Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Holocaust - Late Night Double Feature: Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999) and Kill, Baby...Kill! (Mario Bava, 1966)


Last night's Halloween themed double bill was initially unplanned, but turned out to be a match made in movie heaven. I'd not seen Burton's enjoyably campy (yet perhaps somewhat style-over-substance) homage to Hammer, Bava etc, in years, and it occurred to me part way through watching it that Kill, Baby...Kill! would be perfect to stick on afterwards, due to some striking similarities. Both are tales of vengeful, murderous spirits being investigated by skeptical enquirers (their respective protagonists also assisted by beautiful blondes) that are visualised with painterly precision, and infused with chilly (yet strangely warming), autumnal atmospherics by their respective directors. There are however (and as is to be expected) some notable differences...

The main thing that struck me after watching the two films in quick succession is that Sleepy Hollow is a playful, somewhat tongue-in-cheek pastiche (which I know is kind of stating the obvious), and therefore never particularly menacing, despite a few suspenseful sequences and some scattered splatterings of gore, where as Bava's film is an authentic chiller that plays everything totally straight. The former is, for the most part quite entertaining, with a wealth of heavyweight talent both in front of, and behind, the camera. However, I'd say that when all's said and done, these impressive credentials don't add up to anything particularly memorable. The latter, on the other hand, possesses an insidiously mesmeric quality, which allows it to bury its haunting, and sometimes surreal images under your skin and within your subconscious.

This is not to say that Kill, Baby...Kill! is perfect though; in fact, if it shares any faults with Burton's movie, I'd say that both are weighed down somewhat by slightly labyrinthine, exposition heavy storytelling, which can make them seem lethargic at times. As I suggested earlier, I don't think that Sleepy Hollow comes together in an entirely satisfactory fashion; in other words, I find myself not really caring too much about what's going on, past a certain point in the film (probably about 3/5 of the way through) and therefore tuning out. The same happened to me initially with Bava's picture, but that was more to do with acclimatising to the pace of an older film. Once this was achieved though, I was thoroughly transported into its strange, colourful world, and, come to think of it, I don't think I ever entirely left.... 

Nit picking aside, I'd say that genre fans can't really go wrong with either/or both for some cosy October evening's viewing. For one thing, Sleepy Hollow is worth watching for its awesome, "Hey it's that guy!", ensemble cast, including the likes of Christopher Walken (as the headless horseman), Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Michael Gough and Christopher Lee. And Kill, Baby...Kill! should definitely be seen by anyone with an appreciation for cinematography and composition; its striking, sublime coloured lighting is some of the finest I've ever seen, maybe even on a par with some of the work of Powell and Pressburger's legendary DOP, Jack Cardiff. To finish off, here's a random behind the scenes picture (that I stumbled across by accident only a few days back, as luck would have it) of Johnny Depp, on the set of Sleepy Hollow, smoking a blunt (it seems), and brandishing a Super Soaker.       

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