Sunday, March 23, 2008

HADDA CUPPA BAVA: Four Times That Night and more!

Well, the American Cinematheque’s Mario Bava retrospective “Poems of Love and Death” is now a matter of the past; this evening saw a big triple feature blow out of The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) and Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959) to end this feast of fun and other freak-outs. Time and other commitments prevented from attending any but one night of the festival, and lucky for me it was the one I most wanted to see. I was there this past Friday night for A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971), the movie template from which all slasher films from Black Christmas (1974) forward owe at least a nod of respect. (Sean Cunningham and Friday the 13th owe Bava a lot more than that.) Blood remains a nasty, ironic stunner, and the print we saw Friday night, supplied by producer Alfredo Leone, was a beauty, accentuating all the ripe color schemes and visual tropes of Bava's trickster poetry. (Bava was, as he often was, his own cinematographer on this film.) The movie was introduced by Eli Roth (Hostel, Hostel Part II) who gave the movie its due props, and then introduced actor Brett Halsey, who worked with Mario Bava twice, both times in genres atypical for the director—a western, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970), and a comedy, the night’s second feature, Four Times That Night, the Rashomon-inspired sex farce about four different perspectives on a wild date between Halsey and ex-Miss Italy Daniela Giordano.

This candy-colored absurdity was a real hoot, genuinely erotic, with some good laughs and lots of visual invention, especially for a set-bound bon-bon like this one. Four Times also highlights some nice comic turns by Halsey, Giordano, Valeria Sabel as Giordano’s mother, and Pascale Petit as a goldilocked lesbian who, in one version of the night’s adventure, sets her sights on Giordano. That the fixation goes unconsummated was an audible disappointment for several men and women in the audience. In reference to the movie’s obviously cribbed structure, Roth actually asked Halsey if he and Bava sat around the set discussing Kurosawa, to which the nonplussed Halsey responded in perfect deadpan, “No, not really.” I bumped into Halsey coming out of the men’s room after the show and if I’d had my wits about me I would have asked, was it incredibly maddening doing nude scenes with the super-sensuous Giordano, or was it as much fun as it seemed while watching this surprisingly genial, if slightly overlong, romp? But I suppose I did have my wits about me, for I chose not to ask him yet another dumb question, figuring that Roth had done his duty in that regard for us all. (I did enjoy the director's enthusiasm as a moderator, however.) I’ll be seeing Four Times again soon, as it is the second feature attached to the DVD I have coming from Netflix of the other Bava feature in the series that I very much regret missing, Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), featuring the breathtaking giallo icon Edwige Fenech. I also regretted missing Planet of the Vampires on the Egyptian’s big screen, but apparently even those in attendance didn’t really get a chance to see it. Apparently the print that the Cinematheque expected to receive was rerouted elsewhere, so they ended up having to use a “digital source” to project the film—a real disappointment, to be sure.

I only know of the snafu because longtime SLIFR reader Mr. Peel, writer and proprietor of the excellent blog Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur told me so. Mr. Peel’s site currently features some excellent readables on Bava, The Young Girls of Rochefort and director Fred Dekker-- in order words, it’s all over the place, kinda like another blog I know… Anyway, I was sitting there thumbing through the new Film Comment waiting for the lights to go down when this gentleman who I’d never met before came up to me and asked me if I was Dennis Cozzalio. Usually this inquiry is followed by the sound of clasping handcuffs, but he looked friendly enough. So I admitted my identity, Mr. Peel identified himself and we had a nice little chat before show time. This was the first time I’d been recognized from this blog (to my knowledge, anyway), and it was a really nice experience, helped immeasurably by the fact that Mr. Peel has been a frequent and friendly commenter here as well as a writer of a fine site of his own. And when I read my e-mails on Saturday, I was surprised to hear from Nate Y. who said he was at the Bava screening Friday and also recognized me, citing the ever-present ball cap as evidence. Nate Y., and anyone else who reads this here journal, if you ever do see me at a screening in the future, I do hope you’ll introduce yourself, as Mr. Peel did. My enormous ego could use the massage!

As a way of saying good-bye to Bava on the big screen here in Los Angeles, I’ve got what I hope will be a special treat for the director's fans. There’s a new site in town, a free high-res video stop-and-shop called Hulu, and among their somewhat meager selection of movies which one can watch in their entirety, for free, there is a Mario Bava title. It may not be of the caliber of Blood and Black Lace or Lisa and the Devil, but it is Bava just the same. So if you have the time to spare, sit back, press play and enjoy, at no charge, this full-length feature starring Vincent Price, Fabian and (watch out!) 1966-vintage Laura Antonelli, the sequel to the AIP smash-hit Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine entitled Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. (You'll have to hit the link to see the feature-- I tried embedding it, but the code played havoc with the 2.35 aspect ratio, which is preserved when you see the movie directly at the Hulu site. Enjoy!)


bill said...

I jusr got "Baron Blood" from Netflix. I'm a bit new to Bava, not being much of a fan of Italian horror, but I've heard so many good things by respectable people that I finally had to take the plunge. I started with "Black Sabbath", figuring the presence of my beloved Boris Karloff would help ease me into Bava's work. I was right about that, and enjoyed the film enough to soldier onward. With "Baron Blood", I'm hoping that Joseph Cotten will serve the same function as Karloff did earlier. I hope I ultimately love his work as much as everyone else in the world seems to.

Adam Ross said...

So what was the audience's reaction to Bay of Blood's ending? I was blown away by it (pun intended), and can't think of another "out of left field" conclusion that works so well.

I saw Four Times That Night last week and similarly entertained. It's not exactly a laugh fest, but it's also far from predictable. Petit's scenes are great -- especially that flashback, wow!

Greg said...

I shall get a Bava banner up soon to help Bill along.

Anonymous said...

Now that we're watching Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs on our pcs, it would seem a perfect time to jump ship. It was fun being an online cinephile, but this must be the end of the line. Adios, Sabata.

bill said...

Jonathan, does this mean you're a Bava fan, as well? Any suggestions on what I should watch after "Baron Blood"?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Vaya con Dios, Anonymous. As you amble down the dusty trail, just know tht it gets worse-- you can watch Bert I. Gordon's Empire of the Ants on Hulu as well.

Bill: I'll be interested to hear what you think of Baron Blood. That's a movie that escaped me during my high school days-- it got a pretty wide American International Pictures release here, and the advertising was modeled after the very successful Dr. Phibes films, yet somehow I missed it. But I was somewhat disappointed when I finally saw it-- seemed a bit too long and laborious for me.

Adam: The ending provoked much shocked laughter, as I recall, which is the response the director was shooting for (pun also intended), I'm sure. One of my favorite things in the movie comes at the very beginning, though, after the titles superimposed over idyllic shots of the soon-to-be bloody bay. The camera suddenly, inexplicably takes on the P.O.V. of a buzzing fly which, like just about everyone else in the picture, suddenly drops dead and falls with an insignificant "plunk" into the water!

As for Four Times, you're right-- it's not a laugh fest, but it gave me a very pleasant buzz throughout. Combine that with the sex appeal of Daniela Giordano and Pascale Petit, and you have a pretty fizzy cocktail. Although, as a friend of mine wrote to me last night, I could have done with about two less sequences of the portly doorman running up and down those stairs!

bill said...

I did watch the first half of "Baron Blood" this weekend, and the only reason I didn't finish it is because I was generally a bit of a wet rag, movie-wise, and didn't feel like watching much of anything (that didn't stop me from squeezing in "The Petrified Forst" and "I Am Legend", though). From what I saw of it, "Baron Blood" seemed entertaining enough, but didn't provide much evidence to support Bava's reputation. Now that I know it's not thought of as one of his best, I'll try to take the rest of it for what it is.

Hey, do any of the Bava-files around here own a copy of that insane books about him that Tim Lucas wrote? Whether or not I end up appreciating Bava, I want a copy. I just love that the book exists.

Greg said...

Bill - I'm not a Bava fanatic or anything and I don't have enough of his films under my belt to qualify as very knowledgable. I think if one were to describe his films as "great" then one would send the impression that you were going to watch a Renoir or a Godard. If one described him as "camp" then you'd expect to see Russ Meyer or the very best of Roger Corman. Neither of those really fits although the camp description makes more visual sense. The reason I like the few Bavas I've seen (like Danger: Diabolik which I've now made a banner from)is that I fell in love with the whole early James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea look and feel when I was young and Bava has that look and feel down pat. I think Bava can be looked at as trashy camp by film snobs and overrated as utter genius by film slummers and I think the truth is closer to something in between.

I don't think Bava thought he was a master of the cinema and would probably be annoyed at being called such. But he's not Ed Wood either. I think Dennis hit it right with the word "absurdity." His films are absurd.

bill said...

Yeah, so "Baron Blood" wasn't very good. It had some nice imagery here and there (such as the body hanging like a gargoyle from the castle wall) but by and large no one's heart seemed to be in it. Cotten, in fact seemed to not want to be there at all, and didn't seem to know what he was supposed to be doing, despite having been in movies like it before. And Elke Sommer was just terrible.

Another problem was the way the occult material was handled. I think the occult can be used to great effect in horror films, but I think it's important to not explain too much about how it's supposed to work. If you do, as Bava did in "Baron Blood", you run the risk of making it all seem silly and arbitrary. Which, of course, it is. That's why you should keep it mysterious. As a result, I found myself tuning out when all the spells and so forth were being explained, which made the ending seem rushed and, again, arbitrary.

Ogami Ittō said...

Blood and Black Lace is the breakout film that every horror fan should see at least once in their lives.
The Dolly shot through the changing rooms is one of the greatest shots of the era and it is this film that started the Giallo genre with a knife slash to the senses!
I only wish that I lived in your area, so that I could watch my favorite director's remastered prints on the big screen! The only Bava film that I have been able to watch with a ravenous crowd was his last film "Shock", which gets a bad rap, but is still a good film.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

A belated thank you for the kind words you wrote here, Dennis. The buzz from the excitement of getting to see these films at the Egyptian still hasn't fully worn off. Glad I came up to say hello and I guess I'll be seeing you soon at Dante's Inferno!