Five Dolls for an August Moon is Mario Bava’s – an underrated Italian horror director – work-for-hire project, a movie that helped him to finance the more direct classic Bay of Blood. The film, however, is a must for lovers of giallo, the Italian brand of colour drenched slasher films. I mean, who could resist the distinctly Italian mix of camp visuals and unscrupled characters overlaid with a psychedelic soundtrack?
Paying tribute to the premise of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, the plot concerns a gathering of the gleefully amoral rich to a remote island that leads to subterfuge and murder. They’re gathered because the richest members of the group are vying to capitalise on an eminent scientist’s money making formula, their plan, however, becomes hindered as the number of their party starts to dwindle. This is mixed in with multiple affairs which are delivered through rapid fire exposition, but the shock of them is muted in just how monotonous they become.
The multi-layered mystery of the film needs to be rewatched for clarity and often reaches the impenetrability of a Raymond Chandler novel, which famously left even the author himself puzzled as to whodunit when his works were adapted by Hollywood. With the body count rising, the tension flatlines when the killer is revealed halfway through with a confounding shrug.
Bava’s career is littered with underrated spectacles masquerading as low budget ‘shlock-busters’ and the documentary included on the release Mario Bava” Master of the Macabre sets the great injustice of underappreciation of his life’s work to rights. His work inspired filmmakers as diverse as Joe Dante, Wes Craven and Ridley Scott, with the latter’s Alien veering so far into the familiar visuals of Bava’s Planet of the Vampire that it almost pushes a little too far past homage.
Bava’s films have often been imitated, but the credit never ran back to Bava himself, he did however direct one of the most dynamic comic book adaptations, Danger Diabolik, which eschews the well-tread origin trope to follow the adventurous world of a masked jewel thief. The movie is pure campy fun, a feat that Marvel has arguably never equalled.
Maligned, misunderstood and not a firm favourite of Bava himself, the Five Dolls for an August Moon has lingered in obscurity. But this re-release by Arrow Films allows us to see a blueprint for Bay of Blood in Five Doll’s skeletal plot, touches of black humour and restrained gore, which all get improved upon only a year later. This re-release is essential for Bava fans and for those on the lookout for a good-bad movie.
Five Dolls For An August Moon is out on Blu-Ray now.