Planet of the Vampires 1965 ****


Mario Bava’s stylish 1965 sci-fi thriller is widely acknowledged a clear inspiration for Alien; with the release of Prometheus, the connections are even more apparent. Barry Sullivan leads an Italian cast as Captain Mark Markary, who finds himself and his crew stranded on an alien planet whose occupants are able to use the crew’s bodies to take over the ship. Bava uses a strikingly organic production design that pre-dates HR Giger, and manages to milk the maximum suspense from a fairly dog-eared idea. Planet of the Vampires has become a cult item; NYC theatre company The Wooster Group even based a show on it, and it’s easy to see why Bava’s film has been so influential; it’s a cornerstone of sci-fi in cinema.


Black Sabbath 1963 ***


Writer/director Mario Bava delivered a classic and surprisingly colourful portmanteau feature with these three tales from 1963; despite a low budget, they’ll all tightly wound and full of tension. The first, The Telephone,  is a clear jumping-off point for the opening of Wes Craven’s Scream, as a woman is terrorised in her apartment by a series of knowing phone calls. Things jump up a north with The Wurdelak, in which an 1880’s rural family are terrorised by vampires, namely Gorca (Boris Karloff), the twist is that the vampires only come after those they love. Both are good value, but the third, A Drop of Water, is arguably one of the most frightening sequences ever filmed, as a woman spending the night in the same room as a corpse, makes the fatal mistake of stealing its ring. Based on a story by Dostoyevsky, A Drop Of Water is as intense and highly charged as anything in Bava’s illustrious career, and the whole package is an ideal selection of brief, to-the-point horror.

Blood and Black Lace 1964 ***


One of the less celebrated entries in Mario Bava’s canon, Blood and Black Lace is a sure-footed thriller that deserves to be compared to Hitchcock; the sequence involving a handbag containing a crucial clue to a murder, left unattended during a fashion show, is as tense and elegant as any of Hitchcock’s post-Psycho work. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max (Cameron Mitchell) are attempting to run a swanky fashion house when a serial killer strikes, and find themselves amongst the suspects. Light on violence but heavy with tension, Bava’s 1964 film is an ideal starting point for giallo fans; beautifully made, it’s an absorbing mystery with the director’s trademark flourishes all in evidence.

Four Times That Night 1972 ***


A pretty obscure film even within the cornucopia of Amazon Instant, Mario Bava’s 1972 sexploitation comedy is an ingenious sculpture in time. Four Times That Night is four accounts of one event, a date between Gianna and Tina (Brett Halsey and former Miss Italy Daniela Giodano). They meet in a park, and go back to her flat for some fun, but the next day he’s sporting a head-knock and her dress has been ripped. What happened is told from four perspectives, and each one sees the same characters acting in very different ways, notably Dick Randall’s sleazy concierge.  Bava was a master of thrillers, but he brings the same gaudy showmanship to this ingenious, non-PC comedy, which ends with a psychiatrist explaining the story to the audience in unbelievable terms. A clever experimental film about strained relationships between men and women, Four Times That Night is a must for lovers of obscure movies.

Hatchet for The Honeymoon 1967 ***


The late, great Italian master of horror Mario Bava was incapable of making a dull-movie, and several of his late sixties giallo have a real touch of Hitchcock. Opening with a POV monologue from a dapper killer John Harrington (John Forsythe) that sounds like a scene from Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Hatchet For The Honeymoon balances an earnest police procedural thriller with an elaborate phantasmagoria of the disintegration of a killer’s mind, as Harrington struggles to keep his murderous hands of clients at his bridal shop while harboring dark thoughts towards his nagging wife (Pasolini’s muse Laura Betti, giving vent to her frowsy side). Bava’s imaginative framings and mind-bending colour-coding of images is given full reign, and despite the lack of gore, Hatchet For The Honeymoon is a tart, astringent thriller in the vein of Psycho.

Danger Diabolik 1967 *****


Cult director Mario Bava brought this delightful comic-book spoof on time and under budget for Dino de Laurentis, but promptly turned down the chance to make a sequel. It’s a pity, since this 1967 romp features elaborate costumes, sets and action to rival the James Bond franchise, with John Phillip Law and Marissa Mell as master criminal Diabolik and his moll. Terry Thomas is on hand for comedy relief, but the size and scale of Diabolik’s plan make for uproarious entertainment. The criminal’s lair is show-stoppingly ingenious in conception, as are the gadgets, parties and the Ennio Morricone score. The Beastie Boys stole the look for one of their retro videos, but Danger Diabolik’s machine-gun delivery makes it an ideal introduction to Bava’s virtuosity.