Happy Birthday Mario Bava!

Mario Bava with Jacqueline Pierreux (Black Sabbath)
Undisputed Master of Italian horror cinema Mario Bava would have turned 98 years old today. Sadly, Mr Bava passed away in 1980 at the age of 65, but he left behind an astonishing body of work. Specialising in darkly beautiful Gothic Horror, Bava also dabbled in genres as eclectic as sword and sandal peplums, science fiction (Planet of the Vampires), comic book adaptations, psychological thrillers and is generally heralded as the man responsible for kick starting the giallo (later popularised by Dario Argento), with his morbidly exquisite films The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace.
He also had a tremendous influence on the contemporary slasher movie, with his wickedly humorous whodunit, Bay of Blood. Taking the body-count template of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (And Then There Were None), Bava created a staggeringly violent, though elegantly lensed shocker that would have an overwhelming impact on the likes of Friday the 13th and its bloodied ilk.

Born in 1914, Bava began his career as a cinematographer in 1939 before taking a seat in the director’s chair for I Vampiri, co-directed with Ricardo Freda, in 1956. Generally regarded as the first Italian horror film of the sound era, I Vampiri was initially Freda’s production, but Bava stepped in to finish directing, as well as continue his role as cinematographer and SFX artist, when Freda walked off the set halfway through production. Bava worked again with Freda on Caltiki – The Immortal Monster before making his solo directorial debut with Gothic masterpiece Black Sunday. Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s story Vij, the macabre and romantic Black Sunday – AKA Mask of Satan – featured the funereal beauty of Barbara Steele in a creepy duel role and was an international hit. It also heralded Bava’s unique brand of sexualised terror as evidenced in later titles such as Whip and the Body, Black Sabbath, Baron Blood, Kill Baby Kill, 5 Dolls for an August Moon and Bava’s personal favourite, Lisa and the Devil.

Working as director, screenwriter, special effects artist and cinematographer on many of his own atmospheric and aesthetically stunning titles, as well as others (including Dario Argento’s Inferno), Bava’s final film came in 1977 when his son Lamberto scripted Shock. The distressing tale of a woman who spirals into madness when she returns to the home she formerly inhabited with her abusive husband, Shock features a jaw-dropping performance by Daria Nicoldi and is awash with striking and unsettling images and effects only Mario Bava could have envisioned and realised.

Happy Birthday Maestro Bava.


Wes said…
Good stuff James, I totally missed this one and I do sometimes check up the birthdays when scheduling posts... Bava did indeed leave and incredible body of work behind him, but I do find him a harder nut to crack than say Argento, and besides Black Sabbath, Rabid Dogs and Planet of the Vampires, Bava's films are never instant classics for me - I usually have to see them twice or three times before they weave their spell on me. Lately I've been thinking about revisiting Whip and the Body (my wife is reading Fifty Shades of Grey at the moment and that put the Bava film in mind!), and I managed to get a hold of Bava's three westerns (one is available in the Anchor Bay box, the other two more elusive), and while I'm not expecting much, they should be interesting anyhow...
Marie said…
Black Sabbath is sooo good!
James Gracey said…
I picked up the Anchor Bay box sets a couple of years back - fantastic stuff. Some wonderful commentaries by Tim Lucas, too. I still need to watch Rabid Dogs though. My favourite Bava films include Kill Baby Kill, Blood and Black Lace, Black Sunday and Bay of Blood.
You should totally revisit Whip and the Body! Bet it pisses all over 50 Shades. ;)

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