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Mario Bava


Mario Bava made his name in the Italian film industry as a cinematographer on more than 70 films before he was finally assigned to finish directing I VAMPIRI for Ricardo Freda in 1956. On the strength of this work, he was backed to direct a project on his own: BLACK SUNDAY (1960), which some still consider to be his masterpiece. For the last two decades of his life he continued a prolific directorial career, usually photographing his own films, and making a glorious transition from black and white to the vibrant color for which he became known and imitated. On the subject of imitation, it is worth noting that Bava—with his film BAY OF BLOOD (1971) featuring 13 murders in 90 minutes—was the progenitor of the "body count" horror movie, made nearly a decade before the genre caught on as a big commercial prospect with films like FRIDAY THE 13th (1980).

Because his films generally explore dark, adult psycho-sexual themes, they were on several occasions brutally censored and re-edited for release to English speaking audiences. Only recently, thanks to the efforts of critics like Tim Lucas (of Video Watchdog magazine), the organizers of high profile Bava retrospectives in New York and Los Angeles, and distributors like Don May's Elite laser disc company, have English speakers finally been given the opportunity to discover what really goes on in Bava's landmark films.


Black Sunday (La Maschera del Demonio 1960)
83 min. Something Weird Video

This is a classic horror film that ranks with the greatest, yet is strangely difficult to find on rental shelves (other tapes reviewed in this article should generally prove easier to find). This film founded not only Bava's directorial career, but also propelled its lead actress Barbara Steele to international fame and lasting cult stardom.

Here we see Bava already in prime form as he expertly handles an array of gothic horror traditions including: shadowy castles and crypts, fog shrouded forests, and a slow-motion phantom carriage. Most importantly, it features a classic confrontation between God and Satan, love and hate. This film is at once beautiful and surprisingly gory for its time, so gory that when AIP first released it in the US it carried an unprecedented age restriction, and this even after Bava excised some of the bloodiest moments.

Black Sunday110K


Black Sabbath (I Tre Volti della Paura, 1963)
95 min. Thorn/EMI

This film, as it exists on US video shelves, is, regrettably, a test case for what has become the standard treatment of Italian horror by the censorious and commercializing forces of Stateside distributors. In its original form it is nothing short of the best of the 1960s spate of internationally-produced three-part anthology horror films, with its tales of death-dealing covetousness, a harrowing family curse, and even an early defining example of the giallo complete with a vengeful pimp and a spurned lesbian lover. Little of this made it to English speaking viewers, thanks to AIP's extensive re-shooting, re-editing, re-scoring, and even re-writing of dubbed dialog. Fortunately, what does remain is still undeniably beautiful to look at and not entirely without merit.

Black Sabbath 58K


Blood and Black Lace (Sei Donne per l'Assassino, 1964)
84 min. Media
The first full-length color giallo film, this is a classic example of the formula: bad script + great direction = problematic film. On the downside is a somewhat plodding and predictable serial killer murder mystery that inspires little empathy for its characters. On the upside, however, is a beautifully lit, set, choreographed, and photographed film which sets a very high visual standard for the many movies following in its footsteps. At times this film approaches outright avant-gardism in the extremes with which it paints its images of anger and fear.


A Hatchet for a Honeymoon (Il Rosso Segno della Follia, 1969)
88 min. Media
This engaging and visually complex giallo is something of a return to BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, but fortunately this film has a much more interesting script. Though the plot is obviously inspired by PSYCHO, Bava's film has two extraordinary twists: the psycho is a lady-killer figuratively as well as literally, and the whole story is told from his point of view. This opens up a wonderfully disturbing realm of possibilities for Bava to explore with his camera. He rises impressively to the challenge with abundant trick and mirror shots complementing creepy sets and lighting. Steven Forsythe adds to the film's success with his portrayal of the self-proclaimed madman as both scary and sympathetic.


Baron Blood (Gli Orrori del Castello di Norimberga, 1972)
98 min. Elite laser disc
A slow starter, once this gets going it turns into an interesting tale, dealing skillfully with its self-referencing theme of the transition from gothic to modern horrors. Its story revolves around a castle complete with a ghost-inhabited torture chamber in which a curse borne of those ancient tortures comes to fruition. Yet at the same time it also features modern scientists, historians, and detectives struggling to make sense of the supernatural horrors. The villain's methods of murder also span the ages, ranging from spiked-casket impalement to surgical-scalpel throat slashing. Of course the film's images are expertly and beautifully realized, with shots ranging from the unsettling bent angles of Bava's fish-eye lens to an astonishing alley chase filled with luminous fog.


Lisa and the Devil (Lisa e il Diavolo, 1972)
96 min. Elite LD
A slow starter, once this gets going it turns into an interesting tale, dealing skillfully with its self-referencing theme of the transition from gothic to modern horrors. Its story revolves around a castle complete with a ghost-inhabited torture chamber in which a curse borne of those ancient tortures comes to fruition. Yet at the same time it also features modern scientists, historians, and detectives struggling to make sense of the supernatural horrors. The villain's methods of murder also span the ages, ranging from spiked-casket impalement to surgical-scalpel throat slashing. Of course the film's images are expertly and beautifully realized, with shots ranging from the unsettling bent angles of Bava's fish-eye lens to an astonishing alley chase filled with luminous fog.
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