Director: Mario Bava
Kino Lorber

Italy’s master of horror, Mario Bava, was essentially a director for hire on FIVE 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, SABATA) 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 (as well as Dario Argento's early 1970s"animal" giallos which would soon follow). 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.

Previously released on DVD in the U.S. first by Image Entertainment and then years later by Anchor Bay (as part of the Mario Bava Collection Volume 2), Kino’s Blu-ray presentation of FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON naturally takes the cake. The film is presented in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, with eye-popping colors (and accurate skintones) and extra sharp detail (so good that you’ll notice things in the film that you never would have before on previous viewings). The LPCM mono English track balances the dialog and Umiliani’s score nicely, with no detectable imperfections. An Italian language track was present on the previous DVD releases, but only an English track is on hand here.

Tim Lucas provides a new commentary specifically for this Blu-ray, and it’s quite an entertaining and informative listen. Lucas provides a lot of insight on Bava’s feelings and reluctance while making this film, many facts about the cast and crew, and points out the maestro’s distinctive style in specific on-screen shots on more than one occasion (Lucas also confirms that this is possibly the only film in which Bava edited himself). Trailers for other Bava titles in the Kino collection round out the extras. (George R. Reis)