Five Dolls for an August Moon, 1970.
Directed by Mario Bava.
Starring William Berger, Ira von Fürstenberg, Edwige Fenech, Howard Ross, Teodora Corrá, Edith Meloni, Helena Ronee, Maurice Poli and Justine Gall.
A group of people trapped on an island discover there is a killer in their midst.
The romantically-titled Five Dolls for an August Moon is a giallo from the master of the genre, Mario Bava. However, unlike his more notable works in the style such as Blood & Black Lace and Bay of Blood, Five Dolls for an August Moon was something of a cheque-cashing exercise for the filmmaker, who later claimed that this film was the worst thing he ever made, although looking at it now on this sparkly new Blu-ray from Arrow Video and comparing it to Bava’s other movies it would be fair to say the director may have been a bit harsh on himself.
The setup is fairly simple and follows a pretty standard murder mystery idea of crimes being committed for money. Wealthy businessman George Stark (Teodora Corrá) invites a few of his friends and their wives to his island retreat for some rest and relaxation but one of those friends is scientist Dr. Gerry Farrell (William Berger), who has come up with a formula for industrial resin that is worth millions. Stark and his business partners Jack Davidson (Howard Ross) and Nick Chaney (Maurice Poli) want to buy the formula from Gerry and offer him a cheque for a million dollars each but Gerry isn’t interested in money and refuses to sell, and before long the cheques start going missing and the bodies start piling up. Whoever could it be?
Well, you’ll just have to watch it to find out but, as you would expect, this is an Italian film so expect a few twists and turns along the way, such as a secret lesbian relationship between Gerry’s wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg) and George’s wife Jill (Edith Meloni) and the appearance of the groundskeeper’s teenage daughter Isabel (Justine Gall). And for a film that Mario Bava wasn’t that interested in making it still holds a lot of the director’s style, such as the many zoom shot on people’s faces and the random group of sailors turning up on the island for no real reason. It also deliberately doesn’t display a lot of his hallmarks as the kills are all made off-screen and we only ever see the aftermath, and when you have the stunning softcore actress Edwige Fenech in your cast and only hint at a bit of nudity with some carefully lit scenes and clever use of shadow (although thanks to the magic of Blu-ray you get to see more than you did on DVD or VHS) then you must be doing it to prove a point.
Although light on gore and nudity, what Five Dolls for an August Moon does have is a sense of kitschy fun and is underlined with a sense of dark humour; for example, every time another body is added to the meat cellar under the house the same jaunty score is played, almost like a comedy catchphrase from a sketch show. In fact, the whole score is pretty good, perfectly capturing that groovy late 1960s feel that most retrospectives of the era always strive for, and the bright colours brought to life by the HD transfer make the film look fantastic and very easy on the eye, despite the nature of what is happening on-screen.
But while the film looks and sounds good, and at least has a bit of directorial flair, it doesn’t hit the heights of a full-on Bava giallo thanks to a dull script and an ending that feels like it was thought of at the last-minute. Not that nearly every other giallo doesn’t do the same thing but given that this is a Bava film then doing what all the others do just feels a bit unsatisfactory, especially if you’ve followed all of the twists so far and expect something a little more… well, just something a little more.
Overall, Five Dolls for an August Moon is enjoyable enough and certainly not the worst film that Mario Bava put his name to (Dr.Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs anyone?) but the relative lack of Bava-ness in it, along with some production issues as a result of budget cuts, means that it falls a little short of the standard set by Blood & Black Lace and doesn’t hold up to the quality of later releases such as Baron Blood and Rabid Dogs. For a bit more of a perspective on Bava and his work the disc comes with an audio commentary by Bava biographer Tim Lucas and an hour-long documentary from 2000 called Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre, narrated by Mark Kermode and featuring contributions from John Carpenter and Joe Dante, so it is a worthy addition to your Mario Bava collection, even if the main feature itself is a little lacking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★