The most wonderful time of the year has rolled around, bringing with it the requisite leaf piles, mutilated pumpkins, paper skeletons, pumpkin spiced abominations, decorative corpses, “fun” cobwebs, and other oxymoronic traditions that are nominally ghastly but suddenly become socially acceptable during this season of seasons. To celebrate, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon. That’s like two weeks longer than most Halloween movie marathons, because we’re pretty awesome, that’s why.
Today we examine a trio of films from Mario Bava, the godfather of Italian horror cinema and one of the more influential visual stylists of the 20th century. Bava is famous for his Gothic works and for popularizing the Giallo sub-genre (plus numerous pre-slashers), thus inspiring other Italian horror maestros like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Bava is the first of what I’m calling “Obscure Horror Auteurs”, though he’s probably the least obscure of the ones I’m tackling (then again, he’s obscure enough to general audiences, I think). Others will follow in the coming weeks.
It should be noted that I’ve already seen a good deal of Bava’s work, so the below is actually filling in some gaps, rather than an ideal collection of his films. If you’re looking for a good intro to Bava, go for Blood and Black Lace, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve). I’ve covered some of these in past Six Weeks of Halloween posts. Several of these are available to stream on Netflix, and upstart horror streaming service Shudder recently had a big event. Check out this gif from Kill Baby, Kill:
So let’s get into it, here’s three of Bava’s lesser-known works:
- Alien (Trailer)
- Doctor Who: State of Decay (Episode)
- Alien’s Acid Blood (Robot Chicken)
- Planet of the Vampires – This movie is perhaps best known as a precursor and influence on Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s classic film Alien, and yes, there are definitely some similarities here. A group of astronauts find themselves on a mysterious planet and begin to turn on each other as they are influenced by mysterious forces native to the planet. The most Alien-esque sequence involves the crew investigating an old spaceship wreck (dare I call it a derelict spacecraft?), discovering the long-dead remains of a species of giant creatures who must have succumbed to the planet’s spooky inhabitants.
You could also argue that some of the visuals also influenced Alien, though Bava’s tone is a decidedly more pulpy, Flash Gordon style of vivid colors and ulta-low budget cheese. There the similarities end. Bava’s film starts off a bit talky and the plot is minimal, but there are some neat visual flourishes, such as when a number of buried crew members rise from their hasty graves or the aforementioned trip to a derelict spacecraft.
Bava’s no-budget effects, all done with lighting, miniatures and forced perspective, are pretty interesting, though some don’t hold up so well. Also of note: the distinct lack of vampires. There is nothing even remotely vampiric in the film, just some sorta space ghosts. Ultimately a film that is probably only of interests to students of the genre, though perhaps some of you normals might find something to like here (Like those bitchin leather uniforms!) I had a decent enough time with it, but wasn’t super impressed either. **
- Grindhouse: Don’t (Fake Trailer)
- Black Sunday (Trailer)
- The Pit and the Pendulum (Trailer)
- Baron Blood – Modern-day gothic horror, a young man named Peter visits his ancestral home in Austria, a castle that once housed a sadistic Baron who was cursed to a violent death by a witch the Baron had burned at the stake. Peter has found a series of incantations amongst his family belongings and decides to read them aloud in the castle not once, but twice. The first time, he and his lady friend hear strange noises and bumps in the night, so he reads the incantation to reverse the summoning spell. But that wasn’t enough, they do it again the next night, only this time he drops the paper into a fire, thus losing the ability to fight the Baron, who is now free to roam about the castle and get up to murderous mischief. Yeah, so not a particularly clever setup, but there’s some gorgeous and elaborate production design here, and Bava crafts a few decently suspenseful sequences. The ending almost turns into a dark Scooby Doo episode, which I actually appreciated, though the film as a whole never really took off for me. Lesser Bava and probably my least favorite of the weekend… *1/2
- Village of the Damned (Trailer)
- Young Frankenstein (Trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson’s Dracula
- Kill Baby, Kill – Now this is more like it. A more traditional gothic horror tale, this one is set in a cursed town. A doctor arrives to assist an inspector looking into several mysterious deaths. In performing an autopsy, he discovers mysterious coins placed inside the corpses. Meanwhile, a mysterious young blond girl is seen about town (often peering through windows and laughing), and the local witch is also on the case (interestingly, the local witch is actually a protagonist, and she’s pretty awesome).
An altogether more successful tale than Baron Blood, this one contains some similar elements, but it is executed much better. Again with the gorgeous production design, and Bava’s use of vivid colors, camera movement, and zooms are quite effective. Not really his best work, but this does seem to be one of the more underrated films in Bava’s oeuvre, and worth checking out for fans of gothic horror. **1/2
That wraps up the first week. Stay tuned for another obscure horror auteur next week, the films of Larry Cohen! Also check out fellow practitioners of the six week marathon at Kernunrex Six Weeks of Halloween and Film Thoughts. Lots of fun stuff to come!