Retro Film Report #24: Bava on Instant

I was glad to see some Mario Bava films make it into the Netflix Instant catalog. The Italian director had a huge influence in cinema, but I'll spare you the Wikipedia rundown.  Suffice it to say he kick started the giallo genre, basically invented the slasher film genre, and inspired numerous directors like Tim Burton who have singled him out as one of their biggest influences.

He's basically known for his vivid cinematography (In fact, he'd been a cinematographer since the early 1940s).  On a meager budget, he'd light up a room with a technicolor brilliance and Gothic atmosphere that is truly amazing.  His films were like comic books come to life....

.... a perfect example being Danger Diabolik, forever my favorite Bava film (and one of my favorite films by any director for that matter). It's not one of the ones available on Instant, but definitely worth a look.

Another Bava classic not currently available on Instant view is Blood and Black Lace, a work of stylistic genius and epic artistic resourcefulness.  But let's not gripe about a few missing flicks. Instead, let's take a brief look at a few Bava works currently in the old Instant Queue.

Were it not for Bava's ability to fill the screen with such vivid colors and eye-catching imagery, Planet of the Vampires would be utterly forgetable.  Pretty standard old-school sci-fi fare with lots of ray-guns and cheap effects.

Being a Bava work, it's beautifully shot and easy on the eyes; however, Bava violates one of the golden rules of 60's sci-fi: Women are supposed to wear skimpy and/or form fitting futuristic garments only.  Here, they're in baggy jumpsuits.  Bad move, Bava.  Bad move.

Lisa and the Devil (1974) stars Elke Sommer and Telly Savalas.  Not one of Bava's best, and the story hardly makes sense.  It's a typical Euro horror film - reliant on style and aesthetics over weaving a good story. It's poorly edited and really has no sense of humor; not recommended for a fun, campy romp.

However, it does have it's moments...

.... like when Kojak starts romancing an unconscious Elke.  There's something a tad unsettling underlying this film - Elke is "romanced" by three separate men on three separate occasions in this film - all whilst KO'd.  Thank God the other two men weren't Vic Tayback and Allan Melvin - things would've really gotten weird.

The House of Exorcism (1975) is the exact same movie as Lisa and the Devil... except with direct rip off scenes from The Exorcist inserted almost randomly.   It's still got Kojak diddling the lifeless body of Elke, but now you also have a priest in a hospital with a possessed chick (who, at one point, turns into a stone cold fox, completely naked.... just thought you'd like to know).

Also up on Instant are Bava's Baron Blood and A Bay of Blood.

A Bay of Blood is credited as being one of the earliest examples of the slasher genre.  Lots of youths getting hacked up by a menace around a lake - you know the routine.  Nothing to write home about, but it's interesting just see the slasher tropes before they became codified by Friday the 13th.

Baron Blood is a tad on the dull side, but marks a return to Bava's Gothic roots a la the classic Black Sunday.  Cinema buffs are quick to point to Black Sunday as his best, but my favorite Bava horror film is the anthology Black Sabbath...

There's three stories, all excellent.  The first story scared the living shit out of me; I'm still haunted by that old woman.  Good God, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

And last but not least - Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966): one of the most bat shit ridiculous movies I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Every bit as campy as an Austin Powers movie - it will have you scratching your head wondering what the f**k is going on in scene after scene.  Yet it doesn't take itself seriously and the good mood is contagious.

Vincent Price does what he does best and chews up the scenery in every frame.  How can you not love this?

I'll spare you the plot synopsis.  Basically Vincent Price has created women that will explode, and somehow it will cause WWIII and destroy NATO.  But does it really matter? It's full of slapstick, great Bava cinematography, wall to wall girls, Fabian, Vincent Price... How is this not one of the biggest box office successes in history? What went wrong?....

According to legendary B-Movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, the answer lies in the fact that Laura Antonelli refused to get naked.  As the story goes, Arkoff's nephew was on the set, fell in love with Antonelli and convinced her to not take her clothes off.

In one memorable scene, Antonelli's character kidnapped and replaced by an identical "Girl Bomb" (i.e. Fembot). Fabian's, once prudish girlfriend is now a Fembot nympho in disguise.

I can only assume this is the part that would've contained Antonelli's nude scene, were it not for the meddling of Arkoff's brat nephew.  Even so, the scene is smoking hot and Fabian gets excited to a comically absurd extent.

But, like all Girl Bombs, they are not long for this world.  And so too must my post end.  Let me just wrap it up and say Bava is a genius, and he's all over the place - gothic horror, comedy, action, giallo, westerns.... Give him a try!   


  1. It's true - the old lady in 'Black Sabbath' remains possibly the biggest shock I ever experienced - how hideous she was! I've read that in the original Italian version of the flick, her story is not the first in the sequence, but the last. I thought having it kick things off was they way to go. You spent the rest of the film still reeling from her overwhelming appearance.

  2. It was 1966...how much nudity COULD Dr. Goldfoot have gotten past the (albeit on its last legs) Production Code--especially a low budget outfit like AIP? They were more understanding when a big studio showed a little more Liz Taylor than usual...

  3. Hercules In The Haunted World,not on Instant,but fun peplum! and Christopher Lee!