinko party line—expresses her shallow feminist independence by denying her beau Arno poontang and then insisting that she walk home by herself after a party. Indeed, after bitchily saying to Arno, “Listen to me. I don’t feel like making love with you. Not tonight. Ciao,” and parting ways with a man that seems to genuinely love and adore her, Valentina happens upon a lone German Shepherd in the street with a strange occult symbol inscribed on its fur. After expressing more affection to the dog than her boyfriend, Valentina gets somewhat of a shock when a fancy black car appears out of nowhere and nearly plows down both her and the mysterious canine. Before the heroine knows it, a beauteous yet seemingly Svengali-like middle-aged blonde emerges from the car and demands that she get inside the vehicle so that she can drive her home. Speaking in a fairly cryptic yet overtly carnal manner, the blonde immediately acts in a sexually predatory manner and states to Valentina, “It wasn’t the dog. I was driving too fast. I knew something was about to happen. Our meeting was preordained.”

While in the car, the blonde also demonstrates her sharp Sapphic aggressiveness by feeling up Valentina’s leg and then snatching a belt from her garter belt, which she promises to bring back to her the next day, even stating to the somewhat bewildered heroine with a certain sassy arrogance, “I need a personal object of yours. Be assured that I’ll return it to you tomorrow.” Rather inexplicably, the blonde knows exactly where Valentina lives and when the heroine gets out of the car, she declares to the female protagonist with the utmost self-importance, “Don’t forget my name. My name is Baba Yaga.” Not all that surprisingly, later that night Valentina has a troubling nightmare where two demonic divas in SS officers and the same German Shepherd she encountered that night escort her to a large dark pit that she is forced to strip naked in front of while an extremely cold and arrogant-looking SS man (auteur Farina) holding an evil looking kitty cat looks on. The same man will proceed to haunt Valentina in various forms, including as a policeman and Prussian officer, but she will always remain in a passive, if not slavish, position during these sadomasochistic nightmares that are clearly dictated over by Sapphic sorceress Baba Yaga. 

 Just as she previously promised on the fateful night when they first met, bodacious blonde witch Baba Yaga swings by Valentina’s swinging pad and returns her “delightful little object” (aka garter belt button), though it is ultimately just a pretense to curse the heroine’s beloved camera. Indeed, to Valentina’s great distress, her favorite camera is turned into a magical weapon that hurts anyone she takes a photo of, including her voluptuous model friend Toni (Angela Covello) and some random hippie dressed up like Jesus that she spots in public holding a poorly made “GOD IS DEAD” sign. Toni is a beauteous brunette with virtually immaculate tits and an extremely extroverted personality, but one snap from Valentina’s cursed camera immediately causes her to collapse and develop some inexplicable and completely debilitating illness that leaves her bedridden.  Probably due to all the dope and commie literature that she has consumed, Valentina does not immediately realize the pernicious power of her accursed camera until it is too late.  Meanwhile, Baba Yaga passively bides her time and allows the camera to do her work for her in the hope that Valentina will soon be her own personal slave and sexual plaything.

 Despite cursing her camera and bringing chaos to her life, Valentina unwisely decides to pay Baba Yaga at her home, which is the sort of less than humble abode that you would expected from a carpet-munching witch with refined tastes. Indeed, Ms. Yaga lives in a large and somewhat dilapidated chateau of sorts that has, among other things, a seemingly bottomless pit in the living room and a wealth of ancient and mostly sinister seeming exotic trinkets. Under the pretense of taking photographs, Valentina snoops around the upstairs of the house where she finds a creepy vintage baby doll with a rather revealing bondage outfit. Somewhat unexpectedly, Valentina becomes so aroused upon finding one of Yaga’s black leather gloves that she opts to masturbate with it while lying on a seemingly rather uncomfortable steel bed without a mattress. While masturbating, Valentina reveals her sickly masochistic side by fantasizing about a scorpion attacking her nipple and a crow pecking at her bushy pussy. Rather predictably, Yaga walks in on Valentina while she is diddling herself, though the heroine tries to play it off by complaining that she is suffering from a “dizzy spell.” Clearly convinced that she has the heroine under her spell in both the literal and figurative sense, Yaga demands that Valentina take home the S&M baby doll, which is named ‘Annette,’ though the dopey heroine becomes somewhat concerned when the witch declares, “She will protect you from any harm.” Unbeknownst to Valentina, the doll is demonic and deadly and can take human form (notably, the rather delectable Slavic-blooded Italian actress Ely Galleani portrays the doll in human form). 

 While an ‘anti-bourgeois bourgeois’ bitch that makes nonsensical statements about “revolution” despite living in a fancy and elegantly decorated apartment that she clearly could not afford on a meager prole's budget, Valentina is not beneath making racially-charged jokes to goofy negroes. Indeed, when her friend Romina (Daniela Balzaretti) and an unintentionally humorously effete negro come to her flat to take part in a degenerate interracial photo shot, Valentina reveals she might be slightly counterrevolutionary when she states to the ambiguously gay colored gentleman, “Let me see some nice primitive drive, ok? Like your ancestors. You know, the ones in the jungle that ate up the missionaries.” A sort of walking and talking cliché, the black boy is what one might describe as a ‘magical negro’ as he can somehow sense that the porcelain doll Annette is evil and thus he wisely refuses to touch it. Unfortunately, Romina is not so wise and soon finds herself mysteriously pricked by the doll’s antique hair pin, which leads to her becoming immediately sick and eventually dying as a result of a mysterious illness. As a result of suffering a nightmare where she is dressed as a Prussian soldier and executes a completely unclad Romina on a beach while Yaga (as well auteur Farina sporting Prussian officer regalia, including a monocle and iron cross) looks on, Val feels extremely guilty about her beauteous model friend’s rather dubious death. Needless to say, Yaga is willing to use her magical powers to kill anyone so long as it gets her what she wants, namely Val as a sexual slave and protégé. 

Unlike the heroine, Valentina’s boyfriend Arno is a fairly unpretentious and no bullshit kind of guy that has no problem admitting that he is a “whore” that directs worthless TV commercials instead of creating highly personal auteur pieces (although just speculation, I think that Arno is a sort of stand-in for director Farina, who spent a good portion of his life directing TV adverts). Indeed, when Valentina goes to visit Arno on a film set, he is directing a a pleasantly politically incorrect TV commercial where a guido gangster turns a negro crook into a small human-shaped mound of black debris after throwing white laundry detergent on him. In that sense, Arno is just as much of an illusionist as Baba Yaga, albeit not as erotically magnetic when it comes to turning Valentina on. Naturally, it is Arno that must save Valentina from both her aberrosexual compulsions and Baba Yaga’s sinisterly Sapphic metaphysical grip. While Arno does not initially believe his loony lover’s claims in regard to Yaga being an evil dyke witch with magical powers that can kill, he does eventually realize something erotically evil is a work when he sees photographs of Annette the doll in human form attacking belated model Romina.  Rather conveniently, Valentina and Arno's sexual relationship improves just as Yaga begins to catch the heroine in her malefic metaphysical grip.

 When dyke dominatrix doll Annette takes on human form, seductively kisses the heroine on the lips in a teasing fashion, and then walks out of her flat with her favorite camera, Valentina naturally senselessly decides to follow her back to Baba Yaga’s ominous chateau like a sex-starved Sapphic somnambulist that is looking to engage in some hardcore lesbo scissoring. Of course, Annette has merely lured Val to the old hot hag’s house so that Yaga can imprison her there forever, or so she tries. Indeed, while Yaga initially treats Val in a wickedly sweet and charming fashion to somewhat camouflage her true malevolent motivations, the witch now feels fully confidant to take complete ownership over the airheaded heroine. Indeed, although Yaga initially attempts to seduce her by completely disrobing and sensually declaring while proudly exhibiting her completely stark-naked body, “You belong to me, Valentina, so don’t you forget it. I have already demonstrated I can do with you as I like,” Val coldly rejects the seduction and bitches like a frigid virginal feminist on the rag, “NO! I couldn’t care less about powers and riches and your cosmic secrets. And don’t try to tell me who to make love with! Because no man has ever done that, let alone a woman.” Naturally, since Val refuses to submit willingly, Yaga opts for somewhat harsher methods and, with the help of slavish sex doll Annette, the wanton witch strips, ties up, and brutally whips Valentina. Needless to say, passive-aggressive bitch Val—a girl that is more bark than bite—is no match for the seasoned sorceress and her deadly delectable doll, so naturally it ultimately takes a man to get the job done right. Indeed, somehow Arno realizes that Val is at Yaga’s house and that she is in serious danger, so he immediately takes action and comes to her rescue. With very little effort, Arno smashes Annette the doll into pieces, though it is ultimately Val that literally takes down Yaga by somewhat unintentionally causing her to fall down the bottomless pit in her darkly lit living room. In a somewhat uneven twist ending, cops show up at the house immediately after Yaga is dispatched and reveal that the building has been abandoned for some time. In fact, even the bottomless pit is no longer bottomless. Either way, it seems Valentina has been literally scared straight in regard to Sapphic sexuality and thus will devote herself to dedicated dick Arno. 

 While surely one of the more neglected Italian horror films of the 1970s, I doubt anyone would dare to describe Baba Yaga as an immaculate masterpiece, including the film’s auteur Corrado Farina. In fact, in an interview featurette entitled Farina & Valentina, Farina laments on his failure to fully realize his artistic vision and pay greater tribute to Crepax’s source comic, stating with obvious regret, “My idea, which unfortunately was only realized in small part, was to make a comic-inspired film using Crepax’s strip as a starting point, which in turn used film as a starting point. I wanted to somehow come full circle. My idea was only partially realized in a few sequences. Namely those in which I used overexposed photographs in an attempt to approximate the graphics in Crepax’s comic strips. I also used a layout similar to the way Crepax laid his panels out on the page. Those sequences do try to capture the language used in the comics, but only two or three sequences remain in the film. In the rest of the film, I was unable to achieve that rhythm and composition, that comic flavor that I was hoping for.” Notably, during the same interview, Farina does a fairly admirable job summing up the film’s legacy and its importance in the context of Italian cinema history, remarking, “Currently, I have made only two feature films: THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR FACE and BABA YAGA. But it’s interesting that after 30 years . . . these two films are enjoying a moment of popularity that exceeds by far the fame they enjoyed when they came out. In any case, I think that their so-called ‘second youth’ is due to the very fact that they are genre films of a very . . . if you’ll excuse the pun . . . a very particular genre. They go beyond pure and simple horror. They’ve become a testament . . . more so THEY HAVE CHANGED THEIR FACE, but also BABA YAGA in some ways . . . to a specific historical and cultural time, which is the ‘70s in Italy.” Indeed, Farina may have only directed two films, but they are fairly singular auteurist works that place the filmmaker alongside Giulio Questi (La morte ha fatto l'uovo aka Death Laid an Egg, Arcana) and Alberto Cavallone (Spell – Dolce mattatoio aka Man, Woman & Beast, Blue Movie) in terms of being an unsung maestro of genre-bending Guido quasi-avant-garde horror. 

 As someone that has probably had more experience with lipstick bisexuals and lesbians than most men, I am oftentimes annoyed by the shallow and superficial, if not downright phony, portrayal of Sapphic psychos, deranged dykes, and menacing carpet-munching witch bitches in horror cinema. While I can certainly appreciate the cold and callous portrayal of crypto-dyke cunt Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 adaptation of English bisexual novelist Daphne du Maurier’s classic Gothic romance Rebecca, Jesús Franco certainly did not demonstrate any profound understanding of the psychology of unhinged lily-lickers in his many (pseudo)lesbianic sexploitation flicks. Although directed by a seemingly rampantly heterosexual man and starring similarly sexually sane women, Baba Yaga somehow has a surprisingly authentic Sapphic essence. Additionally, the film manages to underscore the sadomasochistic dynamic of dyke behavior without seeming too stupid or exploitative. Indeed, although somewhat aesthetically different cinematic works, Farina’s film somewhat reminded me of the quasi-expressionistic avant-garde S&M erotic flick Mano destra (1986) directed by and starring Swiss dyke dominatrix Cleo Übelmann.  Additionally, I also would not be surprised if British auteur Peter Strickland watched Farina’s film in preparation for his latest dark dyke romance The Duke of Burgundy (2014). On the other hand, Baba Yaga certainly never quite reaches the esoteric Sappho sadomasochism of a Ulrike Ottinger film like Freak Orlando (1981). While the film might be arousing to some lesbos of both the sadistic and masochistic sort, it is, quite thankfully, not exactly LGBT-friendly as a provocative cinematic work where a somewhat emotionally erratic and surely politically retarded girl must be saved from literally evil lesbians by her tall, dark, and handsome boyfriend.

Undoubted, Baba Yaga is a film where, not unlike various works of German Expressionism and Fernando Di Leo's bizarrely foreboding giallo La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (1971) aka Slaughter Hotel, the form dictates the content and the story unravels like a stream-of-conscious nightmare. In short, Farina's flick is a wild and wanton ride where the viewer has the distinguished opportunity to get lost in a delectable deluge of amorous aesthetic decadence where nothing is as it seems. I must confess that Baba Yaga is one of the few films I can think of where I found myself totally willing to overlook its more glaring flaws dues to my shameless obsession with its entrancingly dreamy imagery and overall sexy style. Indeed, the film is like a Alain Robbe-Grillet flick that been been directed by a mere mortal as opposed to a sadistic scatter-brained postmodern-intelligent-demigod. Needless to say, Baba Yaga is also one of the oh-so few cinematic comic book adaptations that you can show to a prospective lover without seeming like an autistic man-child and/or virginal omega male.  In fact, I sense the film would be more appealing to gals than guys due to its rather refined depiction of exquisite female flesh, fashionable wardrobes, and overall extremely feminine essence, though both genders were surely find something to be aroused by.  After all, there exists no other film with such a eerily erotic baby doll in bondage gear and a fascist chic aesthetic, not to mention the fact that Baba Yaga features the titular blonde bombshell star of Baby Doll in one of the most strangely sexy MILF roles in cinema history.

-Ty E

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