Mario Bava: The Baroque Beauties of Italian Horror
August 4 - 29
"What interests me is the fear experienced by a person alone in their room. It is then that everything around him starts to move menacingly, and we realize that the only true ‘monsters’ are the ones we carry in ourselves.” — Mario Bava, from "The Haunted World of Mario Bava" by Troy Howarth
Mario Bava: The Baroque Beauties of Italian Horror is a series of nine suspenseful, darkly erotic, stylishly eccentric horror films by Italian director Mario Bava (1914-1980). Newly released in DCP, the films include new digital restorations of KILL, BABY…KILL and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Bava was a pioneer in launching the Italian genre known as “giallo” (films based on pulp fiction) and brought an incomparably baroque vision to the horror film.
The son of an early Italian cinematographer, Bava studied art before entering his father’s profession. Exhibiting great talent as a cameraman, he worked for directors including Raoul Walsh and Jacques Tourneur, and was known for his ability to create special effects. He directed a number of short films in the 1940s, and some sequences of feature films for which he was the cameraman in the 1950s, but it was the abrupt departure of a director from the obscure horror film CALTIKI in 1960 that gave Bava his first directorial credit on a feature. The grateful producer subsequently bankrolled BLACK SUNDAY (or THE MASK OF SATAN), Bava’s first solo effort as director.
BLACK SUNDAY is a remarkable debut film, shot in velvety black-and-white. It ranks among Bava’s finest work, and already foreshadows his interest in gothic horror, and in exploiting literature, mythology, and the rituals of Catholicism to evoke the dark side of the human spirit. All of Bava’s films were low-budget, yet he succeeded in crafting evocative, richly imaginative films utilizing his superb skills as a cameraman and lighting technician to overcome his poverty of means. In color films including BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY…KILL, his use of a palette not usually associated with the horror genre is highly original, as is his hallucinogenic approach to art direction.
Bava has long been an influential cult figure, but just how influential has remained a secret due to the fact that his imaginative low-budget work was drastically altered in U.S. distribution and often limited to the drive-in circuit. Yet his brilliance shone through, and his films had a direct influence on the work of others. Directors including Dario Argento, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino have paid homage to him in interviews and in their films.
In appreciating Bava’s work, it’s important to realize that his films were made quickly on small budgets, sometimes with actors who had no language in common. In this, they anticipated today’s European co-productions. As was customary with all Italian films of the time, they were post-dubbed — meaning the dialogue was not synchronously recorded, but dubbed in a sound studio later — so that these films have no “original language” version in the usual sense.
— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
Special thanks to Jonathan Hertzberg, Kino Lorber Films, and Bret Berg, American Genre Film Archive.
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT!
Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Bava film on any Saturday this month, and get a ticket for the second Bava film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
Rabid Dogs / L'uomo e il bambino
1974/2002, Mario Bava, Italy, 92 min. With Riccardo Cucciolla, Lea Lander.
“A masterpiece of tightly-wrapped tension…you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a moment.” — Dr Lenara, Horror Cult Films
The final film of Mario Bava’s career languished unfinished in a vault for over twenty years following the director’s 1980 death. Almost three decades later, the efforts of producer Alfredo Leone and Bava’s director son Lamberto resulted in a seamless completion of KIDNAPPED so that this gem of a thriller could be released. Four criminals bungle the heist of a pharmaceutical company payroll, resulting in an even more desperately bungled hostage-taking maneuver in the getaway. Based on the Ellery Queen story “Man and Boy,” the film really hits its horrific stride once the terrified hostages and their captors are trapped together in a stifling car. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
The Three Faces of Fear / I tre volti della paura
1963, Mario Bava, Italy, 92 min. With Boris Karloff, Mark Damon.
"A palpable sense of gothic beauty…a gem of stunning visuals.” — Noel Murray, The Dissolve
Bava’s sumptuous approach to art direction is deliciously evident in every frame of this trilogy, screening in Bava’s original European cut of the film. In “The Telephone,” he gives a new meaning to the term "call girl," as the heroine awaits a stalker in the tawdry splendor of her gilt bed. Boris Karloff is the crusty patriarch of “The Wurdulak,” set in atmospheric Transylvania, where the women are good enough to eat (and so are the men). A greedy nurse benefits from some special therapy in “The Drop of Water.” In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Lisa and the Devil
Lisa e il diavolo
1973, Mario Bava, Italy, 95 min. With Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer.
“The real deal, a masterfully poetic journey into darkness and dislocation that is long overdue in finding the audience it so desperately deserves.” — Dustin Putman, The Film File
LISA AND THE DEVIL is one of the few films for which Bava had complete creative control, but it was altered beyond recognition for U.S. release and retitled THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Screening here in its original director’s cut version, the film is revealed to be a complex, witty, Buñuelesque story of Satan (a droll Savalas) as humankind’s puppetmaster. Lisa (Sommer), a curious tourist, becomes lost in the back streets of a nameless European town. Surreal encounters and strange coincidences bring her to a crumbling estate where she seems to have long been awaited. Bava accomplishes wonders with few resources, suggesting opulence literally with smoke and mirrors, making this one of his most lushly beautiful films. In English. DCP digital. (BS)
The Mask of Satan / La maschera del demonio
1960, Mario Bava, Italy, 87 min. With Barbara Steele, Ivo Garrani.
“A tremendous start to what would end up being one of the most brilliant careers in all of horror.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy
This gothic tale worked black magic for Mario Bava’s career, catapulting the former cameraman to the front ranks of low-budget horror directors, to surpass even American master Roger Corman at the box office. Two doctors traveling by coach through legend-haunted Moldavia happen upon the ancient crumbling tomb of the sorceress Asa (Steele), where they accidentally smash the stone cross that is meant to hold evil in check. Demons rise, vampires stalk, and eroticism in its most deadly form reigns, embodied in the gorgeous form of Steele in dual roles. Bava’s command of the visuals is breathtaking, and BLACK SUNDAY delivers the chills. Screening in the original Italian cut, including three minutes of footage deleted from the U.S. release version. In English. DCP digital. (BS)
The Whip and the Body
La frusta e il corpo
1963, Mario Bava, Italy, 87 min. With Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee.
"Only Buñuel’s ABISMOS DE PASIÓN outclasses it for visions of the horror of passion, and the passion of horror.” — Fernando F. Croce, CinePassion
Kinky eroticism gives a ripe new angle to a prodigal-son theme that evolves with masterful Bava ingenuity into a gothic ghost-story-with-riding crop. Kurt (Lee), a callous womanizing aristocrat, returns home to the family castle from which he had been banished years before over a fateful indiscretion. Resuming a mutually satisfying S&M relationship with his former fiancée Novenka (Lavi), he is soon the victim of another’s vengeance. Neither gone nor forgotten, Kurt fails to stay put in the family vault, and the crack of a whip is heard in the night, building tension to the max courtesy of Bava’s always artful manipulation of light and shadow. In English. DCP digital. (BS
Blood and Black Lace
6 donne per l'assassino
1964, Mario Bava, Italy, 89 min. With Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok.
“One of Bava’s most accomplished works, executed with a dazzling, unprecedented use of bright colors and deep shadows (sometimes both at once)." — Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid
A gorgeous model in a lipstick-red trench coat meets a bloody demise on the grounds of the swanky mansion atelier of fashion designer Christina (Bartok), kicking off a lush murder plot steeped in fetishism and corruption. The brightest, glossiest of reds is Bava’s signature color as the body count mounts, glistening from lips, nails, draperies, and the cover of a victim’s diary. In this high-fashion world where everyone is a narcissist clawing for the top, suspicion falls on all as the models succumb one by one to a killer with an unusual murder weapon. Eye-filling Italian high fashion plays a significant role, the perfect accompaniment to Bava’s extravagantly over-the-top production design. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital 2K restoration from the original camera negative. (BS)
Kill, Baby... Kill!
1966, Mario Bava, Italy, 85 min. With Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Erika Blanc.
“Luchino Visconti purportedly led a standing ovation of the film at its Italian premiere…often plays out like Bava’s answer to Visconti’s equally artificial, sensuous, and deliriously campy SENSO.” — Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
The laughter of a spectral child freezes a Transylvanian village with fear, as the eerie, mirthless sound foretells yet another horrible death of one of their own. The apparent suicide of a servant brings the no-nonsense Dr. Eswe to the scene for the autopsy, but all the tools of science provide no insight into the mystery of a little girl’s vengeance from beyond the grave. With lighting reminiscent of the rainbow colors of Jello, baroque art direction, and an imagination that plumbs the surreal, Bava transforms the horror genre into his own carnival of supernatural delights. The bizarre finale has a hallucinogenic, down-the-rabbit-hole quality that both evokes and transcends the spirit of the '60s. In Italian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
A Bay of Blood
Twitch of the Death Nerve / Reazione a catena
1971, Mario Bava, Italy, 84 min. With Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli.
“If only one-hundredth of the films it influenced had one-hundredth of its perfection, the horror film would be a much less reputable and more wonderful thing than has been the case.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy
The British black comedy KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS was reputedly the inspiration for the humor-tinged A BAY OF BLOOD, which adopts a similar theme of murder-for-greed. In terms of artful murder methods, this is one of Bava’s most lavish and imaginative productions. In terms of body count, it’s a story on the scale of a Shakespearean tragedy, but the carnage is more likely to amuse than repulse. The estate of an invalid countess is coveted by ruthless relatives and hangers-on, who scheme to kill each other off. Splendidly satirical and bursting with color, this film features Bava’s excess at its best. In English. DCP digital. (BS)
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Evil Eye / La ragazza che sapeva troppo
1963, Mario Bava, Italy, 86 min. With Leticia Román, John Saxon.
"A briskly paced Hitchcock spoof...with its mastery of the noir vocabulary it helped establish the giallo — a dark strain of pulp fiction focusing on violence and sexual perversity — as an Italian movie genre." — J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
Hitchcock was clearly the inspiration for this psychological thriller, which takes off on the theme of the naive American in trouble abroad. GIRL launched the Italian “giallo” genre — movies based on pulp fiction — which accounts for the film’s provocative Nancy Drew-meets-Barbie aspect. Bava crafts a suspense story full of wonderful twists, sinister encounters, and a bit of humor. The first night in Rome for tourist Nora (Román) begins auspiciously when she meets an eligible doctor. By morning, her hostess is dead, she’s been mugged, and she believes she’s witnessed a murder for which no body is found. In English. DCP digital. (BS)