Bava. The father of the Giallo Italian horror sub-genre (with Argento as an acolyte and semi-contemporary) Bava did what the genre what Leone did for the western—he brought a hyper-stylized visual panache to the table (I’m sorry but give me Bava all day over Craven or Tobe Hooper with all due respect). The strengths of Bava’s resume is certainly his influence (see below in style/traits), being a style-plus director, and having two films that land in the top 100 of their respective decade. There isn’t a top 500 here though—and that’s a weakness—and granted the visuals are often awe-inspiring—but some of the writing and tongue-in-cheek tone of the films can be a barrier for some.

Best film: Black Sunday. Black Sunday is neck and neck with Blood and Black Lace– I have them virtually tied. One pure horror, in stark black and white, and one more of a Hitchcockian thriller in dazzling colors.

Black Sunday (here) is neck and neck with Blood and Black Lace– as Bava’s best- I have them virtually tied. One pure horror, in stark black and white, and one more of a Hitchcockian thriller in dazzling colors.
Immaculate set designs—highly designed expressionistic

total archiveable films: 5

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:   0

top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace)

most overrated: Bava doesn’t have one—tragically he only has one film in the TSPDT consensus top 2000 (yes, 2000) and it’s Black Sunday at #1050.

most underrated: Blood and Black Lace. Obviously it isn’t in the TSPDT top 2000 and it should be- highly influential and gorgeous to look at. Easily in my top 1000.

Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a fascinating blend of high and low art. The script is putrid and the acting is just straight bad but Bava’s gliding camera, and especially his use of color, is a major artistic achievement

  • He often uses neon lighting and heavy shadow work in the same mise-en-scene. It’s gorgeous
  • Heavy neon with posing characters for the intro title montage—jazz score—it’s a very inspired opening
  • The story is a slasher and a who-done-it set in the fashion industry (which gives Bava plenty of excuses to go nuts (and I love it) with the décor
A master of color—neons an influence on Argento, certainly 2010’s Refn (Only God Forgives, Neon Demon), Peter Greenaway (in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover)—but every time a film like Korine’s Spring Breakers comes out you have to mention Bava
  • Flashing neon green from Vertigo
  • Clearly influences Argento, mainly Suspiria, Refn’s Neon Demon and Only God Forgives, and Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
  • The film is proof a good director can make an archiveable film from any source material
  • The fast motion photography sequences are unfortunate choices
  • The second murder set piece, about 20 minutes in, is the main spectacular sequence- it’s about 5 minutes—there’s another one at the end with a superb tracking shot long take through a neon lit house filled with colorful mannequins.. if these sequences had been more than 15 minutes of the 90 minutes or so we could’ve been talking about a top 5 film of 1964—it’s about ratio here and there are 20 minute chunks here and there where it’s a really weak movie filled with bad acting—even without the dubbing—some of the bad dubbing, simple genre story stuff with spectacular visuals remind me of John Woo’s work
  • Very cheap “who-done-it” montages as Bava cuts to half guilty faces when a new clue comes up
  • elements are amongst the best of the year but others are amongst the worst of any film in my archvies—tough film to categorize
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from Blood and Black Lace – a fascinating blend of high and low art. The script is putrid and the acting is just straight bad but Bava’s gliding camera, and especially his use of color, is a major artistic achievement

gem I want to spotlight :  Black Sabbath

  • It’s an anthology horror film in three parts- stories about guilt and greed mainly because reckoned with from beyond the grave
  • All 3 stories feature beauties
  • The first story with the dripping water is the best by a decent margin—there is a flashing neon light lighting scheme that’s quite brilliant- predates Refn, Greenaway, WKW and others but clearly borrowing form Vertigo
  • Speaking of Vertigo we have the decapitated head with black background (Karloff here instead of Jimmy Stewart) credit sequence
  • Karloff is the narrator for the first two films and then is in the third- he’s a great voice- it’s a great story how he was both a physical actor who went from man with a presence in the Frankenstein films to a man with a voice—much like say tom hardy
  • 3rd film is more gothic in nature like some of Bava’s other work—neon lighting comes back for the last 10 minute worth of exteriors at night
  • Part AIP Corman films (this is from AIP) with Price and part like Hammer films
  • Based on terror you can’t really see and it’s well done by Bava- pure cinema as he evokes the terror through camera and editing
  • Karloff looks horrifying in finale- good makeup work
from Black Sabbath – Bava studied painting, was a DP from 1930’s-1950’s with the likes of Walsh and Rossellini

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Most often cited as the first director of Italian Giallo horror- a subgenre started in the early 1960’s
  • A master of color—neons an influence on Argento, certainly 2010’s Refn (Only God Forgives, Neon Demon), Peter Greenaway (in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover)—but every time a film like Korine’s Spring Breakers comes out you have to mention Bava
  • Bad acting, silly premises (tongue in cheek) writing
  • Gliding cameras
  • Immaculate set designs—highly designed expressionistic
  • Bava studied painting, was a DP from 1930’s-1950’s with the likes of Walsh and Rossellini
  • An acolyte of Hitchcock. Ford is to Leone = Hitchcock is to Bava… certainly Cocteau feels like an influence as well and since we’re talking Hitchcock— De Palma has to come up- doing a lot of the same things as Bava a decade later—genius cinema and bravado direction with sometimes weak narratives—genre blending of high and low art
  • heavy shadow work in the same mise-en-scene.
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Bava did what the genre what Leone did for the western—he brought a hyper-stylized visual panache to the table
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the spiral staircase– Bava isn’t alone in auteurs using it for a great shot like this- but it interests me here as it connects him to the lineage from Hitchcock– clearly Vertigo is a very important film to Bava
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from Kill Baby, Kill — the peak of Bava’s work was from 1960-1966

top 10

  1. Black Sunday
  2. Blood and Black Lace
  3. Kill Baby, Kill
  4. Black Sabbath
  5. Bay of Blood

By year and grades

1960- Black Sunday HR
1963- Black Sabbath R
1964- Blood and Black Lace HR
1966- Kill Baby, Kill R
1971- Bay of Blood R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives