The Films of Mario Bava
Black Sunday (November 4/07)
Though the movie opens with a very effective (and surprisingly brutal) flashback sequence, Black Sunday inevitably establishes itself as a melodramatic, thoroughly overwrought horror flick that's aged incredibly poorly in the years since its 1960 release. Set almost entirely within the confines of an ornate castle, the film revolves around the efforts of a centuries-old witch (Barbara Steele's Princess Asa) to possess the body of a modern descendent (also played by Steele). Director Mario Bava has infused Black Sunday with a tremendously evocative sense of style that's clearly the one bright spot within the proceedings, and there's little doubt that Bava's stark, gothic visuals have inspired a myriad of contemporary filmmakers. It's not quite enough, however, to excuse the mediocrity of the movie's various other elements, as there's ultimately nothing here that works (especially not the dreadful dubbing, which only exacerbates the script's emphasis on laughably absurd bits of dialogue).
Erik the Conqueror
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (February 1/08)
As expected, The Girl Who Knew Too Much has been infused with a compelling and thoroughly memorable sense of style that's ultimately revealed as the one bright spot within a film that's otherwise fairly interminable. Leticia Roman stars as Nora Davis, an American tourist who finds herself caught up in a series of bloody killings mere hours after arriving in Rome. Along with a friendly doctor (John Saxon's Marcello Bassi), Nora begins looking into the crimes and investigating the various suspects - though it's not long before she herself becomes a target of the killer. Director and co-writer Mario Bava punctuates the proceedings with a number of individually fascinating sequences - including an early set-piece in which Nora inadvertently stumbles onto a murder in progress - and yet it's impossible to deny the ineffectiveness of the mystery that lies at the heart of the movie (ie it's simply not interesting in the slightest). Exacerbating matters is the presence of an underdeveloped and downright bland central character, as Roman - though a competent actress - proves utterly unable to transform Nora into a figure worthy of the viewer's interest. The escalating emphasis on superfluous elements - including a headache-inducing gallery of suspects - ensures that The Girl Who Knew Too Much never quite lives up to the promise of that aforementioned stand-alone sequence, though fans of Bava's lush visual sensibilities will likely find it easier to overlook the film's various faults.
With Black Sabbath, Mario Bava offers up a trilogy of sporadically chilling yet ultimately ineffective horror tales that will surely delight his fans and frustrate his detractors. Hosted by Boris Karloff (who also takes a role in one of the stories), the film's three segments - The Telephone, The Wurdalak, and The Drop of Water - have been infused with precisely the sort of over-the-top, almost garish visual sensibility one has come to expect from Bava. The filmmaker's use of vibrant colors and ornate sets admittedly lends the proceedings a lush feel, although there's simply no overlooking the broad, downright campy vibe that ensues as a result of it. That being said, Black Sabbath generally comes off better than one might've expected - with the inclusion of several genuinely chilling moments certainly playing a key role in the movie's extremely mild success. And while there's no clear winner among the trio of tales - despite the fact that The Telephone has clearly inspired Scream's infamous opening scene - the film's emphasis on downbeat finales ensures that, at the very least, each story ends on a far more effective note than anything that preceded it.
The Whip and the Flesh
Blood and Black Lace
The Road to Fort Alamo
Planet of the Vampires
Knives of the Avenger (February 5/08)
Saddled with a glacial pace and an overall air of pointlessness, Knives of the Avenger instantly establishes itself as a particularly ineffective entry within director Mario Bava's increasingly underwhelming filmography. The convoluted plot follows a disgraced Viking warrior (Cameron Mitchell's Rurik) as he attempts to atone for an unwarranted pillaging by helping the wife and son of a former enemy, though - as expected - it's not long before Rurik's violent past catches up to him. Knives of the Avenger's woeful inability to draw the viewer into the story proves to be the least of its problems, as the film has also been saddled with laughable performances, chintzy sets, and overwrought bursts of dialogue. Even the fight sequences, ordinarily the one bright spot within a movie of this ilk, come off as shockingly dull and static, with the various opponents lumbering about the screen with all the grace of Frankenstein's monster. The colossally incompetent vibe will undoubtedly turn off all but the most ardent Bava follower, and one ultimately can't help but wonder just what drew the famed filmmaker to this seemingly irredeemable project.
Kill, Baby... Kill!
Kill, Baby... Kill! casts Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Paul Eswai, a doctor who arrives in a small village to investigate the unusual death of a young woman. Along with a local inspector (Piero Lulli's Kruger), Paul eventually discovers that a malevolent ghost has been terrorizing the town's citizens for years - leaving the doctor with little choice but to solve the mystery behind said ghost. Though the movie opens with an admittedly effective sequence - the aforementioned young woman reluctantly jumps onto a spiked fence - Kill, Baby... Kill! ultimately establishes itself as a typically underwhelming effort from director Mario Bava. The filmmaker's penchant for striking visuals and fluid camerawork remains the most overtly positive element within his work, yet - this time around - one can't help but question his relentless use of the zoom lens (it becomes distracting after a certain point). And while the deliberate pace hardly comes as a surprise - Bava's inability (or flat-out refusal) to infuse his work with a brisk sensibility is legendary - the sluggishness with which the story progresses only exacerbates the film's many problems. It's a shame, really, as the few genuinely creepy moments within Kill, Baby... Kill! are inevitably rendered moot by the influx of deficiencies.
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
Five Dolls for an August Moon (March 20/14)
Five Dolls for an August Moon follows a handful of interchangeable characters as they arrive on a small island to frolic and take it easy, with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that a murderer is knocking off the revelers one by one. Mario Bava has infused Five Dolls for an August Moon with exactly the sort of nonsensical feel that one has come to expect from the filmmaker, with the movie's style-over-substance atmosphere compounded by a surfeit of one-dimensional protagonists and a storyline that couldn't possibly be less developed (ie things just seem to happen for no rhyme or reason). There's little doubt, then, that one's efforts at embracing the thin narrative fall flat on an all-too-consistent basis, and it's clear that Bava himself is struggling to pad out the film's brief yet endless running time. (How else to explain the many, many shots of characters enjoying themselves?) Even the mystery, which should have been a rare highlight here, isn't able to alleviate the pervasively tedious vibe, as the viewer's inability to distinguish between the various characters makes it impossible to care about the killer's identity. (And, of course, it goes without saying that the reveal of the perpetrator is nothing short of comically anti-climactic.) It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what Bava set out to accomplish with this incoherent mess, although the film's failure is hardly a surprise given the director's uniformly underwhelming body of work.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack
A Bay of Blood (October 21/11)
A typically useless effort from Mario Bava, A Bay of Blood follows several depraved characters as they attempt to get their hands on a large inheritance after an heiress is killed by her husband - with the film detailing the carnage as the protagonists begin knocking each other off. It's a seemingly foolproof premise that's employed to consistently (and aggravatingly) unwatchable effect by Bava, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a pervasively low-rent vibe that's reflected in, among others things, the amateurish performances, laughable dubbing, and dated visuals. (The latter is especially disappointing, as Bava's direction is usually the one bright spot within his otherwise lackluster films.) There's little doubt that the wafer-thin storyline grows increasingly problematic as time progresses, with Bava's ongoing attempts at padding out the movie's running time - eg the interminable exploits of four random hippies - inevitably ensuring that the film, for the most part, comes off as a seriously oppressive piece of work. And although a few of the kill sequences are admittedly quite well done and appreciatively brutal, A Bay of Blood is simply unable to hold viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time - with the film's final insult arriving in the form of a preposterous and downright stupid shock ending.
Four Times That Night (June 29/12)
A seriously underwhelming sex comedy, Four Times That Night follows Brett Halsey's Gianni and Daniela Giordano's Tina as they meet-cute at a park one afternoon and subsequently agree to go out on a date later that evening - with the film ultimately detailing the pair's encounter from four different perspectives. It's an interesting gimmick, to be sure, yet the movie, directed by Mario Bava, has been hard-wired with a hopelessly dull and terminally pointless feel that renders its marginally positive attributes moot. The Rashomon-like narrative initially compensates for the otherwise stagnant atmosphere, as Bava and scripters Mario Moroni and Carl Ross admittedly have some fun with the shifting perspectives afforded by the differing recollections of what actually happened (eg in Tina's telling of the tale, Gianni comes off as a sex-crazed maniac who says things like "I'm a wild man with turbo hormones!") There's little doubt, however, that Four Times That Night runs out of steam long before it reaches the halfway mark, with the film's rampant silliness compounded by a screenplay that makes less and less sense as time progresses (eg the third account, delivered by Gianni's doorman, contains information to which the storyteller couldn't possibly have been privy and even includes a flashback!) It is, as a result, virtually impossible to care once the truth has been revealed, and the movie is, by and large, yet another total misfire from an inexplicably revered filmmaker.
Lisa and the Devil