Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

*. Mario Bava considered Five Dolls for an August Moon to be his least favourite (or worst) movie, which, given his prodigious output, is quite a badge of bad merit.
*. I don’t think it’s anywhere near his worst work, and indeed I find most of it quite watchable. To be sure it was done on the cheap and in a mad rush, but so were most of Bava’s films. And as I’ve said before, I think these constraints actually inspired him.
*. I’m pretty sure no one understands the plot of this movie on a first viewing. The twist ending is both (a) ludicrous; and (b) thrown at the audience so quickly that it’s hard to follow. I certainly couldn’t figure it out until someone explained it to me. Sodium pentothal bullets? What?
*. Perhaps it makes more sense in Italian. I watched the English language version, where at least I got to enjoy lines like: “I can’t figure out whether you’re dangerous or just stupid.” “You forget: I like men but I like them to be alive.” “A cheque in my brassiere? I hope you find it.” “It looks like we’ll all end up in this damn freezer. Am I right?” and “When my father shoots animals with sodium pentothal they never talk, they just lie there and sleep.”

*. I’ve heard some suggestion that Bava deliberately sabotaged a project he was a late replacement on and didn’t feel any personal investment in. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is true that he pulls back on the violence, preferring to present the victims more as objets d’art. This starts right at the beginning with the reveal of Edwige Fenech as an erotic statue. The bouncing glass balls lead us to a tableau of a woman dead in a jacuzzi. Another body is revealed on the beach, with painting paraphernalia scattered about as though it was about to become the subject of a still life.
*. Most remarkable of all in this regard is the shot of Jack lying among assorted fruit and vegetables (including a very strategically placed carrot). The arrangement here is quite obviously meant to recall nature morte, to use the more suggestive French way of referring to these things.

*. There’s quite an interesting genealogy to follow. The main source is Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with its story of a group of people being killed off one by one on an island they’ve been invited to. Bava seems to have been not much interested in all that, and in his next film, A Bay of Blood, he took things in a different direction: away from the well-constructed plot and toward shocks and thrills. The next step would be Friday the 13th and the slasher film with bodies piling up around the remote cabin in the woods. So . . . Friday the 13th is Agatha Christie’s great-grandchild.

*. The sixties flavour is a lot of fun. I don’t usually think of Bava’s crazy zooms as being part of that whole psychedelic-a-go-go style, and I don’t think that’s what it originally came out of, but it fits in perfectly here.
*. The impression I get is that the whole thing was treated more or less as a joke. Those bodies hanging in the freezer can’t be taken seriously, and you just have to throw your hands up and laugh at the ending. Still, it’s nicely shot and Bava arranges all the pieces nicely. There’s even a touch of Morel-like surrealism in the visit of the sailors to the mysteriously empty beach house. The killers are directors too, and not without a sense of humour. Maybe Bava thought none of it was any good, but I can’t believe he wasn’t having fun.

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