Posts Tagged ‘Mario Bava’

In honor of my daughter’s recent graduation with a B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University (magna cum laude, I might add), I have dipped into the archives of the Bradley Video Library to excavate a smattering of films with academic settings or themes.  I’ve omitted the Hammer films Fear in the Night, Lust for a Vampire, and The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own), each of them covered in an installment of my multi-part post “If I Had a Hammer,” so as not to be too repetitious.

The Beguiled:  One of five films in which The GREAT Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood, the best known of which is the original Dirty Harry (made that same year), this shows that as far back as 1971, Clint was interested in doing something out of the ordinary, a trait that’s enhanced his own directorial career as well.  Here, he’s a wounded Yankee solider, given refuge by the man-hungry inhabitants of a Southern girls’ school, whom he thinks he can easily wrap around his finger—but he learns differently, in a macabre and surprising finish.

Bunny Lake Is Missing:  Otto Preminger’s willfully offbeat film was adapted from a novel by Evelyn Piperas was Hammer’s The Nannyby John and Penelope Mortimer (he of Rumpole fame).  Carol Lynley is a transplanted American who says her young daughter disappeared on her first day at an English school, although evidence increasingly suggests she may never have existed; Laurence Olivier underplays beautifully as the police inspector; Keir Dullea is her devoted brother; Noël Coward is her twisted landlord; and Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond and sister of Daniel, later to appear opposite Dullea in Richard Matheson’s ill-fated De Sade) is the headmistress.

Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? (What Have You Done to Solange?, aka Who Killed Solange?, Solange, Who’s Next?, Das Geheimnis der Grünen Stecknadel [The Secret of the Green Pins], The School That Couldn’t Scream, Terror in the Woods):  Given that this film is filled with naked girls, and concerns a school-based serial killer who puts very large knives into a very unpleasant place (which, given the eventual solution, is less gratuitous than it might be), the last thing one would expect is that it would be dull.  But Massimo Dallamano proves yet again that, although he reportedly came up with Sergio Leone’s signature widescreen closeup as he was photographing the first two films in the Dollars Trilogy, he’s no director.  Adding to that is the fact that the protagonist is very unsympathetic; with the pivotal title character dragged in out of left field about two-thirds of the way through to provide a motive, this is a minor giallo, indeed.

Ladybug, Ladybug:  Independent director Frank Perry and his then-wife, screenwriter Eleanor Perry, crafted this Cold War tale about the effects of a threatened nuclear attack on the students and faculty of a rural school, with William Daniels (unforgettable as John Adams in 1776), Nancy Marchand, and Estelle Parsons in a bit part among the largely star-free cast.  Sobering stuff and sadly so timely today.  It should be noted that the previous year, the Perrys gave Dullea one of his earliest and most acclaimed screen roles in the breakthrough independent hit David and Lisa, adapted from the case history of a couple who fall in love at a school for disturbed youths.

Lord Love a Duck:  I found this black comedy written and directed by George Axelrod, the screenwriter of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, to be entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying, most likely because it lacks a solid storyline.  Instead, it’s a scattershot satire of contemporary life with some neat ideas (e.g., a drive-in church) and a good cast headed by Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld.  A young Harvey Korman is quite memorable as the wacky high school principal.

Lycanthropus (aka Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory, I Married a Werewolf, Bei Vollmond Mord, Monster Among the Girls, The Ghoul in School, Ghoul in a Girls’ Dormitory):  This characteristically atmospheric but decidedly low-key Euro-horror outing is most interesting when considered in context.  It’s from screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (aka Julian Berry), who according to Wikipedia “has collaborated with Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Riccardo Freda, Tonino Valerii, Sergio Martino and Sergio Leone, [and] as such…can be regarded as a chief architect of the giallo and [spaghetti] Western film,” and Paolo Heusch, the nominal director of La Morte Viene dallo Spazio (Death Comes from Space, aka The Day the Sky Exploded), which Bava photographed and reportedly co- (or actually) directed.  The unusually convoluted plot involves not only the titular werewolf (who, if I’m not mistaken, never actually gets inside said dorm in his hairy form, although there are plenty of [sadly non-titillating] scenes set there) but also multiple whodunits, a deformed and sinister groundskeeper (Peter Lorre lookalike Luciano Pigozzi [aka Alan Collins], who appeared in the Gastaldi-scripted La Frusta e il Corpo and several other Bava films), and blackmail.  Just for good measure, the interiors were filmed in an actual castle that was also used for La Frusta e il Corpo and La Danza Macabre.  Curt Lowens, who plays the director of the school, looks and—in the dubbed version—sounds uncannily like Noel Willman from Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire and The Reptile.  Don’t expect many fireworks.

Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn):  Notwithstanding George Baxt’s controversial claims to have rewritten it substantially, this is one of Matheson’s best films, and marked his only big-screen collaboration with friend and fellow Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont.  Based on Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (filmed earlier with Lon Chaney, Jr., as one of Universal’s Inner Sanctum mysteries, Weird Woman), it concerns a college professor (Peter Wyngarde) whose wife and colleagues are using magic to help and hurt his career, respectively.  Directed by Sidney Hayers, as were Baxt’s Circus of Horrors and Payroll.  As a side note, Matheson also adapted his story “One for the Books,” in which a college janitor becomes the unwitting—and unwilling—recipient of alien-infused knowledge, as an episode of Amazing Stories.

La Residencia (The Boarding School, aka The Finishing School, The House That Screamed):  This is an unusual, if at times overwrought, Spanish horror film set in a French school for “difficult” girls run by Lilli Palmer.  John Moulder Brown is her teenaged son, who understandably finds the students of interest but is urged by Lilli to wait until he can have “a woman like me”—advice that, unfortunately, he takes all too literally.  Given the film’s European origins and its none too subtle thematic threads of sexual repression, lesbianism, and sadism, it is not as explicit as you might think (or hope, as the case may be).  Trivia fans will note that the “body-building” plot element was used previously in the 1966 Chamber of Horrors and subsequently in May.

What’s the Matter with Helen?:  This may be pushing the “academic” criterion, but because its cast includes the late Yvette Vickers, I’ll let it slide.  Following How Awful About Allan, it’s the second collaboration between director Curtis Harrington and author/screenwriter Henry Farrell of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? fame.  Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds are the mothers of convicted killers who try to make a new start opening up a dancing school for kiddies in Depression-era Hollywood, but as usual in a Harrington film, the past comes back to haunt them, which sends Shelley around the bend.

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Another day, another title borrowed from Matheson—not that he coined the phrase or anything, but he did use it for a short story that he later adapted into a fun episode of Amazing Stories.  Be that as it may, John Kenneth Muir recently posted about the film and TV books he grew up with, and while the six years I have on John help explain the only partial overlap between his list and the one I’d compile, he makes some interesting observations about the treasured tomes that were our Bibles in the pre-Internet era.  For the record, our shared frame of reference consists of these:

  • Stephen King, Danse Macabre (although I did not acquire it until years after it was published)
  • Paul R. Gagne, The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero (where I first learned that Romero openly admitted I Am Legend inspired Night of the Living Dead)
  • John Stanley, Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again (I’ve owned several iterations of this periodically updated book, and what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in wit and breadth)

He also name-checks such mainstays as John Brosnan and Ed Naha, and mentions the books by my sometime mentor John McCarty, several of which I’d publicized at St. Martin’s Press.  Muir, you will recall, posted an incredibly generous review of Richard Matheson on Screen, and kindly cited me in this recent entry as one of those now writing quality books on the genre.  That makes up a little for the fact that—despite the recommendation of no lesser light than Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, whose book on Mario Bava is the envy of us all—RMOS wasn’t even nominated for the Rondo Award (for which The Twilight and Other Zones got an Honorable Mention in 2009).

My own almost-200-volume reference library of film and TV books is also a sore subject, for it suffered the most damage during our recent leakage.  Nine were soaked to one degree or another, and must be considered write-offs as actual possessions, although I will probably cling to them stubbornly for whatever bits of information might still be gleaned therein.  (Because most if not all are probably long out of print, I have to decide which are worth trying to replace.)  They are:

  • Williams, Lucy Chase, The Complete Films of Vincent Price
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II
  • —–,  Horror and Science Fiction Films III
  • —–, Horror and Science Fiction Films IV
  • Winter, Douglas E., Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror (which I value despite Winter’s doing me a disservice years ago)
  • Wolf, Leonard, Horror: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Literature and Film
  • Wright, Bruce Lanier, Nightwalkers: Gothic Horror Movies: The Modern Era
  • —–, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Golden Age of Science Fiction Movie Posters
  • Zicree, Marc Scott, The Twilight Zone Companion, second edition (autographed “To Matthew—in friendship—Richard Matheson.”  Son of a BITCH!)

Fortunately, only one of these, the earliest Willis volume (I never did get his first), would be on my own roster of formative texts, some of which are listed below.  For simplicity’s sake, I am restricting myself not only to Muir’s time frame of books published by the time I was 21, but also to those that made it into the bibliography for RMOS.  Mind you, not every one of these books is invaluable, and many were easily surpassed by the Phil Hardys of this world in later years, but they and others such as Carlos Clarens’s  Illustrated History of the Horror Film were virtually the only game in town when the genre enslaved me.

  • Baxter, John, Science Fiction in the Cinema: 1895-1970
  • Beck, Calvin Thomas, Heroes of the Horrors
  • —–, Scream Queens: Heroines of the Horrors
  • Bojarski, Richard, and Kenneth Beals, The Films of Boris Karloff
  • Brosnan, John, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction
  • —–, The Horror People
  • Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film
  • Eyles, Allen, Robert Adkinson, and Nicholas Fry, editors, The House of Horror: The Story of Hammer Films
  • Gifford, Denis, Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies
  • —–, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
  • Glut, Donald F., The Dracula Book
  • Johnson, William, editor, Focus on the Science Fiction Film
  • Lee, Walt, Reference Guide to Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror (3 volumes)
  • Lentz, Harris M. III, Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film and Television Credits (2 volumes)
  • Meyers, Richard, S-F 2: A Pictorial History of Science Fiction Films From “Rollerball” to “Return of the Jedi”
  • Naha, Ed, The Films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget
  • Pirie, David, The Vampire Cinema
  • Weldon, Michael, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
  • Willis, Donald C., Horror and Science Fiction Films II

The Horror People probably had the greatest impact on me, because it’s the first time I remember seeing the creators of these films—including a guy named Matheson—actually interviewed, which led indirectly to my own attempts to get them down in their own words.  Baxter’s book is oft-mentioned on the Outer-Limits-a-day blog We Are Controlling Transmission (about which more tomorrow) as one of the first to treat genre television with some of the same respect as SF cinema.  Despite being little more than a glorified checklist, Lee’s was a landmark work of scholarship, and Lentz’s was a godsend to a guy who had been frantically dictating movie credits into his tape recorder for transcription on 3” x 5” index cards.

I remember drawing heavily on Beck’s books when the future Madame BOF and I were pining for each other at separate colleges (if memory serves me correctly, her very strict parents allowed us a grand total of one visit in each direction during the whole four years) and, just for fun, I sent her a “correspondence course” in certain aspects of genre history.  Weldon’s was a late addition but revelatory for the more, yes, “psychotronic” entries.  A final recollection:  when Horror[s] of Malformed Men gained some notoriety on its DVD release a few years ago, I remember with pride that I was the only one in my little circle who had ever heard of it, thanks to the single still reproduced in Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Addendum:  Here’s the nice VideoScope review of RMOS in its entirety.


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The Park Is His

I’m posting live from our annual year-end festive holiday Movie Night, now in our Host with the Most’s new Ozone Park digs.  Even on our first visit here a couple of months ago, he had already comfortably made the setting his own, down to the last spaghetti Western poster and neon Molson sign.  Having established it almost literally from the ground up, he has left his delightful and distinctive stamp all over it, which is well to the good for those lucky few who are honored with an invitation.

We’re kicking off with one that I know will please my friend Fred, Blood and Lace, which brings back voluminous memories of the 4:00 afternoon movie on channel 9 in my youth.  It has the lurid sleaziness I so readily associate with WOR-TV, one of the qualities that distinguished a given independent from another back in the day.  It also marked one of those unfortunate latter-day roles for a fading leading lady, in this case Gloria Grahame, whom I’ve never particularly liked, especially after seeing this film before her earlier vehicles.

We’re kind of a skeleton crew tonight, just Tom, my main man Gilbert and myself, three out of a possible six Musketeers, some of whom we hope will be able to join us for a January redo.  As always, this particular mix is an especially congenial one, and we’re looking forward to some exciting programming:  Blood Freak, Night of the Juggler, Tarkan vs. the Vikings and/or The Big Lebowski are all on the list, depending on what we get around to and what other ideas present themselves in the meantime.  Many a memorable Movie Night viewing experience has sprung from just such an “Aha!” moment, like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Tom’s asked me to include his joke:  “Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a remake of Blood and Lace with an all-black cast.”

Tarkan is apparently some sort of Turkish Conan rip-off, straight from the bottom of the barrel, but with no basis of comparison (other than a partial and largely forgotten viewing of its DVD co-feature, The Deathless Devil, some time ago), I can’t say whether or not it’s typical of Turkish cinema, be it genre or otherwise.  “If nothing else, it’s at least enthusiastic,” opines Tom in between howls of laughter at some over-the-top scene.  The bizarro sound effects and plagiarized soundtrack would of themselves be amusing, blaring from an ear-level speaker as I pen these words, grateful to be here after an arduous three-and-a-half-hour trip, almost as long as it takes to get to Cornell.

Add to that list of things for which I am grateful:  the prospect of some down- and/or viewing time with my daughter, who will get a break from distinguishing herself in multiple fields, be they academic or artistic.  I’m so proud of that kid I could bust, and I don’t care who knows it, especially mindful of how lucky I am to have a college-age daughter who still likes to hang out with her old man, thank God.  I don’t think anything will ever change that, however important anybody else in her life may be…my Maudlin Man persona asserts itself even as cuts from 2001 and Morricone bleed forth from the screen.

We’ve just had a character “killed” by the phoniest FX octopus since Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, but without poor Lugosi to wrestle it to a draw, reminding me of the low-end Lugosi titles seen in the 50-horror-film boxed set Tom recently lent us.  Proving my point once again, they’ve just stolen one of John Barry’s tracks from You Only Live Twice, which I know intimately since I own the damn soundtrack, one of his better ones (and that’s saying a lot).  Meanwhile, in terms of the trip itself, at best it’s a schlepp and at worst it’s a headache, but being here is always, always eminently worth it at the literal and metaphoric end of the day.

Blood Freak, believe it or not, has the thinnest of Matheson connections when one character compares her situation to an episode of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone, two series to which he contributed.  The movie has far more than its share of screaming, and some cheesy gruesome low-budget effects, but its papier-mache turkey-head monster is unforgettable, as is the loopy plot, in which leading man and co-director Steve Hawkes mutates from eating Frankenfood. This lurid narrative is periodically punctuated by hilarious scenes of co-director/narrator Brad Grinter lecturing us about the evils of drug use…while chain-smoking behind a studio desk.

At this point, Tom slips me a Mickey by interpolating Antonio Margheriti’s (aka Anthony M. Dawson) Cannibal Apocalypse, but I take one for the team, especially since I did interview pleasant and patient star John Saxon for Filmfax several years ago regarding that and other roles.  The gore is legendary and the story familiar from various Romeroesque films, especially those of the Italian model, but the overall level of quality is average at best.  In my opinion, Margheriti did much better on his two films with Barbara Steele, Danse Macabre (aka Terror Castle) and The Long Hair of Death.

Well, we’re going to treat (?) ourselves to viewing some of my musical Movie Night performances.  Bradley out.

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Concluding our eclectic selection of Boris Karloff credits from the Bradley Video Library catalog…

The Devil Commands (1941):  HUAC name-dropper Edward Dmytryk directed this misleadingly titled coda to Karloff’s “Mad Doctor” series (see The Ape in our previous installment).  Based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water, it concerns a scientist who establishes that human brain waves can be recorded, and are unique (like fingerprints), just before his wife is killed in a car crash. When Boris’s machinery picks up her distinctive waves after death, he launches an all-out effort to contact her spirit beyond the grave, and is immediately dismissed as a nut-job by his colleagues, daughter, and associate/future son-in-law.  So he sets up shop in an isolated cliff-top mansion, joined by a shady spiritualist, a snooping housekeeper, and an employee whose brain was partially cooked by a previous experiment.  Although strictly speaking science fiction, this programmer is filmed in a gothic-horror manner, complete with Dark Shadows-style narration by the daughter—who, alas, probably could not have known about some of the events she relates.  Sadly, Boris’s habit of stealing corpses from the local boneyard (since for some odd reason he needs to have dead people hooked up to his gizmo in order to contact other ones) draws the attention of the sheriff, with predictable results.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947):  An utterly routine (albeit mercifully brief) comic-strip programmer, notable only for the presence of Karloff as the titular villain.

Thriller (1960-62):  Having already covered this series in some detail, I’ll merely enumerate a few highlights besides “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” adapted by Richard Matheson from the short story by H.P. Lovecraft protégé August Derleth and Mark Schorer.  They include the atmospheric “Pigeons from Hell,” also directed by John Newland and based on a story by Conan creator Robert E. Howard; four other episodes based on stories by Derleth, written either with Schorer (“The Incredible Doktor Markeson,” an especially creepy episode in which Karloff stars as well as hosts) or without (“Mr. George,” “Trio for Terror,” “A Wig for Miss Devore”), sometimes using his Stephen Grendon pseudonym; an adaptation of Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” also with Boris; three based on works by Cornell Woolrich (“Guillotine” [adapted by Charles Beaumont], “Papa Benjamin,” “Late Date”); Beaumont’s other, inferior episode, “Girl With a Secret”; and a whopping ten written and/or based on works by Robert Bloch (“The Cheaters,” “The Grim Reaper” [starring William Shatner], “The Devil’s Ticket,” “The Weird Tailor,” “Waxworks,” “The Hungry Glass” [also with Shatner], “’Til Death Do Us Part,” “A Good Imagination,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” “Man of Mystery”), two of which were remade in his Amicus anthology films.

The Raven (1963):  Extrapolating from “The Black Cat,” the successful comic segment of their Poe anthology film Tales of Terror, director Roger Corman and screenwriter Matheson went all-out in this comedy; Matheson left the series afterward, saying he couldn’t take the films seriously any more.  Featuring Peter Lorre in the title role, Karloff (appearing in his second film allegedly based on Poe’s poem) bemused by Lorre’s ad-libs, the obligatory Vincent Price, the heavenly Hazel Court (who rejoined Corman and Price on Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death the next year), and a very young Jack Nicholson as the dubious—in every sense—hero, Rexford.

The Comedy of Terrors (1963):  Written by Matheson and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur, this is a black comedy about unscrupulous undertakers who drum up business the hard way, with veteran horror stars Price, Lorre, Karloff, and—carried over from Tales of Terror—Basil Rathbone.  Originally slated to play the more athletic role of Price’s acerbic landlord, which ultimately went to the ironically older Rathbone, Karloff has a hilarious scene in which he delivers a rambling funeral oration, complete with every imaginable synonym for the word “coffin.”

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Again, I won’t belabor this anthology horror film, having discussed it in multiple posts devoted to director Mario Bava, but it would be a shame to omit it.  As with Thriller, Karloff hosts and stars in one segment, effectively playing a Russian vampire opposite Mark (House of Usher) Damon in “The Wurdalak.”  Sadly, you won’t hear his voice in the uncut Italian version, only in the one re-edited by the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP.  The other segments are “The Drop of Water,” as a ghost reclaims a ring stolen by a greedy woman, and “The Telephone,” in which a girl is stalked by her ex-lover.

The Sorcerers (1967):  One of three films (the others being La Sorella di Satana and Witchfinder General) on which the reputation of Michael Reeves rests; his early death of an alcohol and drug overdose ensured a kind of James Dean fame for the British director.  Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as an elderly couple who invent a machine with which they can share the sensations of, and ultimately control the actions of, a disaffected youth played by Reeves’s perennial lead, Ian Ogilvy.

La Camara del Terror (The Fear Chamber, 1968):  One of four Mexican horror films for which Karloff shot footage (in L.A., I believe) shortly before his death; behind-the-scenes machinations altered some of the resulting pictures from their original conceptions.  Hard to imagine what they had in mind for this one, which as it stands is an incoherent mishmash about scientists using blood from frightened girls to fire up a living, power-hungry rock.  At least, I think that’s what it’s about…

Targets (1968):  Peter Bogdanovich’s first and probably best film (I’m not a fan; it’s mercifully unlike his other work), this stars Karloff as an aging actor who feels his Hollywood horrors can no longer compete with real life, and Bogdanovich as a young guy who chats up oldtime filmmakers (quite a stretch for both!).  Proving his point, a seemingly mild-mannered young man suddenly goes on a killing spree, eventually konfronting Karloff (sorry, too much Famous Monsters of Filmland in my youth) at a drive-in screening of one of his films—in reality, The Terror, made by Pete’s sometime mentor, Corman.

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Mario Bava

On the occasion of his 96th birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Best known as a director for his seminal Italian horror films, Mario Bava (1914-80) was also a celebrated cinematographer—like his father, Eugenio—and dabbled memorably in the SF genre in both capacities. The father of another prolific horror director, Lamberto (who assisted Mario from 1965 on), Bava was trained as a painter, and began his filmmaking career in 1939.

Bava shot Ennio de Concini’s breakthrough pepla (sword and sandal films), Le Fatiche di Ercole (The Labors of Hercules, aka Hercules; 1958) and Ercole e la Regina di Lidia (Hercules and the Queen of Lydia, aka Hercules Unchained; 1959). He also served as the uncredited co-director on two films he was photographing for Riccardo Freda, which blended elements of horror and SF.

I Vampiri (The Vampires, aka The Devil’s Commandment, Lust of the Vampire; 1956) told of a modern-day Elizabeth Bathory kept youthful by transfusions from unwilling women. Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale (Caltiki, the Immortal Monster; 1959) was a Mayan “god” discovered in a cave by treasure-hunting archaeologists, a flesh-eating blob that is ultimately unleashed in Mexico City.

In between, Bava photographed Paolo Heusch’s La Morte Viene dalla Spazio (Death Comes from Outer Space, aka The Day the Sky Exploded; 1958), in which an astronaut accidentally creates a climate-altering shower of asteroids that threatens the entire world. He must then persuade all the nations of the Earth to unite, using their atomic arsenals to blow the asteroids out of the atmosphere.

Bava’s skill at salvaging Freda’s films and another peplum he had photographed for Galatea with Steve Reeves, Jacques Tourneur’s La Battaglia di Maratona (aka The Giant of Marathon, 1959), led the studio to offer him carte blanche on his official directorial debut. (Freda reportedly urged them along by deliberately abandoning Caltiki in midstream, thus allowing Bava to strut his stuff.)

Said debut, La Maschera del Demonio (The Mask of the Demon, aka Black Sunday; 1960), was based on Nikolai Gogol’s “The Vij,” and remains unsurpassed. It launched the career of Italy’s “scream queen,” British-born Barbara Steele, who was unforgettable as 200-year-old vampire witch Asa and her look-alike descendant, Princess Katia, but with whom Bava sadly never worked again.

Through 1977, Bava directed almost two dozen features in various genres, leaving a unique visual stamp on each, and sometimes prefiguring an entire subgenre. He photographed and/or co-wrote many of his films (often without credit), working miracles of style over substance on limited budgets, and was the first to admit that the scripts foisted upon him were occasionally beyond help.

Bava’s own peplum, Ercole al Centro della Terra (Hercules in the Center of the Earth, aka Hercules in the Haunted World; 1961), lacked Reeves as Hercules, but compensated with abundant atmosphere and Christopher Lee as the vampiric villain, Lico. Lee returned opposite Daliah Lavi in La Frusta e il Corpo (The Whip and the Body, aka What; 1963), one of Bava’s finest horror films.

La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, aka The Evil Eye; 1962) formed a clear template for the horrific crime thrillers known as gialli, popularized in the 1970s by Dario Argento. Another influential early giallo was Bava’s tale of a faceless, black-gloved serial killer, Sei Donne per l’Assassino (Six Women for the Murderer, aka Blood and Black Lace; 1964).

The latter starred Cameron Mitchell, as did the Viking epics Gli Invasori (The Invaders, aka Erik the Conqueror; 1961) and I Coltelli del Vendicatore (Knives of the Avenger, 1966). Bava was able to secure the services of a bigger name, Boris Karloff, to host and play a Russian vampire in his anthology horror film I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963).

Bava was less suited to such spaghetti Westerns as La Strada per Forte Alamo (The Road to Fort Alamo, 1964) and Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970). One of his efforts in this genre, Ringo del Nebraska (Ringo from Nebraska, aka Savage Gringo; 1966), was directed primarily by Bava but credited for legal reasons to Spanish director Anthony Roman (Antonio Román), whom he replaced.

Widely regarded as one of the unofficial inspirations for Alien (1979), Terrore Nello Spazio (Terror in Outer Space, aka Planet of the Vampires; 1965) was Bava’s most overt SF effort, yet its scenes of astronauts rising from their graves rivaled those in many a horror film. It concerns a pair of space crews who answer an interstellar distress call and are then taken over by alien intelligences.

Le Spie Vengono dal Semifreddo (The Spy Came from the Semi-Cold, aka Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs; 1966) brought back mad scientist Vincent Price from Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), now creating explosive female androids. SF elements also appeared in Diabolik (aka Danger: Diabolik; 1967), based on the comic strip about a thief who uses high-tech gadgetry.

Bava’s last period horror outing, Operazione Paura (Operation Fear, aka Kill, Baby…Kill!; 1966) had ravishing visuals that influenced no less a filmmaker than Federico Fellini. He continued to work in the genre, with Una Hacha para la Luna de Miel (Hatchet for the Honeymoon; 1969), as well as outside it, with the sex comedy Quante Volte…Quella Notte (Four Times That Night; 1969).

Bava disliked the script of Cinque Bambole per la Luna d’Agosto (Five Dolls for an August Moon; 1969), a rip-off of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Anticipating Friday the 13th (1980) and its ilk, the series of creative deaths in Reazione a Catena (Ecologia del Delitto) (Chain Reaction [Ecology of Crime], aka Bay of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve; 1971) seems almost his rebuttal.

Producer Alfredo Leone was so delighted with Bava’s work on Gli Orrori del Castello di Norimberga (aka Baron Blood; 1971) that he was once again given carte blanche. Using the same leading lady, Elke Sommer, Bava created Lisa e il Diavolo (Lisa and the Devil; 1972), a poetic and surrealistic horror film so unusual that—to his dismay—it proved initially impossible to distribute.

In the wake of The Exorcist (1973), Lisa had many of its scenes replaced with new material featuring Robert Alda as a priest exorcising Sommer, and was released as La Casa dell’Esorcismo (House of Exorcism; 1975). The original surfaced at last, but Semaforo Rosso (aka Cani Arrabbiati [Rabid Dogs]; 1974) stayed uncompleted and unreleased for decades because of financial problems.

Such disappointments plagued the end of Bava’s career, with his final feature, Shock (1977), being dumped on the U.S. market under the misleading title of Beyond the Door II; he also provided uncredited visual effects for Argento’s Inferno (1980). But he has left us with a rich legacy of splendid visuals, and a new generation is discovering his work on DVD, often in its intended forms.

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Concluding our look at genre films on New York’s three independent stations (WNEW, WPIX, and WOR) during my youth.

With its crudely animated but absolutely unforgettable six-fingered-hand title sequence, WPIX’s Chiller Theatre competed with WNEW’s Creature Features, although I don’t think they overlapped 100%; as I recall, Chiller started at 8:00, and I faced a crisis of conscience every Saturday at 8:30:  stay on channel 11 or, more often, switch to 5?  Two films I’m pretty sure I remember seeing on there were Mario Bava’s What (which I always imagined giving rise to any number of who’s-on-first jokes along the lines of, “You saw What?”) and The Crawling Eye, although the latter appears to have migrated to WOR at some point.  In fact, WPIX was an excellent source for Bava’s early works—Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, The Evil Eye—some of them still in glorious black and white.

WPIX showed the fewest genre films of the three and, perhaps as a result, seemed to have the least clearly defined identity in that capacity, despite the presence of a number of heavyweights.  Toho, for example, was well represented with Godzilla, King of the Monsters and several of its sequels, as well as Atragon and The Mysterians.  My records also indicate a boatload of Hammer films (The Brides of Dracula, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, The Curse of the Werewolf, Demons of the Mind, The Devil’s Bride, Fear in the Night, Five Million Years to Earth, The Nanny, The Phantom of the Opera, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Taste the Blood of Dracula), although I think many of those only debuted on WPIX in later years.

The Anglo-American oeuvre of producer Herman Cohen (Horrors of the Black Museum, How to Make a Monster, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Konga) straddled the Atlantic, while British-born Harry Alan Towers was an early master of international co-productions such as Against All Odds, The Brides of Fu Manchu, and Circus of Fear.  WPIX also offered films produced by Italy (Castle of the Living Dead, The Cat o’Nine Tails, Snow Devils), Spain (Cauldron of Blood, Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Graveyard of Horror), or both (Horror, Terror in the Crypt).  Sid Pink shot Journey to the Seventh Planet and Reptilicus in Denmark, while Gammera the Invincible and its sequels demonstrated that Toho did not have an exclusive on the kaiju eiga (giant monster) subgenre.

Last but not least, WOR was notable in a number of ways, including sheer quantity, with about as many genre offerings as the other two put together, a steady stream of which appeared on Fright Night and their Saturday-afternoon Science Fiction Theater.  The former aired at 1:00 on Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on your point of view, and was all too often joined “already in progress”—to my intense and enduring rage—due to sports (mostly Mets games, as I recall).  They also showed plenty of movies during the week, and their library included such BOF favorites as Colossus: The Forbin Project, Count Dracula, The Day of the Triffids, Horror Hotel, The Last Man on Earth, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Psycho, The Thing, and Village of the Damned.

WOR had a lock on the Universal classics from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and their many sequels to Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (the screenwriting debut of You-Know-Who) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy.  They also showcased Bela Lugosi’s work for lesser studios in The Ape Man, The Devil Bat, The Invisible Ghost, Scared to Death, Voodoo Man, White Zombie, and Zombies on Broadway.  And WOR’s parent company owned RKO, ensuring Thanksgiving Day screenings of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, as well as access to the Val Lewton canon (The Body Snatcher, Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Isle of the Dead).

The early black-and-white work of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth) and Bava’s later work in color (Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil) both aired on WOR.  So did that of Paul Naschy, the “Spanish Christopher Lee,” who starred in Assignment Terror, The Fury of the Wolfman, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Mummy’s Revenge, and Night of the Howling Beast.  Further cementing the station’s international credentials, it showcased a myriad of offerings from Toho, including The Human Vapor, King Kong Escapes, The Last War, Varan the Unbelievable, Yog—Monster from Space, and innumerable entries in their long-running Godzilla series.

Globally, in fact, WOR had no peer, with genre films from Germany (Creature with the Blue Hand), Italy (Battle of the Worlds, The Cursed Medallion, Lightning Bolt, Mission Stardust, The Murder Clinic, Next!, Screamers, The Secret of Dorian Gray, The She-Beast, War of the Planets, Yeti), Japan (The Evil Brain from Outer Space), Mexico (Attack of the Mayan Mummy, The Brainiac, The Curse of the Doll People, The Curse of the Stone Hand), the Philippines (Beast of the Dead, The Island of Living Horror, Tomb of the Living Dead, Vampire People), and Spain (A Bell from Hell, Fangs of the Living Dead, Horror Express, The House That Screamed, Marta, Murder Mansion, Night of the Sorcerers, Ship of Zombies, Witches Mountain).

Domestic output was hardly overlooked, including 1950s SF epics from producer George Pal (Conquest of Space, When Worlds Collide).  AIP cut a wide swath with films by Roger Corman (Creature from the Haunted Sea, Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Teenage Caveman), Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End, War of the Colossal Beast), Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), and Edward L. Cahn (Invasion of the Saucer Men).  Meanwhile, the mother country weighed in with smatterings from both Hammer (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Revenge of Frankenstein) and Amicus (Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., The Terrornauts, Torture Garden, The Mind of Mr. Soames).

But quantity does not always equate with quality, and another of WOR’s hallmarks was its high sleaze factor, which made me envision their headquarters as some squalid den of iniquity.  They featured bottom-of-the-barrel films by Al Adamson (Beyond the Living, The Creature’s Revenge, Man with the Synthetic Brain, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet), Larry Buchanan (Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Eye Creatures, In the Year 2889), and Del Tenney (Zombies).  And there were a few entries whose memories still give me the willies with their gore, grim atmospheres and/or grimy milieuxChildren Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Don’t Look in the Basement, The House of the Seven Corpses, Kiss of the Tarantula, and Silent Night, Bloody Night.

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Super Mario, Part II

Before I conclude my cursory examination of the great Mario Bava’s directorial career, here are some personal reminiscences from my Filmfax interview with John Saxon, who starred in Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much:  “I ran to make this film.  It was brought to me by the girl involved, Letícia Román, who was Letícia Novarese, the daughter of [costume designer Vittorio] Nino Novarese…I was told it was an art film.  ‘Do you want to do an art film?’  I said, ‘Oh, of course, yes, in Italy, wow!’  When I got the script, I thought, ‘This is no art film,’ but nevertheless, I wanted to go to Italy….In general, to me it was a vacation.  I couldn’t believe it.  In the United States…we worked a half day on Saturday, and if you ever finished the day’s work before the anticipated time, you know, if you finished at four, they would find some other scene for you to do on another soundstage….It was unbelievably funny.  There were times that—I remember Bava got pissed off at something one day and he said, ‘I’m going home.’  It was, like, lunchtime, and he went home, and everybody went home until they did what he said.  This was something that I never would have imagined even thinking of experiencing in the United States.”

“Personally, he was peculiar with me, I thought.  He would be alternately very, very friendly, like an uncle, and then every once in a while I could hear—I understood just enough Italian; I learned quite a bit that year, because I stayed on—he would say things that were kind of sarcastic about me, and I thought, ‘What’s the matter here?  What’s going on?’  I only discovered much, much later that he might have had—I think he did have—a crush on Letícia Novarese, and he was under the assumption that I was ‘with’ her….So alternately he was friendly, and then he thought I was the person getting in between, or something like that….I [only] did one with Bava, but that particular one—I’ve seen other stuff of Bava’s subsequently—was an attempt to do a tongue-in-cheek giallo, a takeoff on the mystery story.  It was a mystery story within a mystery story.  You remember, the character of the girl is influenced by mystery novels, so he was doing one and commenting on the nature of it.  It was a matter of a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor about the subject matter.”

And now, on with the show…

Una Hacha para la Luna de Miel (Hatchet for the Honeymoon, aka Il Rosso Segno della Follia [The Red Sign of Madness], Blood Brides; 1970):  Midlevel Bava film about a young man who inherited a bridal-themed fashion house from his mother and feels compelled to kill both brides and models, each time coming closer to remembering the face of Mom’s murderer; it’s slightly misnamed, as his weapon of choice is really more of a meat cleaver.  He has a hellaciously evil wife with whom he’s impotent, and who refuses to give him a divorce, so it probably won’t come as too much of a shock to learn that she and Mr. Cleaver get pretty well acquainted before too long.  Tongue ever in cheek, Bava has the hero (?) explain to the gendarmes who visit him that the screams reported by the neighbors came from the TV, where a horror film is playing—it’s Bava’s own I Tre Volti della Paura, transformed into black-and-white.  Speaking of gendarmes, riddle me this:  why is this Italian-Spanish co-production set nominally in Paris, despite looking nothing like it, while all of the dubbed Latin-looking characters have English-sounding names?  Give up?  Yeah, me too.  Other than that, this movie isn’t as confusing as I remembered it from my youthful first viewing (you’ll never, ever, EVER guess who killed Mom), but it’s fun watching the guy cope with his compulsion and the ghost of his wife, who comes back to prove that, as promised, he’ll never be rid of her.

Roy Colt e Winchester Jack (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack; 1970):  I encouraged my friend Tom, an expert on spaghetti Westerns, to buy this one solely so I could see it.  (This was before I acquired my own copy in Anchor Bay’s outstanding 2-volume Mario Bava Collection.)  But I am sorry to say that it is not only not a good Bava movie, but also not a good spaghetti Western—and Tom is in agreement with me here—with too much of an accent on comedy.  That Brett Halsey from Curse of the Fly (1967) is the biggest name in the cast probably speaks for itself.

Ecologia del Delitto (The Ecology of a Crime, aka Antefatto [Before the Fact], Reazione a Catena [Chain Reaction], Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Bloodbath, A Bay of Blood; 1971):  Argento had barely made his first giallo, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), before Bava made a film that was already commenting ironically on the subgenre he had pioneered (an interesting point in light of Saxon’s comment above).  This early slasher epic also prefigures Friday the 13th and its “series of creative deaths” ilk, but with an unusual twist:  the murders are committed not by a single serial killer, but by a series of perpetrators, each with his or her own agenda, and often dispatching one another.

Gli Orrori del Castello di Norimberga (aka Baron Blood, The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood, Chamber of Tortures, The Thirst of Baron Blood; 1972):  This is admittedly not as stylish as, say, Bava’s lyrical Lisa and the Devil or his masterpiece, Black Sunday.  It is, however, one of his most coherent films (not an idle boast if you’ve seen Hatchet for the Honeymoon or the so-called Beyond the Door II) and one of his most straight-ahead shockers.  Unwittingly resurrected by his present-day ancestors, the eponymous nobleman fires up the old torture chamber and the fun begins; I wouldn’t insult your intelligence by assuming you’d be fooled by the “surprise” twist of wheelchair-bound Joseph Cotten, who purchases the old homestead, turning out to be the Baron.

Quante Volte…Quella Notte (Four Times That Night; 1972):  As yet unviewed, this Bava rarity with Brett Halsey (the star of his lamentable Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) is reportedly a sex-comedy variation on Kurosawa’s Rashomon.  Gee, that sounds like a good idea, but hey, Bava is Bava, so I’ve gotta have it.  I’ll probably let you know.

Lisa e il Diavolo (Lisa and the Devil, aka Il Diavolo e i Morti [The Devil and the Dead]; 1974):  One of Bava’s best films, this was made after Baron Blood with the same star, Elke Sommer, and for the same producer, Alfredo (“No Relation”) Leone, who gave him a million bucks to make whatever movie he wanted.  In that sense, this might be regarded as the purest expression of Bava’s peculiar vision, and peculiar it is indeed.  Sommer plays a tourist who gets lost and ends up in a weird household headed by blind Alida Valli (The Third Man [1949], Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case [1947]); Telly Savalas is a hoot as the Satanic butler—a role which I can only think was written for him—who’s obsessed with lifelike mannequins.  Slow and dreamlike at first, with stunning color photography (natch), the film leads up to a number of really nasty killings and an ending with multiple twists.  Not surprisingly, Leone was at a loss as to how to sell this poetic yet twisted masterpiece, until in the wake of The Exorcist (1973) he came up with the brilliant idea of butchering it, which made an already confusing plot almost completely impenetrable; adding new scenes of Sommer as a possessed woman vomiting toads and Robert Alda, who’s not even in the original film, as her would-be exorcist, who’s killed by a bolt of lightning; and retitling it La Casa dell’Esorcismo (The House of Exorcism; 1975).  The result is, to put it mildly, hilariously cheesy.  The original version was long said to be elusive at best, yet I remember watching it on TV (albeit heavily censored) in the late 1970s.  Favorite line:  “I can’t with you here!”

Shock (Transfer Suspense Hypnos) (aka All 33 di Via Orologio Fa Sempre Freddo, Beyond the Door II, Suspense; 1977):  Bava’s tour de force crime thriller Rabid Dogs (aka Kidnapped; 1974) was tragically unreleased in his lifetime due to financial problems, or it might well have changed the course of his career.  As it was, it took him several years to get another project off the ground, and his last feature was co-directed, uncredited, by his son and longtime assistant, Lamberto.  Since Lamberto later broke into a solo directorial career under Argento’s aegis, is it is appropriate that this looks more like an Argento than a Bava film.  This resemblance is only strengthened by the presence of Argento’s longtime lover and sometime collaborator, Daria Nicolodi, in the lead.  She and her son and second husband move back into her old house, which is apparently haunted by the first husband’s ghost.

Go to http://www.videowatchdog.com/bava/index.htm to order Tim Lucas’s magnificent Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (which will probably reveal some errors on my part), and be sure to check out all the latest from Video Watchdog as well.

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Super Mario, Part I

My brief mention of Mario Bava the other day (see “Tim the Enchanter”) reminds me that I’ve given him short shrift here, which is regrettable not only because of my affection for his work, but also because I’ve failed to sing the praises of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.  Written by Video Watchdog publisher Tim Lucas, this twelve-pound tome is a titanic trove of words and images, a must for any admirer of its long-neglected subject (although, during the decades it took Tim to finish it, Troy Howarth came out with The Haunted World of Mario Bava, which is impressive in its own right).  This is one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of cinematic scholarship I’ve ever seen, and I’ll be the first to admit that Richard Matheson on Screen, for all of the twelve years I put into it, will look like the merest pamphlet by comparison.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Bava (1914-1980) was a cinematographer and special-effects expert who later turned to directing, and although he worked in numerous genres such as space operas, spaghetti Westerns, and comedies, he is most revered for his horror films.  A self-effacing craftsman, he often worked unacknowledged in various capacities on other people’s projects just to keep his hand in, and served as both cinematographer and uncredited co-director on Riccardo Freda’s The Vampires and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster.  His best-known work as a director of photography was on the seminal pepla (sword-and-sandal films) Hercules and Hercules Unchained, which put Steve Reeves on the cinematic map and helped burnish Bava’s own credentials.

Twice in his career, Bava was given carte blanche:  with his solo directorial debut, Black Sunday (see “Bradley’s Hundred #1-10”), which he was awarded for salvaging Freda’s films, and after the success of Baron Blood, when he was allowed to make Lisa and the Devil.  All too often, however, his work was compromised by a lack of time (preventing him from rewriting the lame scripts with which he was sometimes saddled) and/or money…but never of imagination.  Famous for making something out of nothing, and for economizing with low-tech in-camera effects, Bava created a body of work in which style frequently triumphed over substance, and at its best offered an atmosphere and visual splendor that were uniquely his own.

I have in my archives a formal profile of Bava that I wrote for the late, lamented Scifipedia website without the benefit of Tim’s book (in which, after some 400 pages, I’m only up to his third official film…crazy, man!).  But rather than unearth that—as I will be inclined to do with various pieces, now that the original Scifipedia is no longer accessible—I thought it might be fun, as with Tim Burton, to take a highly subjective, albeit much less comprehensive, tour through some of his work as a director.  This is by no means The Complete Mario Bava, or even The Best of Mario Bava; just think of it as The Most of Mario Bava.

I Vampiri (The Vampires, aka The Devil’s Commandment, Lust of the Vampire, Evil’s Commandment; 1956):  It’s interesting to note that both Freda and Bava went on to direct influential films starring Barbara Steele (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock [1962] and Black Sunday, respectively).  But this, too, was a trend-setter, prefiguring the Gothic revival of Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and the plots of both their Countess Dracula (1970) and the many medical thrillers spawned by Jesus Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962).  The murders of a series of young women found drained of blood put a reporter on the trail of an aged Countess kept artificially youthful by her mad scientist cousin.

Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale (Caltiki, the Immortal Monster; 1959):  This low-budget Italian horror/SF film seems to have been inspired by both The Blob (1958) and Hammer’s The Quatermass Experiment (1955).  It features great photography by Bava, including some truly creepy underwater footage, and surprisingly gruesome makeup for its day.  Scientists probing the exodus of the Mayans centuries ago discover the titular goddess, a flesh-dissolving blob, which emerges from a pool in a cave to wreak varied havoc.

Ercole al Centro della Terra (Hercules at the Center of the Earth, aka Hercules in the Haunted World, Hercules Vs. the Vampires; 1961):  Having photographed the first two Hercules films, Bava got kicked upstairs into the director’s chair for the fourth entry, with Reg “Slab o’ Beef” Park returning in the role he inherited from Reeves with Hercules and the Captive Women.  It’s appropriately great to look at, and features Christopher Lee as the villain, Lico, but alas, as in Bava’s La Frusta e il Corpo, his voice is dubbed.  The only other noteworthy element is the evil Procrustes, who appears in a side-splitting “rock-man” outfit that had us all on the floor the first time we saw this.

La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, aka The Evil Eye; 1963):  After the first of his several Viking films, Erik the Conqueror (1961), Bava made this early example of the giallo horror/thrillers later popularized by Dario Argento.  Most notably, it features Argento’s frequent (perhaps even overused) plot device of a character—in this case an American girl visiting Rome—who witnesses a murder and spends the rest of the film trying to interpret the clues they saw subliminally.  John Saxon stars as the local doctor who takes a fancy to her.

I Tre Volti della Paura (The Three Faces of Fear, aka Black Sabbath; 1963):  Bava’s anthology horror film was much altered by its co-producer and U.S. distributor, AIP (which released Black Sunday in the U.S. to great success, and struck up a lengthy relationship with Bava).  Unfortunately, in the uncut Italian print, host Boris Karloff is dubbed, so either version is a proverbial half-loaf of the most frustrating kind.  A greedy woman is terrorized by the ghost of a dead medium, whose ring she stole, in “The Drop of Water”; a girl is stalked by her ex-lover in “The Telephone”; and Karloff effectively plays a Russian vampire in “The Wurdalak.”

La Frusta e il Corpo (The Whip and the Body, aka What!, Night is the Phantom; 1963):  This is considered one of Bava’s best films.  Israeli actress Daliah Lavi from Casino Royale (1967) is coiffed and costumed to look a lot like Barbara Steele as a woman haunted by her dead lover, Christopher Lee.  Alas, Lee’s voice was once again dubbed by another actor, so his impact is lessened, but it’s still a splendidly twisted, atmospheric thriller about a sadomasochistic relationship that continues beyond the grave.

Sei Donne per l’Assassino (Six Women for the Assassin/Murderer, aka Six Femmes pour l’Assassin, Blood and Black Lace, Fashion House of Death; 1964):  Another Bava film to prefigure the gialli of Dario Argento, this concerns a masked killer who systematically and sadistically wipes out a series of women connected with a fashion house in order to suppress certain evidence.  Star Cameron Mitchell bracketed this film with appearances in Bava’s Erik the Conqueror and Knives of the Avenger

Terrore Nello Spazio (Terror in Space, aka Planet of the Vampires, The Demon Planet; 1965):  After the spaghetti Western The Road to Fort Alamo (1964), Bava made his only entry in the space opera subgenre that his countryman Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson) pioneered with Assignment: Outer Space (1960) and Battle of the Worlds (1961).  Invisible beings take over astronauts’ bodies, making them vicious killers (although not, as advertised, vampires).  The scene of the dead astronauts rising from their graves, shrouded in transparent plastic, is unforgettable; the ending echoes those of Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun,” adapted on The Twilight Zone, and Planet of the Apes (1968).

Operazione Paura (Operation Fear, aka Kill, Baby…Kill!, Curse of the Living Dead; 1966):  Bava’s last great period horror film followed the spaghetti Western Ringo from Nebraska, credited to a different director, and another Viking film, Knives of the Avenger (both 1966).  Italian genre mainstay Giacomo Rossi-Stuart stars as a doctor investigating a rash of mysterious deaths in a small village; ostensibly suicides, they turn out to be the work of a vengeful witch.  Fellini later borrowed the image of an evil, rubber-ball-bouncing little girl for his “Toby Dammit” segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968).

Cinque Bambole per la Luna d’Agosto (Five Dolls for an August Moon, aka Cinco Muñecas para la Luna de Agosto, Island of Terror; 1970):  Bava was, in effect, a hired gun on this project, which came after the excruciatingly unfunny Vincent Price comedy Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Bombs (1966) and the sumptuous comic-book adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968).  Once again, he was unable to rewrite the script, because it was penned by the producer, but his distaste for this lame Ten Little Indians knockoff is evident, as even the multiple murders lack his usual visual flourish; in fact, most of the killings are committed offscreen, with the discovery of each a tame anticlimax.  The only aspect that seems to spark his interest is the blackly humorous shots of the bodies, sheathed in clear plastic—sadly evoking his far better Terrore Nello Spazio—and lined up next to a side of beef inside a deep-freeze that seems to be about as big as a one-bedroom apartment.  The obligatory Hitchcockian macguffin, leading to the deaths of a group of people stranded on an island, is the proposed sale by scientist William Berger of his valuable formula for a revolutionary new resin; the title is totally meaningless, and the equally obligatory plot twists far-fetched in the extreme.  Among the mostly no-name cast is Edwige Fenech, stubbornly refusing to strut the stuff she showed in Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark (1972), from which Tim Lucas took his otherwise apt title.  This is most interesting when considered in the overall context of Mario’s career, as it’s easy to see how the experience could have colored his Ecologia del Delitto.

To be continued.

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