Scenes That I Love: Valmont’s Nightclub from Danger Diabolik!

The film is 1968’s Danger Diabolik!  The music is courtesy of Morricone.  The direction is courtesy of Mario Bava.  Does the scene make any sense?  Does it have to?  This film is all about pure style and it’s hard to think of any place as stylish (by 1968 standards) as Valmont’s Nightclub.

Today, as we continue to honor the memory of Ennio Morricone and celebrate the birthday of Mario Bava, this just seems like the perfect scene to share.

Song of the Day: Deep Down by Ennio Morricone

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Since today is Mario Bava’s birthday, it only seems appropriate that today’s song of the day should come from one of his films.

From Ennio Morricone’s score to Mario Bava’s 1968 film Danger: Diabolik, here is Deep Down!

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)
  3. Come Un Madrigale (Four Flies on Grey Velvet)
  4. Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence)
  5. The Strength of the Righteous (The Untouchables)
  6. So Alone (What Have You Done To Solange?)
  7. The Main Theme From The Mission (The Mission)
  8. The Return (Days of Heaven)
  9. Man With A Harmonic (Once Upon A Time In The West)
  10. The Ecstasy of Gold (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  11. The Main Theme From The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
  12. Regan’s Theme (The Exorcist II: The Heretic)
  13. Desolation (The Thing)
  14. The Legend of the Pianist (The Legend of 1900)
  15. Theme From Frantic (Frantic)
  16. La Lucertola (Lizard In A Woman’s Skin)
  17. Spasmodicamente (Spasmo)
  18. The Theme From The Stendhal Syndrome (The Stendhal Syndrome)
  19. My Name Is Nobody (My Name Is Nobody)
  20. Piume di Cristallo (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage)
  21. For Love One Can Die (D’amore si muore)
  22. Chi Mai (various)
  23. La Resa (The Big Gundown)
  24. Main Title Theme (Red Sonja)
  25. The Main Theme From The Cat O’Nine Tails (The Cat O’Nine Tails)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Mario Bava Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

106 years ago today, the greatest of all director, Mario Bava, was born in Italy!  Today is a bit of a holiday here at the TSL Bunker.  In honor of the great Mario Bava, here are….

4 Shots from 4 Films

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, dir by Mario Bava)

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966, dir by Mario Bava)

Bay of Blood (1971, dir by Mario Bava)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special John Saxon Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Rest in Peace, the great and iconic John Saxon.

Here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Evil Eye (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Enter the Dragon (1973, dir by Robert Clouse)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir by Chuck Russell)

Hellmaster (1992, dir by Douglas Schulze)

Film Review: Esther and the King (dir by Raoul Walsh)

The 1960 Italian-American co-production, Esther and the King, opens in ancient Persia.  King Ahasuerus (Richard Egan) has just returned from conquering Egypt and he is angered to discover that his wife, Vashti (Daneila Rocca), has been cheating on him with not just his main advisor, Haman (Sergio Fantoni), but also with the entire palace guard as well.  After the Queen shows her further displeasure with the King by doing a topless dance in front of the entire royal court, the King banishes her from his life.

Since the king now needs a new wife, every attractive woman in the land is dragged off to the palace so that she can audition for the role.  Among those forcibly recruited is the strong-willed Esther (Joan Collins), who was previously engaged to a rebel named Simon (Rick Battaglia).  What the king doesn’t know is that Esther is both Jewish and the cousin of Mordecai (Denis O’Dea), who has recently offended Haman by refusing to bow down before him.  Haman and his wife (Rosalba Neri) are now plotting to execute all of the Jews is Persia.  Despite her love for Simon, Esther remains in the competition to become the Queen so that she can save her people….

There are a few things that you immediately notice about Esther and the King.

First off, it’s an extremely loose adaptation of the story of Esther, one that is designed to make the King out to be a far more sympathetic figure than he actually was.  Whereas the King actually banished his wife after refused to attend a banquet where the drunken King wanted her to pose naked, Esther and the King presents the King as being the wronged party as his wife is literally cheating with every available man in the kingdom.  (Ironically, the film actually presents the King as being forced to banish his wife after she removes her top during a banquet whereas, in actuality, it was her refusal to do so that led to be her being exiled.)  The film also adds in considerably more battles and a lot more court intrigue as all of the king’s potential wives compete for his attention.  And, of course, then there’s Esther’s fiancee, Simon, who does not appear anywhere in the original text.

The other thing that you immediately notice about Esther and the King is that ancient Persia apparently looked a lot like ancient Rome.  That’s not surprising when you consider that this was an Italian co-production and that Esther and the King is as much of an old school peplum film as a biblical adaptation.  This is a biblical adaptation that is as concerned with sword fights and banquets as it is with prayer and religion.

Regardless of whether it’s historically accurate or not, it’s an entertaining film.  Admittedly, Richard Egan is a bit of a stiff as the King and Joan Collins really doesn’t bring much beyond beauty to the role of Esther.  But the sets are properly ornate and the costume are to die for.  Mario Bava was the film’s cinematographer (and some sites credit him as being the film’s co-director as well) and Esther and the King is gorgeous to look at.  This is one of those historical epics where almost everything feels appropriately big, from the palaces to the emotions to the melodrama.  The supporting cast is largely made up of Italian actors who all appear to be having a great time playing up the drama of it all.  Sergio Fantoni is wonderfully hissable as the evil Haman.  (Boo!  Haman!  Boo!)  Rosabla Neri also has some memorably manipulative moments as Zeresh, the wife of Haman (boo!)  For those of us who like big and not necessarily historical accurate epics about the ancient world, Esther and the King is a lot of fun.

Film Review: Moses, The Law-Giver (dir by Gianfranco De Bosio)

I should probably start this review by admitting that there’s a legitimate question concerning whether or not 1974’s Moses, the Law-Giver should be considered a film or a miniseries.  Though there was an edited version of Moses that ran for 141 minutes and which was apparently released in theaters, the unedited version of Moses is 300 minutes long and was broadcast on television over a period of 6 nights.  The long, unedited version is the one that I watched on Prime for five hours on Friday.  Having watched the entire thing in one sitting, I personally consider Moses, the Law-Giver to be a film, albeit a very long one.

Moses, The Law-Giver tells the story of Moses and how he was exiled from Egypt, just to return years later to demand that Pharaoh set his people free.  The first two and a half hours deal with Moses and Egypt.  The second half of the film follows Moses and the Israelites as they seek the Promised Land.  Moses covers the same basic ground as The Ten Commandments, just in a far less flamboyant manner.

For instance, Charlton Heston was a powerful and fearsome Moses in The Ten Commandments.  In Moses, the Law-Giver, Burt Lancaster is a bit more subdued in the lead role.  Even though Lancaster was far too old to play the role, he still gives a convincing performance.  He plays Moses as a man who starts out unsure of himself but who grows more confident as the journey continues.  He’s also a man who is constantly struggling to control his emotions because he knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of showing any sign of weakness.  Whereas Heston bellowed in rage at the sight of the Golden Calf, Lancaster comes across more like a very disappointed father who is about to ground his children.  Lancaster’s low-key performance pays when, towards the end of the film, Moses is told that he will see the Promised Land but that he will not enter it.  The sudden look of pain on Moses’s face is powerful specifically because we’ve gotten so used to him holding it all back.  For a brief moment, he drops his mask and we realize the toll that the years have taken on him.

In The Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner was a determined and arrogant Pharaoh.  In Moses, the Pharaoh (who is played by Laurent Terzieff) is far more neurotic.  He’s portrayed as being Moses’s younger cousin and he seems to be personally hurt but Moses’s demand that the slaves be granted freedom.  It creates an interesting dynamic between the two characters, though it also robs the film of a credible villain.  Whereas Brynner’s Pharaoh was a fearsome opponent, Terzieff plays the character as being weak and indecisive.  Even if one didn’t already know the story, it’s till impossible to be surprised when Terzieff finally relents and allows the Israelites to leave Egypt.

Most importantly, Moses, The Law-Giver devotes more time to the relationship between Aaron and Moses than The Ten Commandments does.  In The Ten Commandments, John Carradine’s Aaron was an often forgotten bystander.  In Moses, Anthony Quayle plays Aaron and he’s pretty much a co-lead with Lancaster.  The film is as much about Aaron as it is about Moses and it actually takes the time to try to logically develop how Aaron could have been duped into creating the Golden Calf.  Quayle gives the best and most compelling performance in Moses, playing Aaron as a well-meaning and loyal sibling who, unfortunately, is often too worried about keeping everyone happy.  For all of his loyalty to Moses, Aaron still struggles with feelings of envy and Quayle does a wonderful job portraying him and turning him into a relatable character.

As a film, Moses, The Law-Giver is never as much as fun as The Ten Commandments.  It’s almost too subdued for its own good.  On the one hand, it’s possible to appreciate Moses for taking a somewhat realistic approach to the story but …. well, is that really what we want?  Or do we want the spectacle of decadent Egypt and the excitement of the red sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s army?  You can probably guess where I come down on that.

Of note to fans of Italian cinema, the film’s score — which is pretty good — was composed by Ennio Morricone.  The film’s special effects are credited to none other than Mario Bava!  This was one of Bava’s final credits.  Unfortunately, the special effects are never really that spectacular and there’s a few scenes where it’s obvious that stock footage has rather awkwardly been utilized.  But, no matter!  It still made me happy to see Bava’s name listed in the end credits.

Moses, The Law-Giver has its moments but, ultimately, The Ten Commandments remains the Moses film to watch.

Sex And Drugs And BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Allied Artists/Woolner Brothers 1964)

cracked rear viewer

Welcome to the weirdly wonderful world of giallo, pioneered by the late Italian maestroMario Bava . Though Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (released stateside as EVIL EYE) is considered by connoisseurs the first, it was BLOOD AND BLACK LACE that defined the genre, with its comingling of crime drama, murder mystery, and horror elements coalescing into something truly unique. I hadn’t seen this film in decades before a recent rewatch, and was again dazzled by Bava’s technique. The film has proved to be highly influential in the decades-later slasher genre, yet has its roots set firmly in the past.

The opening sequence is a stunner, as we see the beautiful model Isabelle walking through a woodsy pathway on a dark and stormy night, stalked and then brutally murdered by a faceless, trenchcoated killer. From there, we’re introduced to the remaining cast, members of the haute couture fashion…

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Italian Horror Showcase: Bay of Blood (dir by Mario Bava)

Like many Italian horror films, Mario Bava’s 1971 film, Bay of Blood, is known by many different names.

The original Italian title, or at least one of them, was Ecologia del delitto, which roughly translates to Ecology of Crime.  That may sound a little dry to our English-speaking ears but it’s actually a totally appropriate title.  The film is about a series of crimes, all inspired by greed and the desire to take control of a bayside mansion.

The film was also called Reazione a catena, which translates to Chain Reaction.  Again, that may sound a bit bland but it’s a totally appropriate title.  This film takes the concept of a chain reaction to its logical extreme.  Everyone in the film wants control of the bay and everyone is willing to kill to do it.  One person murders someone just to get murdered themselves.  As dark as that may sound, this film actually finds Bava in a rather playful mood.  Bava’s direction is wonderfully self-aware and totally cognizant of how absurd the film’s plot occasionally is.  It all ends with a perfectly sardonic little twist, one that not only feels earned but which perfectly epitomizes the film’s darkly humorous worldview.

When the film was released in the UK and the United States it was given several different titles.  (At one point, in the United States, it was actually sold as being a sequel to Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, which it definitely was not.)  One title was Carnage.  Another was Blood Bath.  Again, bland titles but totally appropriate to the film.  Over the course of the film’s 84-minute running time, 14 people are murdered.  With the exception of two innocent bystanders and four teenagers who made the mistake of trying to party in the murder mansion, they were all bad.  Still, fourteen is a lot of carnage.

In fact, Bava’s film would later be cited as one of the first slasher films.  That’s true, though this film has considerably going on beneath the surface than the average slasher film.  If the average slasher often can be defined by sex=death, Bava’s film can be defined as greed=death.  That said, several of this film’s murders were “borrowed’ by the early installments of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Remember that double impalement from Friday the 13th Part 2?  It was taken, almost shot-for-shot, from Bava’s film.

My favorite title for Bava’s film was Twitch of the Death Nerve, which is just so wonderfully over-the-top and melodramatic.  It’s the title that most captures the film’s combination of blood and satire.  If I was solely in charge of picking the film’s official title, I would have selected Twitch of the Death Nerve.

However, the official title of Bava’s film appears to be Bay of Blood and I guess that’s an okay title.  I mean, it’s appropriate.  A lot of blood is spilled in that bay, starting with Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) and then going on to include the majority of her family members and business associates.  The film opens with Federica’s murder and then doesn’t waste any time in revealing that Federica was murdered by her husband, Filippo (Giovanni Nuvoletti).  Filippo murdered his wife on behalf of her estate agent, Frank (Chris Avram) and now, Frank just needs Filippo to sign the property over to him.  Of course, what Frank doesn’t realize is that Filippo was murdered just minutes after he murdered Federica….

And that’s just the start.

Bay of Blood is one of Mario Bava’s best films, featuring a cast of wonderfully sordid characters and grisly murders.  The film itself becomes a bit of a black comedy, as one murder leads to another.  Bava directs with his usual bravura sense of style, making the bay both beautiful and menacing at the same time.  If you want to know why almost every horror film made since 1970 owes a debt of gratitude to Bava, Bay of Blood is a good place to start.

Italian Horror Spotlight: Hatchet for the Honeymoon (dir by Mario Bava)

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I am a paranoiac.”

So declares John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) at the start of the 1969’s Hatchet for The Honeymoon.  Along with being a paranoiac, John Harrington is also handsome, charming, and apparently quite successful.  He owns a bridal dress factory in France, a business that he inherited from his mother after her untimely death.  On the outside, everything looks perfect but appearances can often be deceiving.

John’s wife, Mildred (Laura Betti), knows that John is hiding secrets.  She regularly taunts John, reminding him that he’s not only impotent but that he’s also has an unhealthy obsession with his memories of his mother.  John’s mother died when he was very young.  He witnessed her death but he’s repressed the memory of who actually killed her.  John is determined to recover those memories.

So, what does John do?

Does he go to a hypnotist?  Does he dig through old police files and search for clues?  Does he ask someone to analyze his dreams?  That’s what you or I might do but John, you must remember, is a paranoiac.  Somehow, John has realized that, whenever he commits a murder, he remembers just a little bit more about the night his mother died.  So, in order to learn the truth about his mother’s death, John is murdering the models who work at his bridal salon.  Apparently, it’s very important that his victims be wearing a wedding dress when they die….

Okay, now you’re probably already thinking that this sounds like a somewhat bizarre movie.  Well, believe it or not, things are about to get a lot stranger.

After John meets a new model named Helen (Dagmar Lassander), he decided that he doesn’t need Mildred yelling at him anymore.  So, he puts on a wedding veil and murders Mildred.  However, even in death, Mildred won’t leave John alone.  Mildred’s ghost shows up and announces that everyone will be able to see her but John.

So now, John is having to deal with everyone assuming that his wife is with him, even though he can’t see her.  As you might guess, this makes it a bit difficult for John to convince potential victims to come back to the salon with him.

And, from there, it just keeps getting stranger and stranger….

Hatchet For The Honeymoon was written and directed by one of the most important figures in the history of Italian cinema, Mario Bava.  A master technician with a wry and occasionally self-mocking sense of humor, Bava worked in every genre, from peplums to spaghetti westerns to poliziotteschis, but he’s best remembered for his work in the horror genre.  Bava is often credited with having directed the first giallo film and his often-violent thrillers are still influential to this day.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is often described as being one of Bava’s lesser films but I don’t agree with that judgment.  If nothing else, Hatchet For The Honeymoon is probably one of Bava’s more playful movies.  From the increasingly bizarre twists and turns of the film’s plot to John Harrington’s wonderfully overwrought narration, the entire film has an almost improvisational feel to it.  One gets the feeling that Bava is poking fun at the conventions of the giallo genre.  The usual omnipresent, black glove-wearing killer has been replaced by an impotent wedding dress designer who can’t even escape the ghost of his dead wife.

(Reportedly, Mildred wasn’t originally in the script and was only added because Bava wanted to work with actress Laura Betti.  Perhaps that explains why Mildred often seems to be standing outside of the story, mocking not only John but also the mechanics of the thriller plot.)

As one would expect from a Bava film, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is frequently a visual marvel, a pop art-inspired mix of dark shadows and red blood.  The wedding dresses are to die for and so is the cinematography.  I especially liked the darkly ominous shots of John surrounded by the lifeless mannequins in his salon.  Early on, when we get a shot from John’s point of view, the image is slightly blurred and the angle seem just a bit off, a reminder of John’s twisted impression of the world around him.  When John walks up stairs to the kill his wife, the sound of his movement seems to echo through his ornate but sterile home.

If Stephen Forsyth sometimes seems to be a bit stiff in the role of John, it’s an appropriate reminder that John is an empty shell and all of his feelings and emotions are manufactured.  Laura Betti does a wonderful job nagging him in life and her palpable joy about getting revenge in death is one of the best things about the movie.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon is an exuberantly weird film and definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone seeking to fall in love with Italian horror.

4 Shots From 4 Mario Bava Films: Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill, Lisa and the Devil, Shock

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

104 years ago today, the most important Italian filmmaker of all time was born.  Today is Mario Bava’s birthday!  And, as we often do here at the Shattered Lens, it’s time to celebrate with…

4 Shots From 4 Films

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966, dir by Mario Bava)

Lisa and the Devil (1972, dir by Mario Bava)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)