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Director: Mario Bava
Starz Home Entertainment/Anchor Bay Entertainment

The master of Italian horror, Mario Bava, needs no introduction here, as Anchor Bay delivers “The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2.” Most of the titles on this follow-up set have been previously released by Image Entertainment (with the exception of KIDNAPPED/RABID DOGS, which AB issued separately earlier this year) and have gone out of print. Here, the titles are presented with mostly improved transfers and shed of only a few previously available extras (namely Tim Lucas’ liner notes on a good number of them), but with the added attraction of some new, thoroughly solid commentaries by Lucas (whose book, All the Colors of the Dark, has just been released), this set is definitely worth upgrading to even if you already own some of the titles, and if you missed them the first time around, what are you waiting for?

LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973)/THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975): LISA AND THE DEVIL tells the tale of a beautiful young tourist (Elke Sommer) who witnesses an unusual mural of the devil (a cartoonish portrait of Telly Savalas with pointed ears) while in Toledo, Spain. She strays from her tour bus and ends up in a dream-like world of nightmarish events and surreal imagery. Her journey takes her to a villa where Savalas (as a lollipop-sucking butler who turns out to be Satan) observes and plays host to night of death and decay.

Bava's film is cluttered with the usual gothic settings, but the story is more convoluted and somewhat poetic as far as horror films are concerned. The Satan character functions as a puppetmaster for the other characters as they all suffer violent deaths around him (mannequins -- a favorite prop of Bava's -- are utilized as a kind of metaphor for dead souls). As a highly erotic ghost story displaying relationships between the living and the dead, LISA AND THE DEVIL is fueled by some of Bava's most powerful camera work. The film was very well received at Cannes, but despite this and a distribution offer from AIP (that the producer turned down), the indescribable, slow-paced film was deemed un-sellable and was shelved. Alas, several years later, new footage was shot, bringing back Sommer as Lisa, and THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM was born. In the new footage, the character has become possessed after her stay at the villa, so new scenes show Sommer spewing green fluid and tiny toads from her swollen mouth, while screaming dialog like "Don't break my balls, priest!" to exorcising Father Michael (Robert Alda). In the wake of half a dozen other EXORCIST rip-offs, THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM was a huge success and grossed millions.

A bonus here is a HOUSE OF EXORCISM commentary (first heard on the Image Entertainment release) by Sommer and producer Alfred Leone. While Sommer's comments are limited to five or six fond remembrances, Leone sheds light on the production of both projects, answering questions that have puzzled fans for years. For example, Leone explains that Bava did indeed direct much of the new HOUSE footage (with his son Lamberto as assistant), but didn't have anything to do with the scenes of vulgarity and nudity (these scenes where orchestrated by Leone himself). Bava was very religious and even tried to persuade the actors not to participate in these scenes! As Leone conveys, he had a great relationship with Bava, so comprises were made and after a brief falling out, Bava (who ran out before the film was edited) was satisfied with the outcome and allowed his name back on the credits (it had been credited to "Mickey Lion").

HOUSE might be trash, but its clever use of footage from LISA does not stem from the Jerry Warren school of idiotic inserting. Leone's commentary guides the viewer through how the new story was devised and how they were able to intelligently and coherently blend the footage together (look for a Telly Savalas double which Leone distinguishes by the scar on the back of his bald head). HOUSE contains more gore and nudity that was shot for LISA but not used in the final cut of Bava's original.

Quality on both titles is a vast improvement over the previous Image releases. Presented 1.85:1 anamorphic, LISA is very impressive with far less grain and striking colors than before, while HOUSE (also 1.85:1 anamorphic) has been cleaned up significantly print-wise. English mono is clear on both. Tim Lucas does a great job with his commentary on LISA, Bava’s most personal film, and you’ll definitely learn a lot about its production history. Other extras include two trailers for HOUSE, a radio spot for HOUSE and an international trailer for LISA. Not present here, but available on the previous Image double-feature set, are some sensational outtakes, including actors Sylva Koscina and Gabriele Tinti sharing a rather surprisingly softcore romp! You might want to hold on to the Image disc just for this extra.

BAY OF BLOOD (1971): Mario Bava spearheaded the "body count" genre with 1964's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, dabbled in it again in 1970's FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, and then came full circle with this groundbreaking achievement. Known under more alternative titles than any other Bava effort (THE ECOLOGY OF THE MURDER, CARNAGE, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, etc.), with its inventive and gross depictions of murder, BAY OF BLOOD (best known in the U.S as TWITCH, its title of choice by many) is one of the most innovative splatter films of all time.

In the hauntingly atmospheric opening, an elderly countess confinded to a wheelchair roams around her lonely abode on a very rainy night. She is ingeniously hung to death from the seat of her wheelchair, and her assailant is quickly identified onscreen. Then in a quick turn, someone else stabs him to death. It turns out that he was the countess' husband, and his body is now missing. It seems that the countess owns a large, remote bay that she refused to sell, and her murder culminates with the gluttonous efforts of the greedy people who want a piece of the pie, especially a couple played by French beauty Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL) and the late Luigi Pistilli (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE). What ensues is one murder after the other and when a quartet of partying youngsters drop by, they're slaughtered courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi's amazingly gross effects. The scantily clad Brigitte Skay has her throat gauged with a machete while running for her life, and a frizzy haired guy gets the same machete down the middle of his face in the film's most unsettling incident. Another couple is jointly harpooned while making love on a mattress.

BAY OF BLOOD has an unconventional plot and the framework unwraps to allow nearly all of the film's unlikable main characters to be murder suspects (as several of them are openly revealed to be early on). Although it has most of the usual great Bava characteristics, this effort thrives on effective, gory murders most of which were later aped in a number of slasher films of the early 1980s (most notably FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II). The film was even re-released by its American distributor, Hallmark (who made it a drive-in smash), as a sequel to Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!

With a transfer that looks almost identical to the old Image disc, Anchor Bay presents BAY OF BLOOD with a 1.78.1 anamorphic transfer that looks quite good, and boasts stunning color. There is some minor print damage, but the transfer is full of beautiful colors. Thankfully, the English mono sound is a vast improvement over the Image disc, which became distorted on almost every high pitch sound effect or loud piece of dialog heard in the film. The English track here is clean for the most part, with dialog coming off a bit low in some parts. No Italian track is included (as early press reports had promised), but as Lucas explains in the new commentary, the film was shot in two languages, so the Italian version is obviously a different entity altogether and perhaps the reason a separate track couldn’t be synced up to this print source. Lucas (who saw this film at a drive-in during they heyday of Hallmark) offers another fun and interesting commentary which includes a lot of welcomed quotes and anecdotes. Also included is the boring international trailer (under the CARNAGE title), radio spots and a poster and still gallery.

5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON (1970)/FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT (1968): Bava was essentially a director for hire on 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, a giallo re-working of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" (which he reportedly abhorred). Bava didn't want to make the picture, but he couldn't refuse the money that he would be given to shoot it. Making several changes in the conventional storyline and editing a film for the first time, Bava attempted to make the best out of something that his heart was evidently not into.

The plot brings together a bunch of swinging characters on a secluded island retreat owned by a wealthy industrialist. Among the guests is Gerry Farrell (William Berger) an exhausted inventor who has discovered a new brand of industrial resin. The men try to persuade Farrell to sell them the precious formula, as a few checks made out for $1 million get tossed around left and right. Farrell strongly resists all offers, but the greedy folks keep on persevering. Since a number of alluring girlfriends and wives are along for the ride, there's much sexual tension and cheating going on, as all the relationships are unsteady and shallow. One woman is having an affair with the houseboy, and he's the first to get it (his body is discovered on the beach full of sand crabs). Not surprisingly, there is no way for the island-goers to make contact with the mainland, so the houseboy's corpse is wrapped in plastic and hung in the freezer next to other big slabs of meat. After much booze-soaked hostility, more murders occur, producing additional bodies to toss into the freezer. When the houseguests are narrowed down to a handful, they try and outwit each other and deduce which one is the culprit.

Sandwiched in between the landmark BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, which instrumentally set the stage for the sex and violence thrillers of the 1970s, FIVE DOLLS compares unfavorably to those classics. It's one of the few Bava films that's not distinctive of his trademark strokes of genius, and therefore looks like it could've been directed by anybody. Granted, there are a number of worthy camera shots and keen ideas at play, but gone are the gothic shocks and multi-colored light schemes that make his films so fascinating.

Set amongst a futuristic, James Bond-type abode complete with electronically rotating beds and mod "art deco" decor, Bava does his best with the claustrophobic surroundings and beautiful beach-side property. For the most part, the cast is uninteresting, but the ladies are beautiful. Especially stunning is Edwige Fenech who looks great shaking her fanny at a party or modeling various two-piece garments (Edwige would soon go on to become a giallo queen, appearing in a number of films for Sergio Martino). Bava chose not to show the murders occurring on screen, but instead he reveals static outcome shots of the various victims. Piero Umiliani's upbeat jazz/rock/classical score underlies the murders in a more merry light than you'd expect. Even though this fails to inject any horror into these scenes, the music manages to succeed, especially with Bava's more restrained approach. It's basically a decent murder mystery that's more a slice of stylish, mod-era Euro pop than anything else. Don't expect the thrills of the extremely excessive TWITCH here, but FIVE DOLLS will probably grow on Bava fans and retro addicts in the years to come.

This presentation of FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON also looks better than what Image released, with vibrant colors and only some minor print damage in a properly letterboxed 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Two tracks are included: English (the language it was apparently filmed in) and Italian. The Image disc included a third track of isolated music and sound effects, but you won’t find that here. There are also no extras to speak of.

The flip side of the disc contains Bava’s 1968 sex farce FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT, which marks the first teaming of Bava and American-born producer Alfred Leone. Set amongst a very mod late 1960s, Tina (the absolutely gorgeous Daniela Giordano, Miss Italy 1967) accepts a date with a cruising playboy (Brett Halsey), which propels into four different version of what happened on their swinging first night out. FOUR TIMES is amusing enough but not essential Bava, and the film showcases very little of his directorial style, and it also offers more female nudity than any other film he did. Brigitte Skay (BAY OF BLOOD) and New York-born sleaze producer Dick Randal (as a perverted doorman) also appear. The film carries a fine 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer with an Italian language track (optional English subtitles) but no extras.

ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK (1970): Although the maestro had directed several westerns in the 1960s, the films had mainly gone ignored and not met with much critical acclaim. Bava's talents were better given to gothic tales and muscleman fantasies, but he did one more western with ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK. Obviously inspired by Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood movies and George Roy Hill's then-recent smash BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK is passable entertainment but definitely not Bava at his best.

Scripted by Mario Di Nardo, the same writer on FIVE DOLLS, the story involves two outlaws: blonde Winchester Jack (Charles Southwood) and dark-haired Roy Colt (Brett Halsey, also seen in Bava's FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT). Always getting into fights with his pal, Roy Colt leaves the posse in search of a more honest life, and ends up being a town Sheriff and entrusted with the map of an Indian treasure. Other interested parties include an Native American prostitute (Marilù Tolo) who is saved from a murder rap and becomes romantically involved with Roy and Winchester and an amusing villainous character named "The Reverend" (Teodoro Corrà) and his corrupt gang of bandits.

With ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK, Bava goes for satire but the two American leads don't have the charm of Franco Nero or Tomas Milian to pull it off, and having their voices dubbed by Italian actors doesn't help much either. There is some fun slapstick, including a character being thrown across a brothel room and an old cripple having his crutches shot down by a twitching gunslinger. Marilù Tolo is charming as the Indian girl always extorting men for money, but her native getup and Italian looks make her resemble Cher during her variety series days. Not many of the director's trademark touches are on display here, but there are some nice matte shots blended with scenic beaches, and a shot of the sun shining through the eye socket of a skull is classic Bava.

The transfer for ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK looks nice, though not as sparkling as some of the other titles on this set, and Bava's usual palette of color schemes are not well represented with this title. It's anamorphic and letterboxed in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and there is some minor speckling on the print source. The adequate mono audio contains the Italian language version, with English subtitles. There are no extras for the title.

BARON BLOOD (1972): BARON BLOOD is one of Bava’s most recognizable pictures in the U.S. due to its theatrical distribution by AIP and constant play on late-night television (back when TV was TV!). Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) flies from America to Austria, where he intent on learning about his centuries-old relative Baron Otto Von Kleist, a sadist who perished under a witch’s curse. Staying at thehome of his uncle (Massimo Girotti), Peter teams up with mini-skirted and fashionable student Eva (Elke Sommer), as they visit the Baron’s old castle and recite an incantation from a parchment which of course brings the moldy bastard back from the dead. A bloody, disfigured mess in black garb, the Baron kills a number of passer-buys and changes his appearance as the charming Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotten) to purchase the castle when it’s on the auction block and usher his torturous methods into the 20th century.

Produced by Alfred Leone, BARON BLOOD is often regarded as lower-tier Bava and not as original and sophisticated as some of his other works. Still, it’s an entertaining, old fashioned monster flick that harks back to BLACK SUNDAY and the Austrian setting provides an authentic gothic castle which is rich in atmosphere, and naturally, embodies all the expected torture devices. Director-for-hire Bava creates a lot of genuine fog-filled eeriness with his skillfulness and ingenuity, and the film is pure goth, even with the modern incidentals like Sommer’s flashy fashions and the placement of a Coke machine in the Baron’s castle. Carlo Rambaldi’s make-up on the Baron (not played by Cotten in monster form) is terrifically ghastly, and the inclusion of creepy child actress Nicoletta Elmi and Luciano Pigozzi (the Italian Peter Lorre in probably his most memorable genre role) as the sinister, giggling Fritz, is also a plus.

When BARON BLOOD was released in America by AIP, they excised about eight minutes of footage and had reliable Les Baxter re-score the film, but like the old Image DVD, this release presents the longer international version with the original music by Stelvio Cipriani. The transfer here is a big improvement over the Image release, as it now how has a much sharper, well-detailed picture with strong colors, presented 1.85:1 anamorphic (the old release was flat). Only the title sequence is a bit grainy, but the rest of the show is very satisfying to watch. The mono English track has some hiss here and there, but is otherwise fine.

Tim Lucas gives us another insightful commentary, and it’s nice how he defends the film’s merits throughout. From the casting of veteran Joseph Cotten as the villain, to the rich Vienna locations, to Pigozzi’s lively death and subsequent rising-from-the-dead sequence, to Rada Rassimov’s remarkable presence and more, Lucas has a lot of good things to say and it’s nice to hear them. He also points out how the film in many ways resembles HOUSE OF WAX (producer Leone originally wanted Vincent Price for the title role but he turned it down after his experiences on Bava's "Goldfoot" sequel) which are pretty obvious when put in perspective. The other extras are the original AIP theatrical trailer and some radio spots.

The inclusion of KIDNAPPED/RAPID DOGS is exactly the same as the single release which AB put out in earlier in 2007, so for more on that, check out our review HERE. (George R. Reis)