Synopsis: Bava’s ultra-mod 1970 murder mystery remains one of the most critically divisive and little-seen films of his career. Bava imbues the derivative script with a sly streak of black humor and a steady stream of eye-popping visuals, including a va-va-voom performance by giallo goddess Edwige Fenech.
eyelights: its location. its cinematography. its intrigue. its soap opera quality.
eyesores: its convoluted script. its sketchy characters. its finale.
“Looks like we’re all going to end up sub-zero.”
I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie’s ‘Three Little Indians/And Then There Were None’. It’s a simple model, but someone had to come up with it, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every iteration of it. So it’s unsurprising that I’d also be a fan of an Italian spin on this idea.
Mario Bava’s little-seen 1970 picture, ‘5 bambole per la luna d’agosto’, is built on a similar premise: a handful of people gather together to party on a remote island. Their host, George, has ulterior motives, however: he plans to convince Fritz to sell his scientific formula.
Even if it means threatening him.
Soon thereafter, guests begin to die off, and the group begins to realize that there’s a killer in their midst. Unfortunately, the phone has been disconnected, George’s yacht has been sent away for the weekend, and the motor boat is missing. They are secluded and trapped.
And they continue to die, one by one.
As with all pictures of this genre, the fun is in trying to find out who the culprit might be. And, as with its progenitor and peers, the problem with ‘5 bambole per la luna d’agosto’ is that there are too few clues for us to discern it; we have to wait for the big reveal.
This could be disappointing to some, but the picture has a soap opera quality about it that could be infectious with the right audience: all the characters have sordid affairs with one another, or have shady dealings, or rivalries. Everybody has at least one motive.
And that makes it fun. Trashy fun.
Bava’s camera work is also appealing. Though he was contractually obligated to make this picture and listed it amongst his least favourite, he nonetheless made the most of the beachfront property: the gorgeous shots of the water and the lavish mansion are aplenty here.
Bava also enjoyed staging some of the kills. Though some characters were dispatched quickly, unceremoniously, a few were found in more eye-catching repose, such as one bound to a tree or one found in a bath, wrists leaking red streams through the soapy bubbles.
Surprisingly, it’s not a gratuitously violent film, even though its end result is violence. And it spices things up with a black humour that demonstrates its self-awareness – case-in-point, the way each new victim ends up in the meat locker, backed by jaunty carnival music.
As befits the genre, the cast is attractive and adds to the appeal, but the characters are oft-indistinguishable – especially the women. I frequently got confused between them and couldn’t keep track of who said what to whom. I’m not sure if it was the script or construction.
For instance, Isabel’s presence and behaviour are ill-explained – especially when she steals a shawl and hides it on the beach. What was that about? Was it just the writer’s convoluted excuse to lure Nick out and have Fritz confront him again so that he and Isabel could talk?
Many of the conflicts were contrived and doubts seeded in ways that weren’t at all subtle. It’s natural for the filmmakers to want everyone to be a suspect, but they lacked grace in the way that they accomplished it; their method couldn’t possibly have been more obvious.
Or less surprising, really.
The grand finale made no sense to me. First, the killer(s) is(are) revealed and we get a satisfying twist from that. But then a completely different ending is tacked on which purports to negate the previous one but also contradicts it. Um… what the heck just happened?
Well, it doesn’t matter. As with Agatha Christie’s own creation or the slasher films that eventually spawned from it, the picture’s more about the ride than the substance: it doesn’t have to make sense, so long as there’s enough to distract you or to switch your brain off.
And ‘5 bambole per la luna d’agosto’ does exactly that.
Date of viewing: July 4, 2017