Dr Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, papa of Kim) arrives somewhere in Eastern Europe at the behest of Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) to perform the autopsy of Irene Hollander (Mirella Pamphili) whose death is burnt on our retinas during the opening credits. She is the latest in a long line of residents who die, all seemingly at their own hand, and yet something is nagging at the Inspector. The villagers themselves are suspicious of the medical outsider and do everything in their power to prevent a postmortem even enlisting the help of local witch Ruth (Fabienne Dali) to make the reparations for a peaceful afterlife and to counteract “the curse” inflicted by the creepy blonde child in white who likes to peer into windows. For the stoic and steadfast Doctor who is so initiated in the world of science, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to reconcile the rational amidst the supernatural, old superstitions, and his own eyes. He, along with Nurse Monica Schuftan (Erika Blanc) work together to unlock the secrets of the village, the eerie goings-on in the crumbling Villa Graps, and the history behind the reclusive Baroness (Giovanna Galletti) and her little girl Melissa (Valerio Valeri).
Mario Bava was a genius when it came to horror and the Gothic. He was a master of avoiding blood and gore, when needed, and often instead concentrated on building mood and atmosphere, through music, cinematography, special effects, and diegetic sound: echoing footsteps, squealing cats, and creaking doors were among his specialities, as well as the sublime use of lighting and coloured gels. He depicted fear and the emotional experience of it through an artistic subtlety few have been able to replicate. Bava transgressed the medium which left him unappreciated in his time, and his body of work often overlooked. Operazione paura or the US-monikered Kill, Baby… Kill! is a beautiful and enchanting piece of supernatural horror, atmospheric and credible in its Gothic tropes. Under the threat of death or no, Villa Graps is well worth the visit.
The Arrow Video label of Arrow Films has put together a great package celebrating this Gothic gem, one of a slew of Bava’s oeuvre which have been restored and made available to own including Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, and Blood and Black Lace. Aside from the 2K restoration HD digital transfer, there is, as one has come to expect a whole host of additional treats besides.
The Devil’s Daughter: Bava and the Gothic Child (21 mins) – This in-depth audio essay written and narrated by Kat Ellinger is brilliant. She discusses Bava’s influence on contemporary filmmakers, specifically citing Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. In addition, she works her way through examples of Gothic literature and cinema, paying particular attention to the Gothic family, monstrous mother, and demonic child in relation to KBK as well as other films which followed and those which are indebted to Mario Bava and the character of Melissa Graps. A 2007 interview with Bava’s AD and son, Lamberto is the subject of Kill Baby Kill (25 mins) during which Bava Jr talks about working with his father and grandfather (Eugenio was also a special effects technician and cinematographer) and their collective interest and pursuit of the supernatural.
The whole documentary-style interview takes place in Calcata, Italy as Bava takes us on a tour of the village which was used as the location for KBK, through Villa Frascati which doubled for Villa Graps and discusses the fun they had recreating the cemetery (amongst other interiors and exteriors) on a sound stage. Erika in Fear (10 mins) – After introducing the main feature, Erika Blanc gives this lighthearted interview during which she describes her experiences on set and what it was like working with her director. Affectionate reminisces are abound as Blanc denounces cinema of today as being flat which is one of the reasons why audiences are only discovering Bava’s technically precise and professionally perfect films now; they’re not used to such vibrant colour.
Yellow (2006) (6 mins) – Semih Tareen’s short film and beautifully-hued love letter to the cinema of Mario Bava.
German Opening Titles (3:25) – in which orange text declares the title of the film Die toten Augen des Dr. Dracula – odd, given Dracula’s nowhere to be found.
International Trailer (2:32)
Photocomic – 68 slides break down the vintage photocomic book, in which every frame is depicted in comic book cells. This was originally published in Film Horreur in 1976 and provided by Uwe Huber.
Image Gallery – 28 slides show the German posters and lobby cards – which Erika Blanc works her way through in her interview – again provided by Uwe Huber.
New audio commentary – provided by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.
First pressing only: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Travis Crawford.
Alberto Rodríguez’s Marshland [La isla minima] opens in 1980 Andalucía. Times are a-changing as the fascist regime has come to an end and a democratic genesis is taking baby-steps in moving the country out of political turmoil. Detectives Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) are called in from Madrid to investigate the disappearance of sisters Estrella and Carmen. Both men are out of their comfort zone in Guadalquivir marshland and aside from their employment and respective facial hair, they appear to have little in common and each personifies the changes of the political climate (and not always in the ways one would think). This personality clash adds to the tension, especially when the girls are eventually found, sexually assaulted, tortured; their mutilated bodies left in a ditch, and so begins the ambiguous crossing of lines between cop and hunted. Both determined to catch a murderer and prevent more killings by any means necessary.
Visually, this Southern Spanish Gothic-cum-neo-noir is stunning, beautifully shot with some breath-taking views courtesy of Alex Catalan’s cinematography. The drone-captured aerial shots, while not a particularly new technique of late, are fantastic; the opening montage resembling both brain and ocular cavity, as if the land itself is an additional character. The use of colour is wonderful, the flamingo scene stunning. Rural Andalucía brings to mind South Korea’s Memories of Murder, Argentina’s Everybody Has a Plan, and even the US’ The Texas Killing Fields and certainly the tone and colour – as well as subject matter – does lend itself to these films and builds an atmosphere which becomes specifically gripping during the final sequence. There is even a supernatural element which aids the noirish and gothic feel to the whole insular, albeit, conventional plot. Misogyny and machismo are at odds just as democracy and the Franco era which still lurks in the background.
The male leads are outstanding, even Goya-winning in the case of Gutiérrez, they are not necessarily complex but at least they have activity to see them through the plot, which sadly, cannot be said for most of the females in the diegesis. There is a severe lack of characters beyond victims, not all are named and almost all either cry or die. Yes, this is an eighties set film and, as previously stated, there is an authenticity to it but a little character development would not have gone amiss, although given the parallels of the 80s and the world today (economic crisis, social tension, inherent sexism), perhaps, it is purposefully done. The slightest of niggles aside; it really is an enthralling watch which unfolds amid beautiful aesthetics.
Fairy tales have been a part of oral and literary tradition for centuries providing society with entertainment, history and ambivalent moral life lessons. These have assisted, according to those within the psychoanalytical space (Bettelheim, 1978) (Von Franz, 1995, 1996), (Cashdan, 1999), with psyche development, often in children, and the use of enchantment. The cinema has been pioneering in producing film versions of these tales, the first version of Cinderella was produced in 1899 (dir: Georges Mèliés) displaying what Ridvan Şentürk calls “the transition from textual culture to visual culture and the accompanying transition in the transformation of reality”. This renovation of reality does attempt to encapsulate a sense verisimilitude within this real world and if an imaginary world exists within the diegesis there is some element of mimesis. These films juxtapose the real and fantastical and while it is clear that these screen fairy tales are made for adults with their dark visuals and themes of murder, sacrifice, fear and death, the use of the child protagonist is intriguing. If these stories told in childhood do provide psychological maturity to children too immature to deal with the situations around them then what purpose does the casting of a child in an adult version serve, if any, to the narrative? Perhaps it is as Bruno Bettelheim determines that “[e]ach fairy tale is a magic mirror which reflects some aspects of our inner world, and of the steps required for our evolution from immaturity to maturity. For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect only our own image; but behind it we soon discover the inner turmoil of our soul – its depth and ways to gain peace within ourselves and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles.”
The screen fairy tale acts in much the same way bringing together elements of the fantastical and projecting them within a social setting which will allow for an ideological reading and therefore aid identification. Some screen tales which are aimed at young children contain clearly defined adult/child relationships whereas the texts explored in this project are more ambivalent. It can even be suggested that these characters are in fact mirror representations of the other; their individual anxieties, qualities, even physical features and respective journeys are transposable (see fig1.1-4).
On some level these adult characters who share screen time with their counterpart have lost a part of themselves; some innocence or element of imagination associated with their youth and now have the opportunity to embrace their ‘inner child’ in order to survive their current situation. In order to do so they must allow the child or shadow to impart the wisdom forgotten through maturation. In Jungian theory, fairy tales are regarded as symbolic representations of problems associated with adults and thus describes the shadow as the part of the psyche that the individual would rather not acknowledge. The greatest power is to accept the shadow parts (or daemons) and integrate them as components of the self. These relationships are prevalent in adult fairy tales, and will be referred to as the shadow-child, this article aims to look specifically at Guillermo del Toro’s oeuvre and his vision of the fairy tale.
Guillermo del Toro’s first foray into Hollywood filmmaking was with Mimic (1997) in which an entomologist (Mira Sorvino) creates a genetically modified insect-human hybrid to save the nation’s children from deadly disease. This mediocre sci-fi/horror text was not a commercial success, yet it enabled del Toro to make more “personal” films, those which depict recurring themes related to the concept of childhood all present and displayed with visual relish in a very obvious adult diegesis and through the juxtaposition of beauty and the macabre. These dichotomous themes become more prevalent following Cronos (1993) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001), in which these horror texts, crucially, also contain young children despite the narrative(s) aim at an adult audience. These films still contain a certain mythology associated with the adult fairy tale and the adult/child pairing. However, it is in del Toro’s later work in the guise of writer, producer or director that greater encompasses the ambiguity of the adult fairy tale specifically alongside the film texts and his directorial works Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) that the extent of the screen fairy tale and the adult-child dual relationship will be explored. These films contain individual and distinctive aesthetics which make for some of the most memorable fairy-tales-for-adults in modern cinema.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico on October 19, 1964 to Federico and Guadalupe and raised in a strict Catholic household the young Guillermo developed an early interest in the fantastical, monsters, make-up and special effects. As a child, by his own admission, del Toro became enthralled with both bible stories and fairy tales and found what he refers to as “equal spiritual illumination” in both sets of parables. Interestingly, now fifty, del Toro has rendered his religion indefinable and is now a self-proclaimed “lapsed Catholic”. He does, however, still believes in fairies and continues to avidly collect books and anthologies on the subject as well as incorporate traditional tales within the mise-en-scène of the filmic frame.
Visually, Pan’s Labyrinth’s palette of colours are tonally neutral and cold (greens, greys, blacks and blues) in the real world; displaying the darkness of a country following a civil war. The fantasy world’s range of colours, in contrast, are reds and gold, warm inviting and what del Toro refers to as “uterine” in shape and density; this is, after all, a tale of a defiantly imaginative girl in her pursuit of re-birth. Few scenes are shot in natural light and the majority of action occurs during dusk or deep into the hours of darkness when the world is asleep and twelve year old Ofelia (Ivana Banquero) can complete her quest. At the film’s opening a blackout slowly reveals a close-up image of a child which fills the frame, blood is pouring from her nose and she is gasping for breath, close to death. Intertitles set the scene, it is 1944 and following the devastation and stasis of the Spanish Civil War, guerrillas of the resistance are attempting to regain control of their country; rescuing it from the iron fist of Fascism left in the wake of General Francisco Franco’s reign. A fairy tale-style narration begins detailing the story of a curious princess named Moanna who escaped from her kingdom to quench her thirst for adventure. Over time Moanna loses her memory, forgets her true identity and eventually succumbs to the austerity of the real world and dies. Her father, the King, believes his daughter’s soul will return incarnated in another body and will await her. There is a sense of foreboding within Ofelia’s death scene, a child’s death is difficult to comprehend, perhaps due to their free association to innocence and mythology which surrounds childhood and suggests that children are inextricably linked to purity and are therefore to remain untouched. “[Y]ou do not”, according to psychoanalyst Serge Leclaire “single them out for hatred”. Leclaire argues that through the stages of “primary narcissism” the individual must unconsciously and repeatedly kill and destroy the phantasmal image of a child projected onto them by their parents. Surely then, the inference of death in the child is not quite as traumatic as he suggests but a projection of the spectator’s primary narcissism. The audience could ideologically view Ofelia as the ghost child of the individual psyche; she is an embodiment of the delusion which would render her death of little consequence in the opening segment. The fact that she is dying strengthens her humanity, interpellates subjectivity and thus facilitates viewer identification. Within minutes of this, however, the blood pool reverses and begins to seep back into the child and the next shot indicates the commencement of Ofelia’s journey.
The voice-over narration stops and an inlay of a volume of fairy tales fills the frame and then Ofelia. She is sat in the back of a car with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gill) who is incredulous at the amount of books her daughter insisted upon bringing; tales that, according to her mother, Ofelia is too old for. Carmen, having spent a number of years as a widow, did not wish to succumb to loneliness and has married Captain Vidal (Sergi Lòpez) with whom she is now expecting a child. The depiction of the older female staving off pregnancy-induced illness and the young girl’s fascination with her stories shows the distinction between adult and child. Carmen becomes exasperated by the muddiness of her daughter’s shoes while Ofelia is excitable because she believes she has seen a fairy.
Vidal is cold, calculating and unapproachable. His only interest is his firstborn son, the older female is merely a vessel for his heir and the younger is an unnecessary inheritance from his marriage; women in his world are expendable. As long as Ofelia remains impassive and invisible, he is happy to ignore her: the disdain is mutual, made evident with the child’s stubborn refusal to call the man ‘father’. While Carmen wishes for her daughter to cast aside the childish fairy tales and books the act of storytelling itself is the way in which the two siblings, who have yet to meet, bond. Ofelia tells her brother tales of wonder while he is in utero and it is during this sequence that del Toro utilises one of many visual effects to show the unborn child and the response he has to his sister’s voice which carries tales of wonder and imagination. After showing the unborn son safe in the cocoon of the amniotic sac, the filmmaker cuts to Vidal – the opposing force to his child – he is the active, experienced adult who is far removed from innocence. He tortures and murders a father and son whose only transgression is killing hares for food; the violence displayed is unflinching as the Captain obliterates the younger man’s face with a glass bottle. This dichotomy of beauty and horror is essential to the on-screen fairy tale. Not least, according to del Toro, but to instil fear while some foster hope and magical wonder. All “have a quotient of darkness because the one thing alchemy understands, is that you need the vile matter for magic to flourish”. Certainly, Ofelia’s world contains an element of darkness complete with a dying mother and a wicked stepfather. Her tales have honed an already active imagination yet precipitates her demise.
Ofelia is neither adult nor child in totality, she resembles a child on the cusp of sexual maturity and yet her experiences to date are perhaps limited to an association with an adult world: endurance of hardship, upheaval, heartbreak and death are difficult for any soul to bear regardless of their age. She follows her heart and while this may be construed, at times, as disobedience it is more accurate to describe her as independent. The child is, after all provided with copious amounts of freedom. Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), on the other hand, is subservient. She continues to serve Vidal and run the household; she may occasionally sneak out at night and visit her younger brother Pedro who is part of the resistance but her true defiance only occurs after, her shadow-child, Ofelia has paved the way. Interestingly, the items which Ofelia rescues during her trials: the key and the dagger find their way into Mercedes’ possession in the real world. In a sense the girl, in her ambivalent child state completes her tasks with determination and self-sufficiency and this, in turn, enables Mercedes to gain strength and daring. The self-proclaimed “coward” then rises up to Vidal to become a hero of her own making. There is an indication that Ofelia’s presence brings about a change to Mercedes within moments of arrival. When the girl chases the cricket, the woman watches intently, perhaps the presence of a child stirs maternal instincts or there is still some dormant magic within Mercedes. When Ofelia asks her if she believes in fairies, Mercedes answers that she used to, “I used to believe in a lot of things when I was a girl”. Ofelia confides in her new friend that she has met a faun and Mercedes tells her to be wary of it, there is no attempt to oppress the girl’s imagination but a voice of experience that could perhaps hint at previous dealings with the magical creature. The duality in representation of the two does not end there as costumes and colours remain similar in cut, style and tone of the two characters and they are often shot next to or in front of each other; an extension of the body (see fig2.1-3 ). The woods also hold great significance for both. The forest is a site of indifferent nature, a place where the two worlds (real and fantastic) merge, a location to both hide and get lost in. this is the place where they are safest; where they are active, princesses of their own destiny.
Pan’s draws readers’ attention to intertextual signifiers throughout the mise-en-scène and the individual instinctively associates it with a fairy tale narrative that is innately familiar and continues the fairy tale tradition. These signifiers are evident through allusions to Alice in Wonderland (fig3.1), specifically through the style of the silk dress Ofelia is made to wear just prior to her first trial. The Wizard of Oz is hinted at during the film’s finale when the princess finally gets home and knocks her red booted heels together and lastly with her alabaster skin and ebony hair Ofelia resembles Snow White. It is, however, at the commencement of her second task after rescuing a key from the stomach of a giant toad when intertextual layering is displayed to full visual effect in the Pale Man’s lair.
Ofelia is warned by the faun, before she leaves her bedroom, not to touch anything. The ogre sits at the head of a decadent banquet table with his palms pressed on the table top. Although alone Ofelia is Hansel and Gretel; abandoned by her parents and trapped by a blind witch (the Pale Man has no eyes or sockets). She rescues a gilded dagger from one of the lock boxes on the wall and starts to leave. Here, religion and fairy tales meet within the mise-en-scène, del Toro hinting that despite his lapse of faith there are some aspects he remembers. There are murals and paintings across the wall reminiscent of the stained glass interpretations in any church, the Pale Man, however, does not display the Stations of the Cross but stations of his repugnancy as it were; the tens of small shoes in a pile by the fire makes clear the monster’s intentions. The ogre’s stigmata is in the form of sockets on both palms his eyes sit next to him on a saucer, an allusion to St. Lucy and when Ofelia gives into temptation and steals a luscious-looking grape she is evocative of Eve stealing the forbidden fruit. Her transgression facilitates the fight for her life, the Pale Man’s eyes are popped into the sockets and his fingers act as surreal lashes. This marriage of religion and fairy tales links back to del Toro’s childhood and the age of enlightenment and furthers the angelic and demonic dichotomy which is scattered throughout each of his films (fig4.1-3).
Who is more of an angel and demon amalgam than the character of Hellboy? In the second of the current franchise, The Golden Army, del Toro yet again screens the fairy tale through an adult world and repeats many of the rules displayed in Pan’s; the underworld, the king, a war with humans and all in a social setting which is identifiable and recognisable. The main character’s name is no accident – Hellboy is exactly that, a boy, albeit in an adult demon’s body. His childlike qualities are made more apparent by the fact that the audience view him as a child in the opening sequence, getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth and excitably awaiting a bedtime story from his father. These images can serve to assist with identification, after all, as adults the audience have one thing in common; they have experienced a childhood in one form or another. In later life, his love of candy, television and petulant, often simplistic way of viewing the world make him the innocent living “outside of society, pre-historical, pre-social, instinctual, creatures of unreason, primitive, kin to unspoiled nature”. Del Toro describes the character as “a child [who] defines himself by choosing who he is and not who he is meant to be” (fig5.1-3).
Following on from sequel and the loss of his father Professor Broom (John Hurt), Hellboy is now in a serious relationship with pyro-telekinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and they along with Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) continue to solve supernatural crime in the Bureau of Paranormal Research Defense (BPRD) and fight the creatures of the Underworld at odds with humanity rather than take their place among them. Elf-prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is discontent with humankind particularly with their treatment of his world. He is angry that his father refuses to act and that the King insists upon maintaining the armistice, signed centuries ago, between the Elves and humans. Nuada thus murders his father to initiate his rise to the throne and sets about collecting the three pieces of the crown which will grant him ruler and therefore enable him to awaken the golden army and destroy humans. Nuada’s twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) becomes an unlikely source of resistance and seeks refuge from the BPRD to prevent Nuada’s quest. He awakens the army but Nuala ends his reign by making the ultimate sacrifice.
Nuala and Nuada are the literal double of each other with the two actors wearing prosthetic pieces to ensure their facial blemishes match. The subtle colour-difference in their make-up symbolising their juxtaposing natures, Nuala’s golden eyes and mouth soften her features, hinting at her warmth while Nuada’s severe black eyes harden him and the audience is left with little doubt who the ruthless twin is; the one with the darker soul. Like with Pan’s this duality of representation suggests that they are essentially the same person with Nuada symbolising Nuala’s Shadow which she has always accepted as a part of her personality before his murderous killing spree. Unable to fully accept her Shadow there is resistance. He awakens the army but Nuala ends his reign by making the ultimate sacrifice. Their bond is not only telepathic but biological and she drives a dagger into her heart knowing that it will surely end his life also.
The character of Hellboy is what Marie-Louise Von Franz calls a “shadow-hero” and therefore offers a more complex reading. He is the aspect of the archetype which has been rejected by the collective consciousness, in this case read through literal societal rejection but also that he is “more primitive and more instinctive than the hero but not necessarily morally inferior. In some fairy tales, the hero […] has no shadow companion but displays himself with positive, negative [and sometimes] demonic traits”. I would suggest, however, that there is a shadow-child within his psyche, in the figurative sense, especially in those moments when he forlornly pines his father. He displays a need to return to childhood or at the very least the return to dependency and being cared for while, in the same token, yearns for attention and general acceptance from the world he has not only attempted to save but assimilate into (as much as a six feet tall, bright red, hornless demon can). Certain aspects of Hellboy’s psyche are more complex than that of Ofelia, he is repressing the demon, his birthright, an evil he keeps at bay with religious iconography – another recurring del Toro motif – ethereal images in his abode and rosary beads around his wrist and waist. He and Liz share a similar relationship in that they have had little in the way of a regular childhood. Given their, respective, extraordinary abilities they measure each other through the how the other sees them. They too have transcended the first mirror phase and now their illusions are met with similarity and reciprocity. Most couples strive for alike-mindedness; however, Liz can control fire while it just so happens that Hellboy was born in a pit of it.
Hellboy is the embodiment of the imagination, hope, death and destruction (he is destined to destroy humankind and the world, after all) and can be read as the ambivalent, often ideological, identifier sought and found in the screen fairy tale. Or perhaps the creature is a visual signifier for the film’s author. In his 2011 interview, with Daniel Zalewski of The New Yorker, del Toro claimed that some his characters are auto-biographical and that he was not only the Pale Man in Pan’s but “I am Hellboy”.
The imaginative adult screen fairy tale is a sanctuary for all shadow-children to dwell, a place where they can connect and seek hope from the brutality of reality. We should all strive to be a bit Ofelia and Hellboy.  Child psychoanalysis Bruno Bettelheim conducted an in-depth study of fairy tales and used case studies of the children he was treating and applied Freudian theory to produce an understanding of the uses of enchantment and how these cautionary tales can assist with the psychological development of children.
 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Importance of Fairy Tales in Childhood (UK: Penguin Books,  1991) p309.
 Marie-Louise Von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, (Boston and London: Shambhala: 1996) pp114-197.
 The film’s premise of ‘saving the children’ culminates in the death of many adults. The hybrid continues to evolve and by the text’s conclusion resembles a human and must be destroyed. It can, perhaps, be read alongside the body of this thesis – survival of an innocent is dependent upon the sacrifice of the more experienced; the acceptance of one’s shadow.
 Del Toro regards his personal films as those which relate directly to him i.e. The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy franchise.
 Karen Lury, The Child in Cinema: Tears, Fears and Fairy Tales, (United Kingdom: I B Tauris, 2011) p109.
 Jack Zipes, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children and Culture, (United Kingdom: Routledge 1996) p1.
 See Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, 1865.
 Alice wears a dress underneath a white pinafore apron, has knee socks, Mary Jane shoes on her feet and a headband in her hair. While the dress is traditionally blue, Ofelia’s is emerald green in keeping with the palette of colours utilised through the real world’s mise-en-scène.
 Home is the kingdom of heaven where she becomes Princess Moanna once again taking her throne alongside her father and mother.
 Rather than an evil stepmother, Ofelia has a stepfather whose early morning shaving ritual involves staring into a mirror. In a subversion of the traditional tale, however, it is Ofelia who tries to poison him when she attempts to escape with her younger brother.
 This is not the only allusion to the fairy tale siblings – Pedro and Mercedes are parentless siblings abandoned following the war, making the woods their temporary home. Vidal’s food store could possibly be read as a gingerbread house of sorts.
 Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia) is venerated as the patron Saint of the blind. Upon her execution her captors, unable to burn her to death, plucked out her eyes with a fork. She is often depicted holding her eyes upon a plate or flat receptacle; del Toro makes reference to this statue which “freaked him out as a child” (New Yorker, 2011 p10).
 Marina Warner, Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts and More, (UK: Vintage, 1996) p57.
“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the babadook…”
For Amelia (Essie Davis) every day is a challenge. Made increasingly difficult by her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam is an affectionate, energetic and boisterous little boy, wise beyond his years, avoided at school for being weird (potentially hyperactive) and between his obsession with magic, his preoccupation with keeping his mother safe from ‘monsters’ and his sleeplessness; he is – to put it mildly – hard work. His upcoming seventh birthday also happens to coincide with his father Oskar’s (Benjamin Winspear) violent death, a loss Amelia has yet to fully come to terms with. She is vacant, restless and on autopilot juggling single parenthood, her job as a carer, and looking in on elderly neighbour Grace Roach (Barbara West). A one-time children’s author, Amelia is able to quell Samuel’s night-time fears usually with a bedtime story until he selects Mister Babadook from the bookshelf. “It’s okay mum,” the brave little soldier declares “I’ll protect you.”
The Babadook is actress/writer Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, made for reportedly just $2.3 million and based upon her 2005 short Monster. Its cinematic palette takes its cues from the blue-black, white and grey of a pencil drawing and visually, the film’s fairy tale simplicity works incredibly well on the screen. It is rich, nostalgic yet somehow timeless and paints a deeply emotional and visceral gothic picture in which an audience is subject to the inside of the protagonist’s mind (think of a much subtler and aesthetically prettier The Shining). We see a relatable woman engulfed by grief, drowning under the weight of motherhood, and exhausted in the malevolence of depression. This verisimiliar performance steeped in empathy is testament to the supremely talented Davis who is as consistently wonderful as always (see in particular HBO’s Cloudstreet). However, in her Amelia we see complexity, a melancholic soul with an unravelling mind; her ferocity for life, love, even survival has been stifled, buried deeply.
The emotional profundity of this fabulous film makes it wholly affecting – an internal demon which manifests to test the protagonist’s strength. Whether she stands up, cowers, screams in its face or fights for her freedom remains to be seen. It may let her go…this time or as the childish rhyme suggests, it may never be vanquished. Go and experience The Babadook, it will touch you, scare you, get under your skin and remain there. It will make you feel, it may even cause you to shed a tear – honestly, when was the last time a horror film did that?
The Babadook opens nationwide on 24th October 2014
It is hard to believe that Palme d’Or winner The Piano is twenty years old this year, specifically given its timelessness, Michael Nyman’s evocative score (The Promise can be sampled here) and the seductive panoramic allure of a Gothic New Zealand. One which remains mesmerising upon a multitude of re-visits; frozen forever on screen.
Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) is sold into marriage by her father and sails from Scotland, across rough waters to New Zealand where she and her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) are to begin a new life in the home of new husband (and father) wealthy landowner, Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). Ada is mute and relies upon sign language, a small notebook contained in a locket around her neck and, above all else, her piano and music to speak for her. Alisdair, not only, dismisses the importance of the instrument to his new wife but gives it away to employee George Baines (Harvey Keitel) who, upon hearing Ada play, agrees to sell it back to her one key at a time.
Writer/Director Jane Campion presents events in chronological order, much like a piece of music allowing for this story to have an introduction, middle and resolution. Campion, a filmmaker, with a propensity for engaging feminist interest through a female protagonist, desire and gaze does not disappoint with Ada. One would be forgiven for thinking the character is a product of the oppressive, Victorian society she inhabits, after all she is objectified from the start; sold into marriage, left on a beach much like her piano; her silence often mistaken for obedience. One could argue that this is not the case, Ada exists on the fringes of society; her self-assured identity and sheer wilfulness make her one of the most fascinating characters committed to celluloid. Her austere costume (designed and created by Janet Patterson) functions for and against her femininity (Bruzzi, 1997). These items often restrict her movements yet at other times rescue her from unwanted exposure, pawing male hands or indeed provide a place of shelter; a hoop underskirt is utilised as a makeshift tent in the opening sequences. The bonnet is a symbol of submissiveness but tends to be discarded more often than not.
The piano and Ada are inextricably linked and the bound motif represents her voice, sexuality, passion, mood and freedom; a tool that can be, and is, used against her. Power struggle appears to be the main theme of the film displayed through sexual politics, patriarchy and colonialism. Alisdair is the white settler whose link to the Māori people is Baines, a coloniser who has adapted to the ways of the native (he still has tartan items displayed about his home pertaining to his Scottish roots) but has attempted to assimilate into NZ culture with his clothing, wild hair and Māori tattoos which adorn his nose. These markings add a sexual aggressiveness to his ‘othered’ facade; however, one would argue that it is his whiteness and lack of education which makes him belligerent, specifically in relation to the Māori people in this text. Rather ideologically, they display a naïve innocence which encourages the idea of Pākehā as the savage. Neill and Keitel give outstanding performances as the uptight Stewart and outsider Baines, men who conform and subvert type/expectation as much as the females in the diegesis. It is, however, Holly Hunter’s film. An accomplished pianist, she played all musical pieces and, allegedly, insisted upon communicating through sign language on and off set as the film was made. In fact save for Ada and her ‘mind’s voice’ at the film’s commencement and end, one forgets Hunter can really talk at all.
While The Piano can be described as a Gothic melodrama or Art film, at its narrative heart it depicts a mother-daughter relationship, offers up ideas of the absent father and draws parallels not only with the play within it: Bluebeard (Charles Perrault) but Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) in its portrayal of a female who leaves home and enters a new world dominated by a male figure. It deals with concepts of freedom, affronting destiny, definition of the self, re-birth and the sexual-political appropriation of ambiguities. It showcases the directorial talent of ‘Kiwi’ Campion and her cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh who insist upon giving the audience a distinctive, sexually provocative spectacle; a sumptuous production which depicts the uneasiness of the New Zealand landscape with authenticity and, even occasional, mirth. The Piano remains a gorgeous and enigmatic masterpiece, one which continues to get better with age.