Because no English dub release was available for this review, the gist of Lamberto Bava's own variation of Nikolai Gogol's story “Viy” is limited to what was gleaned from the Italian version, neither of which is currently available as a Region 1 DVD.
More of an ode to the various film versions of “Viy” (plus Gogol's own prose), the younger Bava's film is very much an example of late-eighties Euro-horror: heavy synth music (surprisingly above-average, courtesy of Simon Boswell), new wave colour schemes (plenty of reds, neon greens and blues), Bava's own emphasis on transformation scenes, and his exploitation of an isolated, otherworldly setting - in this case, an abandoned monastery, smothered by centuries-old snow and ice.
These elements recall Bava's earlier Demoni / Demons (1985), which had a group of similarly annoying youths trapped in a building, possessed by nasty spirits, and overcome by demonic creatures. Demoni was a classic B-movie in structure and indulgences (nudity, gore, and pulsating music), but it also meandered for long stretches before a showdown between good and evil brought the film to a close or sorts.
From Mario Bava's 1960 film, Lamberto Bava borrowed the premise of a witch who exacts revenge after lying in stasis, along with the metal nail-studded mask that was sledgehammered onto her face, but the witch's resurrection and the possession of the youths hark back to his Demoni diptych, including scenes of evisceration (here mostly applied to the witch's priestly tormentor, a character also borrowed from the elder Bava's film, albeit here as either a ghost from the past, or reincarnated as an initially blind character – the exact identity blurred by the lack of any English subtitles in the version reviewed here.)
From a plotting standpoint, it's intriguing to see how Lamberto Bava fused the aforementioned elements from his father's film; the physical disintegration of a former house of worship, as beautifully designed for the 1967 Russian version of Viy; and from Gogol's tale, the series of night assaults that test the hero: as his friends are re-possessed, the hero is forced to defend himself with increasing fervor, and protect his girlfriend (Deborah Caprioglio, Klaus Kinski's former wife, in her lackluster film debut), from the persistent witch – an aspect borrowed from the elder Bava's film.
The problem with this new version resides in the long repetitive sequences of possession that kick-start multiple chases throughout the monastery, and indulgent scenes of copulations and boobery that are both ridiculous, and dull. It all seems to lead up to a formal union between hero and witch after the latter's efforts to trick him into a big screwfest, and an apocalyptic finale that has the hero plop the mask (an eighties-style, chrome-plated hockey mask, to boot) back onto the witch, ending the whole shenanigans.
Like the second half of Demoni 2, it's all a muddle, and probably one that couldn't be improved with English subs or a dub track, although fans of Lamberto Bava's stylistic fixations might regard his “Viy” hybrid as a minor classic in his canon; the characters, slimy red-hued gore, trick effects, and bursts of periodic, sweeping camera movements create a distinct world wherein the characters are tightly locked in, but without much of a script and wafer-thin characters you wish would get killed with some regularity over the film's length, it's a forgettable effort to fuse regal cinematic and literary antecedents into disposable drive-in fodder.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan