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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2
The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // October 23, 2007
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by DVD Savant | posted October 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Starting late in 1999, Image Entertainment licensed and released a series of Mario Bava DVDs from producer/rights holder Alfredo Leone. Around the same time, Video Watchdog editor and publisher Tim Lucas announced the upcoming publication of his major book on the Italian director. Seven years later, improved editions of most of the same Bava titles are being reissued by Anchor Bay, just as Lucas' massive Bava bio, All the Colors of the Dark has finally been published. Last March, Savant reviewed The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1, which contained five titles: Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby ... Kill! The new Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 contains seven separate shows, or nine if one counts The House of Exorcism, an ugly reworking of Bava's Lisa and the Devil, and Rabid Dogs, a superior cut included on the disc of Kidnapped.

Anchor Bay's Bava Collections have been in the works for over two years. I spoke with the producer of extras for the company back when they first acquired the collection. The initial plan was to turn the discs into lavish special editions. The disc producer had even lined up the reclusive Barbara Steele for interviews. Those ideas were soon dropped, even before Anchor Bay was purchased by Starz Media. While the Special Edition idea was still on, AB picked up distribution rights for the non-Leone Bava epic Erik the Conqueror. But the company drew the line at importing the much-desired Caltiki, The Immortal Monster because it was in B&W.

Improved transfers for some of the titles makes the Anchor Bay Volume 2 set more than a simple reissue. Several of the Volume 2 discs also feature new commentaries by Tim Lucas, turning them into a virtual 'companion publication' for his just-released book. 1



5 Dolls for an August Moon
1970 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic enhanced / 78 min. / 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto
Starring William Berger, Ira von Fürstenberg, Edwige Fenech, Howard Ross, Helena Ronee, Teodoro Corrà, Ely Galleani, Edith Meloni, Mauro Bosco, Maurice Poli
Cinematography Antonio Rinaldi
Production Designer Giuseppe Aldrovandi, Giulia Mafai
Film Editor Mario Bava
Original Music Piero Umiliani
Writing credits Mario di Nardo
Produced by Luigi Alessi

Five Dolls for An August Moon shares a flipper disc with Four Times That Night. The 1970 thriller gathers five greedy couples for a weekend of beach house partying that turns into a murder spree. My May 2001 review of the earlier disc stresses Bava's ability to give texture to a story that barely exists beyond his visual contribution. Seen again in this improved transfer, the conventional scenes look exceptional and the best material seems inspired. Color and movement (and Piero Umiliani's wickedly funny lounge soundtrack) compensate for weak characterizations; second-tier Bava is still better than most of the sexy thrillers churned out by Bava's Italian imitators. But why the awful reliance on smash zoom shots? This picture begins with an ugly barrage of zooms.

Five Dolls is presented in a fairly sharp enhanced 1:85 transfer, looking far better than the 2001 Image disc. Otherwise, the older disc shouldn't be discarded; the new release has the same Italian track with English subs, but lacks the old Image disc's alternate English and isolated Music & Effects track, and a couple of text extras. This particular title has no commentary. The old Image discs feature thorough liner notes by Tim Lucas, another reason to hang onto them. 2



Roy Colt and Winchester Black
1970 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic enhanced / 85 min. / Roy Colt e Wincester Jack
Starring Brett Halsey, Charles Southwood, Marilù Tolo, Teodoro Corr`, Isa Miranda
Cinematography Antonio Rinaldi
Production Designer Giulia Mafai
Film Editor Olga Pedrini
Original Music Piero Umilani
Writing credits Mario di Nardo
Produced by Luigi Alessi

Roy Colt & Winchester Jack is a Italian western comedy filmed on the cheap, mostly in the beach and quarry-like settings seen in Bava pictures like Danger: Diabolik. Devotees of Spaghetti westerns love comedies with Terence Hill, but even the Sergio Leone- produced My Name is Nobody has its tedious moments. Perhaps it's because even the serious Italian westerns are already commenting humorously on the American form; doing a spoof of a spoof is an exercise in chasing one's tail.

Most westerns filmed on exteriors need to establish the great outdoors but Bava's visual style is cramped and small-scale, despite a few in-camera mattes to represent Arizona-style rock formations. Mario de Nardo's script is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as envisioned by a simpleton. Roy Colt (Brett Halsey) fools his partner Jack (Charles Southwood), a businessman with a map to some hidden gold and a Russian bad guy called The Reverend (Teodoro Corrà). Roy and Jack fight like fools, exchanging jaw-busting haymakers by the dozen while their henchmen joke about how neither of them ever gets hurt. They're joined by Marilù Tolo's Manila, an Indian prostitute who keeps a running tab on Jack, all the while asking him to marry her.

Unfortunately, none of this is the least bit funny. Most of the movie is taken up with slapstick fights, carousing in Isa Miranda's bawdy house, etc. It's typical of Bava that the brothel attraction of watching a nude woman's silhouette on a paper screen turns out to be the 'special effect' of a man wearing a cardboard cut-out. After 30 or so unsurprising turns of fortune and a lot of dynamite tossed about, the movie ends with yet another tired gag. I suppose what this tells us is that some Italian audiences prefer their humor pitched at a Hee Haw level, just like here.

Savant didn't review the first disc of Roy Colt & Winchester Jack. This enhanced transfer has color issues, with sickly browns and reds predominating. The fading isn't complete but it's sufficient to spoil the picture's good looks. The Italian track comes with English subs; in this case it looks as if English may have been the language spoken on the set. No extras are offered. Anchor Bay seems to have been lucky to come up with one original poster for the slim case cover.



Bay of Blood
1971 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic enhanced / 84 min. / Ecologia del delitto, Reazione a catena, Twitch of the Death Nerve, The Last House on the Left Part II
Starring Claudine Auger. Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonté, Anna Maria Rosati, Chris Avram, Leopoldo Trieste, Laura Betti, Brigitte Skay, Isa Miranda
Cinematography Mario Bava
Production Designer Sergio Canevari
Film Editor Carlo Reali
Original Music Stelvio Cipriani
Writing credits Franco Barberi, Dardano Sachetti
Produced by Giuseppe Zaccariello

This is Savant's first time through Bay of Blood. I received the original Image disc but gave up trying to watch it because of its grossly distorted audio track. Here's one Bava film where the best title is the American exploitation handle used on the first Image release: Twitch of the Death Nerve. The Bay of Blood title is too tame and the original Ecologia del delitto far too refined. The movie's smorgasbord of gory slayings is too cynical for the script's pretense that corrupt humanity deserves to die so that nature can carry on in peace. The film's obvious appeal is to the sadistic delight of thirteen creative impalements, shootings, throat-slittings and garrotings, each celebrated in loving detail. Once again Bava proves himself far ahead of the curve, leap-frogging the mystery trappings of Argento-style Gialli to reduce the thriller genre to a series of calculated shocks. Compared to this greedy cast of killers, the murderers in 5 Dolls for an August Moon just aren't very creative.

It's unfair to criticize Mario Bava for going with the flow of commercial necessity. As Tim Lucas pointed out in his earlier liner notes, Bay was 'dumbfoundingly cheap' to film, and we fear that Bava's career continued because he turned out slick-looking pictures at a fraction of the cost of his imitators. It's also not fair to judge Bava for changing visual styles. The lush gothic blacks and sensual beauties of Blood and Black Lace have been supplanted by sunny locations and high-gloss interiors emphasizing the consumer fantasy world of Italian fashion and design. In its defense, Bay of Blood has some interesting characters beyond its obvious teen victims, especially a medium played by Laura Betti and Leopoldo Trieste as her bug-collecting husband. In his commentary, Tim Lucas likens Claudine Auger's vicious schemer to Lady MacBeth.

The original Image disc for Bay of Blood had a similar enhanced image, although the compression on this one seems slightly improved. More importantly, the new disc's relatively clean audio allows one to watch the show without succumbing to a migraine headache. Tim Lucas' new commentary track is excellent. We can tell that Bay was a formative drive-in experience for Tim, and he's quick to pick up on every clue linking the writers and actors to other aspects of Bava's personality. Lucas identifies the shocking makeup in Bay as the work of Carlo Rambaldi. When a teen victim has his face half-cleaved by an assassin's blade, it's one of the screen's first really convincing gross-out horror makeup jobs.



Baron Blood
1972 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic enhanced / 98 min. / Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga
Starring Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Rada Rassimov, Antonio Cantafora, Umberto Raho, Luciano Pigozzi
Cinematography Mario Bava
Art Director Enzo Bulgarelli
Film Editor Carlo Reali
Original Music Stelvio Cipriani
Writing credits Vincent Fotre
Produced by Alfredo Leone

Even in the shorter American-International version Baron Blood always seemed too long and predictable. Bava does wonders with a tired story by the writer of the old Sci-Fi turnip Missile to the Moon, elevating old-fashioned chills by sheer talent and storytelling willpower. We like Elke Sommer's mini-skirted student but Antonio Cantatora is uninspiring as the Von Kleist heir who accidentally resurrects his evil ancestor. As pointed out by Tim Lucas, the rest of the movie plays out like House of Wax. Velvet-throated Joseph Cotten is a welcome presence, although his villainy is obvious to everyone except the leads.

After the mod trappings of his previous thrillers Bava gives us another big helping of his gothic lighting, minus most of the extreme color gels we're used to seeing. Dressed in some truly garish costumes, Sommer is chased through misty streets for the film's best scenes. At 98 minutes, this is Bava's slowest gothic horror.

Anchor Bay's anamorphic 1:85 transfer is a vast improvement on the old flat letterboxed disc, but some scenes are a bit on the grainy side. The opening titles look terrible, as if they had to be sourced from an inferior print. If you've seen Baron Blood before, Tim Lucas' commentary makes it an entirely new experience, as we learn how producer Leone had to pry Bava loose from his home turf to make a movie in Austria. Also, with Lucas pointing the way, every walk-through extra seems to be somebody attached to the production, a producer's relative or Bava himself.



Four Times That Night
1972 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic enhanced / 83 min. / Quante volte ... quella notte
Starring Daniela Giordano, Brett Halsey, Dick Randall, Valeria Sabel, Calisto Calisti
Cinematography Antonio Rinaldi
Film Editor Otello Colangeli
Original Music Coriolano Gori
Writing credits Mario Moroni, Charles Ross
Produced by Alfredo Leone, Dick Randall

With Four Times That Night Bava tries his hand at a sex comedy, with so-so results; his work is excellent but the material would resist the best efforts of any director. Just the same, the film is much better than, say, Val Guest's attempts around this same time to join the soft-core 'skin and smirk' parade.

The young and prosperous Gianni (Brett Halsey) takes Tina (Daniela Diordano) on a date. She returns home to her mother (Valeria Sabel) with her dress torn, crying. We then hear what happened from four different points of view. Tina tells her mother that Gianni tricked her into coming into his apartment, and then ravished her. But Gianni plays innocent when he tells his drinking pals that Tina is a sex fiend who rushed him out of his clothes and into bed. The concierge (Dick Randall) peeps into the apartment and sees yet another 'version' of events in which Gianni is gay, and has procured the unwitting Tina as a companion for a foursome with some likewise swinging neighbors. Finally, a professor (Calisto Calisti) interrupts the story to talk about the varying perceptions of witnesses. He offers a fairy-tale version of the fateful date, in which both parties affirm the importance of holding off on sexual involvement until the relationship has developed further. They're really nice people, you see.

The film's comparison to Rashomon is tenuous, for for little ambiguity is possible in the four accounts of Gianni and Tina's date. All the stories seem to be wanton lies. The script dutifully seeks opportunities for sexy shots of the lovely Giordiani as well as the kind of 'naughty' images that proliferated on the posters for Italian sex comedies. Tina is introduced with an undignified zoom into her skirt as she bends over to tend to her puppy. The dated aspects of the costumes and settings have a cute, kitschy quality, but the story is still a flimsy excuse for teasing situations that pay off with a conservative message. Gianni's caddish rape of Tina is 'just good fun', while the gay couple's advances are inexcusable. Tina takes a peek at what Gianni and his male neighbor are doing in the bedroom, and all we see is the disgusted look on her face. The tale's virtuous finish is a fraud. Before the date, Gianni prowls the park in his sports car, propositioning several chicks before spotting the derriére of his dreams in Tina.

Bava's work here is efficient; with so few locations we can imagine him knocking off the entire film in record time. Most of the lighting is high key, which limits the depth of Bava's visual imprint. What Four Times That Night tells us is that in the early 1970s Bava's artistic choices were more limited than ever. Spaghetti westerns didn't lead to better opportunities and the sex comedy was an equally unpromising long shot. Yet he gives each project his all.

Four Times That Night isn't much changed from the original Image release, which also had a 1:78 enhanced transfer and a good Italian track with English subtitles. This title also has no new commentary, which makes the Image disc's liner notes ( ... now, who wrote those? ...) all the more worth hanging onto.



Lisa and the Devil / The House of Exorcism
1973-1975 / color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 95 min.
Starring Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Alida Valli, Alessio Orano, Sylva Koscina, Gabrielle Tinti; (added for House of Exorcism:) Robert Alda
Cinematography Cecilio Paniagua
Art Direction Nedo Azzini
Original Music Carlo Savina
Written by Mario Bava and Alfredo Leone
Produced by Alfredo Leone

My appreciation for Lisa and the Devil has increased over the years; of all of the later Bava pix it's the one I've returned to more than once. Tim Lucas has decided that the film was Bava's 'last chance' to create a masterpiece, and it's different enough to keep us guessing at all times. I reviewed the film in May of 2000. A plot rundown and general appreciation can be found there.

Lisa and the Devil is an original in a genre that was gasping for creative air. Elke Sommer's confused Lisa enters a dreamland through a kind of time-warping reality shift hinted at in stories like Carnival of Souls, where people struggle to escape a strange situation, only to find that they're not themselves any more. Bava leaves Toledo behind almost immediately, when Lisa enters Bava's Escher-like maze of streets. Soon after she chances onto Telly Savalas' Devil character, reality undergoes a nightmarish distortion. Like Margheriti's Danse Macabre, Lisa's companions and acquaintances may all be lost souls like herself, doomed to replay old horrors in the Devil's house of the damned.

Lisa and the Devil has plenty of horror trappings and some of the best 'corridor wandering' in Eurohorror; when these people drift about, they discover things of importance. The casting is for once perfect. Sylva Koscina's adulteress commands our attention. Alida Valli is a frightening mother figure and the genuinely creepy Alessio Orano (The Most Beautiful Wife) a perverse lover. Other lovers transmute between flesh & blood, wax dummies and desiccated skeletons; Lisa's weird sex scene takes place in a bed with her own fossilized doppelgänger, covered in dying greenery and dead leaves. It's a horror picture, but it's also Last Year at Marienbad, with eroticized ghosts.

An old laserdisc and Image's DVD were indistinct and excessively grainy, as if extreme video processing had been necessary to achieve a watchable image. The new Anchor Bay disc is a vast improvement that adds 16:9 enhancement. The extra detail allows us to appreciate the fine art direction, especially in the textures of fabrics and surfaces. Lisa's ghostly ancestor is characterized by beautiful silk scarves, and the clutter in the ghastly bridal bower is no longer a blur.

The disc also has an encoding of The House of Exorcism the depressingly sleazy recut of Lisa adding a wraparound tale with post-Friedkin vomit scenes. I wish it would go away, but it's the official theatrical release version of this movie and I can see why it has historical significance. I watched it to hear Alfredo Leone's telling of his work with Mario Bava, and discussed it in the earlier review.

The new disc carries over the Leone commentary (which also has comments by Elke Sommer) and most of the extras, leaving out Tim Lucas' original liner notes and a fairly graphic deleted sex scene. More than compensating is Tim's fully fleshed commentary, which prods for significance in practically every one of Bava's artful compositions, and more often than not convinces us with his interpretations -- keep your eye on the clock faces. He perceives a telling distinction between the Spanish sections filmed by Cecilio Paniagua (starlight filters) and the ones made in the Italian town used in Kill, Baby ... Kill!. This time through Lucas even sold me on the appropriateness of the film's Jumbo Jet finale. 3



Kidnapped (Rabid Dogs)
1974 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic enhanced / 96 min. / Cani arrabibiati
Starring Riccardo Cucciolla, Don Backy, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman, Maria Fabbri, Erika Dario
Cinematography Emilio Varriano
Film Editor Carlo Reali
Original Music Stelvio Cipriani
Writing credits Alessandro Parenzo
Produced by Lamberto Bava, Alfredo Leone, Roberto Loyola

Eager fans that purchased Anchor Bay's disc of Kidnapped (Rabid Dogs) back in March of this year have reason to grouse, as this new collection simply repackages the stunning, ill-fated crime thriller in a new slim case. The labels are different but the menus are identical, so I'm assuming that it's the exact same disc presentation, with both the preferred Rabid Dogs cut and the attempted update version Kidnapped included. Tim Lucas' commentary is intact, along with the docu End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs. Please refer to Savant's March 2007 review. It feels like I was just writing it yesterday.


Fans are likely to wonder why this Volume 2 didn't include other titles like Erik the Conqueror or Hatchet for the Honeymoon, which was part of the original Image Bava collection. Anchor Bay is keeping its Alfredo Leone product separate from disc product licensed from other rights holders.

Hopefully, fans pouring over the lavish contents of Tim Lucas' book will increase interest in the Region 1 holdout titles in Bava's filmography ... Caltiki, prime versions of the Hercules movies, etc. The timing of Anchor Bay's boxed sets couldn't be better.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 rates:
Video: All Very good, with the exception of Roy Colt, which is Fair
Sound: All Very good with some variation.
Supplements: see above
Packaging: Six slim cases in card sleeve, inside a second card sleeve
Reviewed: October 19, 2007

Footnotes:

1. Back in March, two separate DVDs of Bava's Kill, Baby ... Kill! were announced, Anchor Bay's version and a competing disc from the Dark Sky label. An Italian court case reaffirmed Alfredo Leone's claim to the DVD rights, and the few review copies that circulated of the doomed Dark Sky version became instant collectors' items.
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2. Savant realizes that some Eurohorror collectors have amassed 3 or 4 (or 8 or 9?) different releases of these pictures, on old clamshell VHS tapes, laserdiscs and DVDs from various countries of origin. And I'll bet that each copy has unique peculiarities, or extras, that keep the collectors from discarding them.
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3. DVD Savant's original review blurb is on this disc's back cover: "Beautiful, transcendant and truly macabre" -- pithy, and so true. If a film goes to the trouble of being macabre, why then it ought to be truly macabre. Hey, it beats "It's a thrill ride" being used for some other disc. How I ever thought up that one escapes me entirely.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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