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August 05, 2006

My Late Mario Bava Birthday Celebration


Knives of the Avenger/I Coltelli del Vendicatore
Mario Bava - 1966
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD


Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre
Garry S. Grant - 2000
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

In anticipation of Tim Lucas's book on Mario Bava, I've made a point of seeing as many films as possible. Like most people familiar with Bava's work, I prefer his horror films, especially Black Sunday and The Girl who knew Too Much. In filling in the gaps, I even took in a late night cable showing of Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, Bava's one attempt at making a Western.

I found Knives of the Avenger a bit more rewarding. I don't know how much Bava's heart was into making a Viking film, but certainly one can see his hand in the framing and composition. Some of the costuming made me think of a furry version of the peplum, the sword and sandal genre that was popular in the early Sixties. The story could have easily been remade as a Western, with elements that strongly recall Shane. Certainly the mask Cameron Mitchell wears has similarities to the mask forced on Barbara Steele in Black Sunday, a similarity Bava emphasises in a scene of Mitchell raping Viking queen Elissa Pichelli. Without the mask, Mitchell is a bit distracting to look at with his dyed blond hair contrasting against his dark stubble filled jaw. What I did like about Knives of the Avenger is that it is a reminder of a time when adventure films that took place in a distant past were a common staple of filmgoing. If Bava was not overly concerned with the story, the film is filled with several loving gazes at the sea, something of a visual continuation from Whip and the Body.

The documentary on Bava is somewhat worthwhile as an overview of Bava's career. Part of the hour is wasted on proving how much Alien was influenced by Planet of the Vampires and how Friday the 13th is a remake of Bay of Blood. I would have prefered to see some example of Bava's work as a cinematographer to get an idea of stylistic similarities between his work for others and for himself. Roberto Rossellini and Raoul Walsh are mentioned, but not the films (La Nave Bianca and Esther and the King respectively) that Bava filmed. There are no clips from Bava's non-horror films, but also no clips from Blood and Black Lace, Whip and the Body or the little seen Rabid Dogs. Maybe the Bava documentary I would ideally like to see is too specialized but it would includes clips that illustrate Bava's sense of composition and use of color to demonstrate his artistry. In terms of Bava's playful side, the anecdotes are cute, but Bava's humor is best seen in the end of the Italian version of Black Sabbath. The film concludes with a shot of Boris Karloff, seen in a medium shot, riding his horse through the woods. The camera pulls back to reveal how the shot is actually done, an example of one of cinema's magicians revealing how he does one of his tricks.

Posted by peter at August 5, 2006 06:16 PM


Peter, I'm touched to hear that you're staging a personal Bava retrospective in anticipation of the book. I'm on the final read-through of the text now, and feeling kind of overwhelmed by it; I hope you will too, in a good way!

I need to correct a misstatement in your KNIVES review: ROY COLT was not Bava's only attempt at directing a Western. In fact, he directed one other, THE ROAD TO FORT ALAMO, in 1964, and also contributed to two others, Sergio Corbucci's MINNESOTA CLAY and Antonio Roman's SAVAGE GRINGO, both made circa 1965. There are a couple of other Western surprises I'm saving for the book.

The Bava documentary got underway with another director at the helm, who was inspired but tempted away by the offer to assistant direct a feature in Australia, I believe. His post was taken over by another director (Garry Grant), mid-stream, who didn't have the same feeling for Bava. I have more screen time than some of Mario's family members, so I can't complain my three-hour interview resulted in so little coverage, but my interview yielded most of the information that went into the show's research and script, and I received no credit or acknowledgement for either. Furthermore, I was later told that Grant thought I was a bit of a lox on-camera (I can't argue or help that) and asked a friend, THE DARK SIDE editor Allan Bryce, to reprise some of my stories on-camera for variety's sake -- which he did carelessly, introducing errors into the program. There is another documentary, MARIO BAVA OPERAZIONE PAURA, that was made for Italian TV and it plays better, but I think the definitive Bava documentary is still to be made.

It was a surprise and a pleasure to see myself and the book mentioned here at the end of a long proofreading day, and I thank you for your interest!

Tim / VW

Posted by: Tim Lucas at August 6, 2006 02:17 AM

Thanks for the information and corrections. I should note that most of what I know about Mario Bava is from Tim's commentary tracks and liner notes from the VCI Mario Bava Box Set.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at August 6, 2006 09:25 AM