Blu-ray Review: BABA YAGA

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
The '70s were a great time for creepy/groovy films, and Baba Yaga is a prime example of this style of film. The witch, Baba Yaga, is a component of many ancient Slavic folk tales, but I'm not sure that she was ever depicted quite the same way that illustrator Guido Crepax and director Corrado Farina shaped their story. This sexy, stylish entry into the '70s art-cinema oeuvre is a welcome addition to Blue Underground's Blu-ray collection, and they've done right by it, though not without controversy.

Valentina (Isabella de Funes) is a popular fashion photographer who works as much as possible in all strata of society. In her journey and mingling she comes across an older woman named Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker of How the West Was Won/Baby Doll), who takes a shine to her in a more than friendly way. Valentina says her pleasantries and moves along, thinking nothing of this encounter. Soon enough, Baba Yaga visits Valentina's studio to drop off a doll for "protection" and to check out the place and it's inhabitant.  Valentina's life starts to get crazy, and it all stems from Baba Yaga's visit and strange manner. Will she escape? What exactly is going on? Why are there Nazis? All answers in due time...

Baba Yaga, the film attacks about a dozen major fetishes of '70s European art film directors all in the span of about ninety minutes. We get sex, violence, fascism, revolution, hippies, revolutionaries, women's liberation, and S&M all in that time frame. Much of the run time is devoted to Valentina's decline into what she believes to be madness, but is, in reality, a spell cast by Baba Yaga. I won't divulge any specific plot points, but suffice it to say that Yaga's interest in Valentina is more than friendly.

Corrado Farina's take on this story was directly inspired by the comic strip work of Guido Crepax, whose style is instantly recognizable on paper, though not so much in the film. Crepax's stories focused on the sexual aspects of the Baba Yaga mythos, much of which he created for his own ends. Farina's intention to translate the comic style to film led to a very interesting visual flair that does help Baba Yaga stand out from many similarly themed films from the time period, even if Farina feels the film was largely a failure in that regard.

As with many similar features from any time period, the film's casting was largely determined by the money men. Isabella de Funes was a French model who stepped into the lead role of Valentina on the strong suggestion of the producers. De Funes spoke no Italian and is dubbed in both the English and Italian language versions of the film. Farina was concerned about his Baba Yaga matching the comic interpretation from Crepax, and was wary when his casting team told him that the only available actress due to a last minute screw up was Carroll Baker, who was far too young and "American" looking for the role in Farina's mind. He ultimately relented in order to get the show rolling, but Baker's appearance is a bit odd with rather unconvincing old-age makeups, though she pulls off the acting pretty damned well.

All in all, Baba Yaga is a solid witch story with a sexy edge that is worth an hour and a half of your time. The film is not as over the top and violent as most of Blue Underground's Blu-ray output, or indeed a lot of similarly themed films, but it is an interesting relic of the age. I'd advise a rental if you've never seen it, you may like it, you may not. I enjoyed it, but it's not going on any top ten lists any time soon.

The Disc:

Baba Yaga looks pretty great on Blu-ray. The image is solid and the colors are quite thick. There is a natural looking grain on the image, unlike some of Blue Underground's previous releases, and the colors are robust. I have no complaints about this image. We are given the choice of English or Italian language dubs for the film, and either one is okay, though I lean toward the fuller sounding English dub. As was often the case with these international productions, one dub is as valid a viewing option as another, so no worries on that end.

Baba Yaga was released theatrically in a truncated version, which is the version seen here. Recently Shameless Screen Entertainment in the UK released an extended version which reinstates several sequences, including a nude scene with Carroll Baker's Baba Yaga. While those scenes are not in the film in continuity, they are presented on the disc as extras.

Additional extras include an interview with director Farina, in which he candidly discusses his successes and failures in adapting Crepax's story, a short documentary on Crepax by Farina, a comic-to-film comparison, and a trailer. The first two mentioned are probably the most worthwhile.

If you're a fan of '70s sexy European cinema, you'll probably get a kick out of Baba Yaga, and if you're already a fan, you'll definitely want to upgrade, otherwise, I'd say rent this one first.
Special Features:
- Farina & Valentina - Interview with Co-Writer/Director Corrado Farina
- Freud in Color - Guido Crepax Documentary
- Deleted and Censored Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Comic Book-to-Film Comparison
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