All Things August: Mario Bava’s “5 Dolls for an August Moon”

5dolls02When it comes to watching films of certain eras, genres, sub-genres, or countries, or watching films made by certain directors, cinematographers, studios, or even ones featuring certain actors, let’s face it, we can’t possibly see them all. Now, as diverse as I like to pride myself as being, I too have a number of gaps to fill within my ever ongoing quest to sample as much from the vast smorgasbord of film history as I possibly can before I die. This is why, starting this month (August) I will dedicate the last two weeks of each month to watching as many films as I can to movies that have the name of the month somewhere within their titles. Hopefully, come 12 months from now, this will be one more silly sub-sub-category of films that I can cross off my need-to-watch list.

Just seven years after he directed the first official *giallo film, 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Mario Bava brought this to the world, a purposeless stylized whodonit film that Bava himself deemed one of his worst. I’m inclined to agree with Bava’s self critique, even having not seen any of his filmography up until this point. Sure, this filmmaker’s body of work may be a particular hole in my film watching, but the genre of which he is known to have birthed is not. I have seen a slew of films from the likes of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi, and many more (Honestly, I don’t know how I have gone this long without seeing a Bava film) so I think it’s safe to say that I know what a great giallo film looks like when I see one. This is not one of them.

The plot description, as taken from IMDB reads: “A small group of people come to an island to relax but soon find themselves trapped on the island with a murderer in their midst.”

The film’s biggest flaws lie in its incoherencies, and I’m not just referring to the addition of some janky subtitles (I’m no expert in Italian, but I’m pretty sure two sentences spoken in Italian warrant more than just four english words being displayed). There’s also a lot of overcomplicating and oversexualizing (the latter of which I hardly ever complain about) of what is otherwise basically a pretty traditional plot.

Also, the film’s whole mystery element is totally misguided. It should have been centered on discovering the killer, or killers, who are murdering the inhabitants of an island beach house one at a time, not on trying to figure out the motives of a bunch underwritten characters and their oddly timed sexcapades, or trying to distinguish one half naked sassy slender Italian brunette from another.

So as not to end this review on a completely sour note (gotta stay positive) I will say this of the film; it has a great title – as senseless as it may be – and an even greater soundtrack with some kind of cool time daddy’o organ based jazzy prog rock thing going for it, ya dig? Oh yeah there’s also all those many zooms (see clip below). It’s as if this guy lives and breathes with the zoom. Zoom in, zoom out. Zoom in, zoom out. Zoom in, zoom out. It’s equally hypnotizing as it is exhausting. All in good fun though, right?

* Wikipedia’s Definition of giallo: an Italian 20th-century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and mystery. In English, it refers to a genre similar to the French fantastique genre and includes elements of horror fiction and eroticism.

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