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A Tribute To Mario Bava

My Opinion

Mario Bava was a visionary director who, like Hitchcock, was a huge influence on all suspense and horror that came later. His use of light and shadow in his black and white films, and his use of color in his color films is second to (almost) none. His ability to weave a story through at times impossible twists and turns makes his films a must see for lovers of suspense and good directing. Not everything he did was perfect, but he was never afraid to push the boundaries and see how far they would bend before breaking. If you like Hitch, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and the like, you need to check out Bava, if you haven't already.



Mario Bava (July 31, 1914 - April 25, 1980) was an Italian director, screenwriter, and cinematographer remembered as one of the greatest names from the golden age of Italian horror films.

Mario Bava was born in Sanremo, Liguria. The son of Eugenio Bava, a sculptor who became a pioneer of special effects photography and subsequently one of the great cameramen of Italian silent pictures, Mario's first ambition was to become a painter. Unable to turn out paintings at a profitable rate, he went indirectly into his father's business, working as an assistant to other Italian cinematographers like Massimo Terzano, while also offering assistance to his father, who headed the special effects department at Mussolini's film factory, the Instituto LUCE.

Bava became a cinematographer in his own right in 1939, filming two shorts for Roberto Rossellini. He made his feature debut in the early 1940s, just as the second World War broke out, stopping Italian film production in its tracks. The Italian cinema only began to recover its former health after the war, when America began to produce films such as Quo Vadis (1951 film) there. Bava's colorful camerawork was an instrumental factor in developing the screen personas of such stars of the period as Gina Lollobrigida, Steve Reeves and Aldo Fabrizi.

Bava directed his first film in 1958: Le morte viene dallo spazio (The Day the Sky Exploded), the first Italian science fiction film. Because he had no earlier credited experience as a director, it was formally credited to Paolo Heusch. In 1960 he directed one of the first Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s: Black Sunday which made a star out of Barbara Steele. His use of light and dark in black and white films is widely acclaimed along with his use of colors in films like I tre volti della paura (Black Sabbath) (1963) and La Frusta e il corpo (The Whip and the Body) (1963).

His work has proved very influential: Bava directed what is called the first Italian giallo film, La ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) (1963), and his 1965 sci-fi horror Terrore nello spazio (Planet of the Vampires) was a possible influence on Alien (1979). Although comic books had served as the basis for countless serials and children's films in Hollywood, Bava's Diabolik (1968) brought an adult perspective to the genre. 1971's Reazione a catena (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve & Bay of Blood) is considered to be one of the earliest slasher films. Many traits of his 1966 film Operazione paura (Kill, Baby... Kill!), regarded by many (including Martin Scorsese) as his masterpiece, also appear in the Asian strain of terror film known as J-Horror.

Mario Bava has a son, Lamberto Bava, who worked for years as Bava's assistant director and later went on to a a movie-directing career of his own ("Demons," "Demons 2").

On several of his movies, Bava was credited as John M. Old. Later, Lamberto Bava was sometimes credited as John M. Old, Jr.

From Wikipedia


I Vampiri (1957, uncredited co-director) aka "The Devil's Commandment"
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958) uncredited director
Caltiki - The Immortal Monster (1959) uncredited co-director
Black Sunday, (Mask of the Demon, Mask of Satan, 1960)
Esther and the King (1960, co-director)
Le meraviglie di Aladino (The Wonders of Aladdin, 1960 (co-director)
Hercules in the Haunted World, 1961 (aka "Hercules At the Center of the Earth")
Gli invasori/ "The Invaders" (1961) aka Erik The Conqueror
La ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963) aka "Evil Eye"
Black Sabbath, 1963
The Whip and the Body, 1963 (aka "What!")
Blood and Black Lace, 1964, aka "Five Women For The Murderer"
The Road to Fort Alamo, 1964
Planet of the Vampires, 1965 (aka "Terrore Nella Spazio")
Savage Gringo, 1966 - Uncredited
Kill, Baby... Kill!, 1966 (aka "Operation Fear")
Knives of the Avenger, 1966
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, 1966
Danger: Diabolik, 1968)
The Odyssey (1968 TV miniseries) Bava directed only the "Polyphemus" episode
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, 1970
Five Dolls for an August Moon, 1970
Hatchet for the Honeymoon, 1970
Bay of Blood (1971) aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, or "Chain Reaction"
Baron Blood, 1972 (aka "The Horrors of Nuremberg Castle")
Four Times That Night, 1972
Lisa and the Devil, 1973
House of Exorcism, 1974 (Re-edited version of Lisa and the Devil)
Kidnapped, 1974 (aka "Rabid Dogs", aka "Red Light")
Shock (Beyond the Door II, 1977)

My Reviews

Black Sunday (1960)- A Mario Bava classic combining legends of vampirism, witchcraft, and Satan worship. A witch and her lover are tortured and killed (by her brother no less) and forced to wear the Mask of Satan, a mask that is basically nailed to the head. The witch curses the family and 200 years later returns to exact her revenge on her look alike descendant and her look alike descendant's father. There's some silly dialogue and some old school over the top acting but I still liked this movie as a well paced witch period piece. B.

Girl Who Knew Too Much, the (1963) - Bava’s obvious nod to Hitchcock, a flick about a tourist from America visiting Italy who witnesses a death (from natural causes), is mugged, and then witnesses a murder... maybe. Maybe she’s just stressed out... or maybe it’s something else, stay until the end to tie it all together. I found this a little hard to follow at times and the campier edge seemed out of place too, but for the most part the directing and cinematography were incredibly well done, Bava, for the most part, borrowed the best elements from Hitchcock and then made them his own. If you’re not a big Bava or Giallo fan this may not be for you but if you like either of those I recommend this one. B.

Black Sabbath (1963)- A tight little trilogy directed by Mario Bava and hosted by Boris Karloff. Story one deals with a woman who turned her boyfriend in for a crime and he has now escaped and is terrorizing her. A great little suspense piece. Story two deals with the warduluck, which is basically a vampire that preys on its own family. This is a good story but too slow moving. Karloff stars and is effective but it still drags. The third story is one of those 'put the hook in me' works. I was pretty young, 9 or 10, when I first saw this movie. The odd thing is I don't even remember the first two stories but I sure remember this one. It's the story of a woman who goes to sit with the corpse of an old woman who recently passed. She was into séances and such and tended to scare folks when she was alive. She's pretty hideous in death too. The woman decides to steal a ring from the corpse's body, bad idea. The corpse in this movie scared the crap out of me when I was young and, although now it's not really scary, it is still pretty effective. Story one gets an A, story two gets a C, and story 3 gets an A+ which averages to a B+.

Planet of the Vampires (1965)- What’s not to love?! This flick is perfect in every way, but only if you want some tasty almost art deco 60s sci-fi pulp! And I mean that in a good way; brightly colored, imaginative sets, classic costumes, inventive plot (to be mirrored to some degree years later in ‘Alien’). Two ships land on a distant planet to answer some sort of signal they have been receiving. They find a very strange planet where they are compelled to attack one another and do things against their will. Turns out a race of beings on that planet needs the visitors’ bodies to stage an escape from their own dying world. Will it work? Double twist ending wasn’t overly satisfying but everything else was! This flick managed to work every great sci-fi ‘look’ from this era into one flick and proves Bava was one of the best 'directors on a budget'. A

Kill Baby Kill (1966)- This is a strange murder mystery with a supernatural story. It has the look and feel of a Hammer film but at the end of the day ends up a little more stylistically directed by Bava. A doctor is called into a small village to perform an autopsy on a woman who it seems committed suicide but a police inspector thinks otherwise, and the scared locals won’t talk at all because they are afraid of a curse on the village. This is a very atmospheric horror film with little or no gore, as I said, like Hammer films of the same period, but Bava kicks it all up a notch with his use of camera angles and colors. An obvious influence on flicks by directors like Dario Argento. A strong A.

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)- Bava goes artsy mod on us and it fails. Sure the film for the most part ‘looks’ good, it is Bava after all, and some of the black humor works (the bodies dangling in the walk in freezer), but Bava seems to get lost in the look and forgets the story, and I won’t even get into the acid jazz Hammond B3 drenched soundtrack! Anyway, a rich guy has some friends over to his island and hopes he will be able to buy a formula from a visiting chemistry professor. The professor won’t budge with regard to selling and the visitors start dying off. Bava was often almost as good as Hitch but he just tried to be too ‘hip’ on this one. D.

Bay of Blood (1971)- After Bava tried to be hip with "Five Dolls..." he came back with this hugely influential flick about folks trying, and dying to get their hands on the real estate around a bay. Lucrative land which could easily be turned into a resort, but who really should inherit it, and do they all want to see it turned into a crass commercial tourist trap? Lots of bodies pile up and no one is really innocent in this true originator of the ‘body count slasher’ sub-genre (even I usually give credit to Clark’s "Black Christmas" for starting the trend but Bava beat Clark by 3 years!) You see Bava’s Hitchcock inspiration, and you also see where "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" et al got their inspiration as well. A must see for any fan of the slasher flicks. A+

Baron Blood (1972)- A great atmospheric piece by Bava about a man who returns to his roots by trying to find some of his heritage in his family’s Austrian castle. He jokingly reads an incantation ends up working and resurrects a brutal ancestor. This directing and suspense work really well (as should be expected) and this film works really well being what it should be, horror suspense. It is a great Euro-Horror and my only complaint would be a let down of an ending, pretty anti-climactic. B

Lisa and the Devil (1973)- In the mood for EuroArt horror? Don’t care that much for story line and continuity? Then this is for you. Bava’s masterpiece of mood and color follows Lisa, a tourist who gets separated from her tour group. She winds up at an odd castle with a couple on the verge of divorce, their chauffer, and a mother and son who live in the house along with their very strange butler and his life-like mannequins. Apparently Lisa very closely resembles someone who once lived at the house as well and things start breaking down there. If you like these almost art house type of flicks then this is a must see, Bava’s use of color, and his use of set pieces and even costume (pay close attention to what everyone is wearing) is second to none. If, however you’re not a fan of this type of fair, then I would pass on it if I were you. Know what you are getting into here! I really liked this one and will give it a very strong A.

House of Exorcism (1973)- Bava’s "Lisa and the Devil" flopped. "The Exorcist" came out and was a huge hit. What could the Italians do? They could reedit "Lisa and the Devil" into a story about a possessed tourist. So, they took the scenes from "Lisa..." and added in a new back story about the main character being possessed and telling the goings on back at the castle to a priest. Sound pretty weak? Yeah, it is pretty weak. The exorcist scenes are very lame and I felt sorry for the actors trying like hell to take it all seriously, they had to work pretty hard to keep from laughing. The, for lack of a better word, elegance of Bava’s original is totally lost in this one. Stick with "Lisa and the Devil" of you’re inclined to ‘artier’ Euro-horror and check this out only if you’re curious for a comparison. D-

Kidnapped (1974)- Bava drops the black humor goes balls out violent in this flick about a pay roll heist that goes wrong. The criminals, surrounded by the cops, kidnap a woman, after killing her friend, and escape in her car, they then carjack another car, driven by a man who is taking his son to the hospital for emergency surgery. What follows is a very tense, well directed study of depravity and criminal mayhem, all of which almost exclusively takes place in the car. Some of the tension building scenes (the woman’s escape attempt, sexual depravity, the fender bender in the traffic jam, etc.) are brilliantly directed. Almost everything works, especially the twist ending, which to be honest I had pretty much figured out. Some of the acting goes a little over the top at times but other than that this one works very well. A

Shock (1977)- Mario Bava’s last flick and he went out riding the wave of possession flicks of the period. A lady and her new husband and her 10 year old boy from a previous marriage move back into the house where her first husband killed himself. Her son begins to freak out and say and do some weird things, is he possessed? Did the husband kill himself? Is the lady just nuts? Does the new husband know something? Slow burn buildup winds up with a batshit insane ending that ends up feeling a tad anti-climactic for some reason, which is a shame as for a low budget, poorly dubbed, half-ass acted Italian flick, this ain’t bad. If you dig Bava and haven’t seen this then check it out, if you are new to Bava look elsewhere for an intro, this feels too much like a ripoff of Argento, which is fair as he ripped off Bava at times too. I’ll give it a B-.

Hello Mummy