After the release of Danger: Diabolik in 1968, Mario Bava returned to the historical epic, this time directing an episode of The Adventures of Ulysses - a TV mini-series that was unsurprisingly chopped down to a theatrical length for international release. Almost two years would elapse before the release of Bava's next feature film, Five Dolls for an August Moon, and in spite of the larger budget and talent pool employed in Diabolik, Bava seemed to prefer a return to these small-scaled, narrative-jumbled shockers. Beginning in 1970, and with few exceptions in the subsequent five years, Bava's filmic output would be reduced to a diminishing trickle of hit and miss productions.
Basically a riff on Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians template, Five Dolls exploits the mounting paranoia as a group of emotionally and morally promiscuous rich folks are trapped on an island with a killer (with various red herrings tossed in for protracted plots twisting).
The inclusion of a scientist pestered and his determination to fend off million dollar offers for his patent also adds some minor suspense, and establishes a thin, divisive lines between the men, and the bodacious European babes now tiring of their trophy status. Barely gory (most deaths occur off-screen due to serious budget limitations), Five Dolls does contain a memorable recurring gag - oddly foreshadowing the 'wife freezer' in Edward Dmytryk's 1972 own babe-count thriller, Bluebeard - where the open-eyed male and female victims are suspended from hooks in a spacious walk-in freezer, dangling amid fowl and crimson-streaked bovine stock.
The real star of the film, though, is Bava's fluid and often balletic camera work: long takes frequently incorporate mercurial compositions, moving from extreme close-ups to wide, tracking, and variable zooms; and with the exception of three moments, Five Dolls is less zoom-happy than the ludicrous indulgences found in Planet of the Vampires ('watch out for the bubbling LAVA-LAVA-LAVA!'), and Baron Blood (who's watching Elke Sommer from over THERE! THERE! THERE!).
Also of note is the interior of the cliffside mansion, which recalls the clean, open-concept designs and multi-level sets of Diabolik's underground lair: sleek lines and geometric shapes cascade or frame the modestly wide photography; but being made in 1970, garish furniture and ugly colour schemes of orange, yellow and dirty brown are prevalent in Five Dolls. (There's also Edwige Fenech's gargantuan hairdo and penciled eyebrows, which transform the iconic actress into a slender variant of John Waters' favourite actor, Divine.)
Image's transfer is made from a decent print, and a clean Italian audio track with optional English subtitles. (The English mono is noisy and pretty hissy, and should be avoided.)
Unique to this DVD is a music and effects track, showcasing Piero Umiliani's pop-jazz score. Bava's choice of music (and composer) has sometimes been very uneven: Carlo Rustichelli's romanticized and treacly music for Whip and the Body detracted from the film's pinched, sadistic sequences; Libra's prog-rock score for Shock felt at times like an effects-ridden mimic of Goblin's supernatural score for Dario Argento's Suspiria; and Stelvio Cipriani's muzak for the original Italian version of Baron Blood deserved to be replaced by Les Baxter's more eerie, orchestral score when AIP initially released that film in North America.
(Unfortunately, the current DVD of Baron lacks the alternate American cut with Baxter's score, so muzak reigns once again.) In Five Dolls, Umiliani's score veers between stylistic counterpoint and parody (but Bava's film is clearly a mordent, tongue-in-cheek production), and his carnival theme for the meat locker is brilliantly apropos. Fans of the composer's work will enjoy the sound mix which, like Diabolik, cranks up the volume at key points (perhaps, in this case, to wake up sleepy viewers).
Also a major bonus are main theme versions of Umiliani's that play over select menus: Main (2:30 from vocal version with Italian lyrics, in stereo, which is also heard over the end credits in mono), Special Features (3:20 vocal version with English lyrics, plus Mah nà mah nà vocals!), Language Selection (2:27 harpsichord solo, with whistling); Subtitles Selection (2:35 Brazilian version, with vocals) 2:19, and Photo and Poster Gallery (2:20 big band version with organ solo).
A lesser Bava thriller, but compact and efficient.
Remastered and issued as part of Anchor Bay's Mario Bava Collection Vol. 2 in 2007 (and assessed HERE), this title was originally part of a Mario Bava wave from Image Entertainment that included I Vampiri, Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Twitch of the Death Nerve (Bay of Blood), Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil, and House of Exorcism.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan