Bruce Baillie’s experimental short film Castro Street has nothing to do with San Francisco. It has no plot, no dialogue, and no characters — unless you count the machines, silhouettes of workers, numbers, words, ads, colors, and sounds that wander in and out the frame like a stream of consciousness. The point is to convey a certain mood through visual and sonic elements.
It works. Dominated by shifting shades of red and blue superimposed over black and white, a drab industrial bleakness emerges from the constantly moving images and noises of oil refining machinery and trains. Suddenly, a welcome bit of nature comes into a view: a field of grass. Toward the end, a familiar pop song that I can’t place is trying to break out of all the noise. I looked it up: “Good Lovin'” by the Rascals.
Overall, Castro Street is not particularly exciting — but it’s pretty.
“Something in this town is supernatural. Tell me, why did they abandon the church? I’m scared. I almost think the devil’s here.”
The second offering of a Mario Bava weekend double feature, Kill, Baby…Kill! is one of the director’s more commercially successful films. Many commentators have pointed out its influence on the horror genre and praised Bava’s gothic sensibilities, visuals, and use of irony. All good, I agree. Still, none of these things means Kill, Baby…Kill! is a great — or even a good — film.
In the early 20th Century, a coroner, Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), is en route to a remote village in Transylvania to perform an autopsy on a woman who died under mysterious circumstances. In a church — an abandoned one, no less, no doubt to provide a metaphor. The carriage driver, warning that this place is messed up, will only go to the edge of the village, not inside it.
Dr. Eswai finds the police inspector (Piero Lulli) at a local inn, where he is given instructions. When none of the superstitious and rather wan locals volunteer to help him with the autopsy, Monica Shuftan (Erika Blanc), a nurse of some sort who grew up there and just happens to be visiting the graves of her parents, steps up to assist.
During the autopsy, Dr. Eswai is puzzled to find a silver coin stuck in the woman’s heart. It’s a practice to thwart a local ghost that visits villagers in their sleep and puts a hex on them, making them commit suicide in ghastly ways — like jumping from heights and impaling themselves on iron posts.
Dr. Eswai runs into a creepy young thing in a white dress. He soon learns she’s the ghost of seven-year-old Melissa Graps (Valerio Valeri), who died 20 years before. She’s the little bugger who’s been freaking out everyone in the village for the last two decades. The doctor and Monica sense a spark, but first they must deal with this Melissa situation.
Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, and Bava all contributed to the screenplay. The story is unoriginal and silly, complete with cringeworthy dialogue and an actual sorceress (Fabienne Dalì). There’s an odd dub thing going on, too.
This being a Bava picture, though, Kill, Baby…Kill! works on primal instinct, here fear. Plus, it has its share of arresting visuals. The colors are vivid, though the palette is heavy on brown and green. The sets have a grimy, dilapidated medieval appearance to them, giving the look of a ghost story. There’s a cool scene where Dr. Eswai chases after Monica through a series of doors that keep taking him back to the same rooms — it’s delightfully dizzying.
Overall, Kill, Baby…Kill! is okay. It’s got Bava’s unique fingerprint all over it, and it’s fun to watch. It’s just not spectacular. Blood and Black Lace grabbed me; this did not, at least not for long. I hate the title — they should’ve kept Operation Fear.
With Luciano Catenacci (Max Lawrence), Micaela Esdra, Franca Dominici, Giuseppe Addobbati, Mirella Pamphili, Giana Vivaldi
Odyssey of a Dropout is a black and white educational film shot on 16-millimeter that dramatizes the plight of the American high school dropout. I’ve found only very limited information about it online, and none of it lists the cast or the crew. As far as I can tell, this film is not available anywhere, but you can view other films of the same ilk here:
If these films are anything like Odyssey of a Dropout—and perusing the titles suggests they are—it’s worth a diversion. Appropriately, Odyssey of a Dropout follows one teenage boy through his day after he drops out of school. He meanders aimlessly, going from a diner to a park to a pool hall. He hasn’t told his parents or his girlfriend, and it doesn’t appear that he’s having any fun—which is precisely the point.
Melodramatic and totally moralistic, this heavyhanded little number does a great job painting a hopelessly dire picture for those who don’t finish high school. So, it serves its purpose even if it borders on propaganda. Aside from that, it’s a neat time capsule; loaded with exterior street scenes and youngsters clad in clothes of the day, it documents small town America in a visually authentic way. I’d like to find this and see it again.
Production: Coronet Films
Distribution: Coronet Films
(The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University) B-
Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton. Edward Albee. Even George Segal, who was kind of a fixture on NBC during the ’80s and ’90s. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will.
Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Ernest Lehman stick pretty close to Albee’s 1962 play with their film adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and it’s hard to watch. Really hard. To be fair, though, it’s supposed to be, and that’s what makes it so good.
The promotional poster promises an evening of fun and games, but very little joy is to be found here, at least on the surface: all that marital baiting, sniping, and yelling is miserable. Fuck! It took me five or six false starts over a few years before I finally got into the film—and only with the help of a bottle of bourbon. Once I was in, though, I was hooked: watching this disastrous night unfold and all four characters unravel engrossed me desite the buzz I had going.
The oddly but appropriately named George (Burton), a history professor at a small East Coast university, and Martha (Taylor), the daughter of the school’s president, stumble home drunk from a faculty party, neither one listening to the other as they babble about nothing. Martha quotes Bette Davis, which ultimately reveals more about her viewpoint than any other comment she makes—and the woman can talk.
They babble and respond to each other half-heartedly. Martha tells George that she invited a young couple, a professor from another department and his wife, over for a drink. George is miffed, but there’s no time to react.
Enter Nick (Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), a polite, young, good-looking couple that, as we learn, has their own set of problems. Martha and George pour drinks and pick at each other while Nick and Honey watch, uncomfortable at first, thinking maybe they shouldn’t be there. As the drinking continues, though, they’re pulled into the…drama? Turns out, they have more in common with each other than they think.
Here’s the thing about George and Martha: their marriage is dysfunctional, but they seem to operate well inside the confines of their explosive relationship—Martha brays and George stays, responding in a passive aggressive manner as he fixes them both another drink. Over and over and over again. Do they have any limits? It’s hard to say, partly because it’s never clear that we should take anything at face value: what we see is not necessarily what it is. That’s the genius of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.