BABA YAGA (1973)
All commentary below by Dustin Acton (2006).
Witch powers: can control sexual desire, can turn people into dolls, can enchant cameras.
While walking home from a party in Italy, our heroine Valentina discovers a dog surrounded by candles in the middle of street. After saving it, a car nearly runs her over and a woman clad in black steps out and offers Valentina a ride. Once inside the car, the woman, whose name is Baba Yaga, explains that the meeting has been preordained. In a bizarre twist, she steals one of Valentina’s garter belts so that she can have a personal object to remember her by. Later that night, Valentina dreams that she is led by a group of Nazis to a giant hole in the ground. After taking off her underwear, she jumps in.
Valentina is visited at her photography studio the next day by Baba Yaga, who returns her garter belt. After inviting Valentina to her house, Baba Yaga casts a spell on the Valentina’s camera and then leaves. Later Valentina’s model arrives and the two begin a nude photo session, but when Valentina attempts to take a picture the model collapses, the victim of Baba Yaga’s curse. Similar to the superstition that photographs steal a person’s soul, being caught within the lens of Valentina’s cursed camera causes people to enter mysterious comas. For some reason Valentina doesn’t make the connection, however, and visits Baba Yaga’s house the next day, where she is told to explore and take photographs of anything she desires. Moving upstairs, Valentina discovers an attic filled with whips and chains, as well as a small doll decked out in bondage gear. Downstairs, Baba Yaga manipulates a plate of runes and causes Valentina to enter a state of sexual frenzy, which causes her to collapse on the floor.
Later, Valentina takes the bondage doll home and develops the photos she has taken, only to discover that all the whips and chains have mysteriously disappeared. After a dream in which she has a boxing match with Jesus, Valentina again attempts to photograph a model. This time the bondage doll apparently turns out the lights and pricks the female model with a hair pin, which sends her into a coma. Valentina and her boyfriend then discover that every picture she has taken of the bondage doll is actually a picture of a mysterious naked woman. Valentina then has another strange nazi dream where Baba Yaga steals her camera. After waking up, Valentina goes to Baba Yaga’s house to get the camera back and is put under some sort of sexual spell and whipped by the bondage doll-girl (who may or may not be the model first put into a coma, I couldn’t tell). Her boyfriend comes to save her setting up the final showdown in which Baba Yaga falls down a conveniently placed hole and dies. In the final moments, the police arrive and say that the building has been deserted for years. Duh duh duh.
I rented this film expecting it to be about the Baba Yaga of Russian folklore, who lived in a house built on chicken legs and flew around the world in a mortar and pestle, only to find out that it’s apparently based on a Italian comic book instead. While this movie is somewhat slow and dull, what is interesting is trying to understand the thought processes that go behind it. Here the traditional matriarchy vs. patriarchy conflict of modern witch lore is compounded by the fact that the titular witch is a lesbian, exposing homophobia not only within the movie but possibly within the very concept of a witch as well. Here, witches represent a double threat to masculine patriarchy, as they not only wish lust for power power but also other women as well, effectively striking out the male population. On a lesser note, the film also features two of the most bizarre motifs I have ever seen in a motion picture: the eroticization of nazis and the frequent jumping/falling in holes which I can only assume is a metaphor for either lesbianism or simply vaginas in general (it sounds weird but trust me, there’s a high level of sexual symbolism in this movie). As to what the Nazis are doing here, I have no idea. Perhaps nazis and fascism were taboo and therefore erotic in Italy when this was made? Either way, the only real interest this film contains is the homophobic “lesbians as witches” angle.