San Remo, Italy, 31 July 1914; son of cinematographer Eugenio Bava.
Son: director Lamberto Bava.
Trained as a painter.
Of a heart attack in Rome, 25 April 1980.
L'Orecchio (doc) (+ ph)
Santa notte (doc) (+ ph); Legenda Sinfonica (+ ph); Anfiteatro Flavio (short) (+ ph)
Variazioni sinfoniche (doc) (+ ph)
I Vampiri ( The Devil's Commandment ; Lust of the Vampire ; The Vampires ) (uncredited; completed film + ph)
Caltiki—il mostro immortale ( Caltiki, the Immortal Monster ) (uncredited; completed film + ph); La Battaglia di Maratona ( Giant of Marathon ) (uncredited; completed film + ph)
La Maschera del demonio ( Mask of the Demon ; Black Sunday (+ sc, ph); Esther and the King (+ ph)
L'Ultimo dei Vikinghi ( The Last of the Vikings ) (uncredited); Le Meraviglie di Aladino ( The Wonders of Aladdin ); Gli Invasori ( Erik the Conqueror ) (+ sc, ph); Ercole al centro della terra ( Hercules in the Haunted World ; Hercules at the Center of the Earth ) (+ sc, ph)
I Tre volti della paura ( Black Sabbath ; Black Christmas ) (+ sc); La Ragazza che sapeva troppo ( The Evil Eye ; The Girl Who Knew Too Much ) (+ sc, ph); La Frusta e il corpo ( The Whip and the Body ; What! )
La Strada per Fort Alamo ( The Road to Fort Alamo ; Arizona Bill ); Sei donne per l'assassino ( Blood and Black Lace ) (+ sc)
Terrore nello spazio ( Planet of the Vampires ) (+ sc); I Coltelli del vendicatore ( Bladestorm ; Knives of the Avenger ) (+ sc) Spie vengono dal semifreddo ( Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs ); Savage Gringo ; Operazione paura ( Kill, Baby. . . Kill! ) (+ sc)
Diabolik ( Danger: Diabolik ) (+ sc, ph)
Rosso segno della follia ( Hatchet for the Honeymoon ) (+ sc, ph)
Roy Colt e Winchester Jack ( Roy Colt and Winchester Jack ); Cinque bambole per la luna d'agosto ( Island of Terror ) (+ ed)
Reazione a catena ( A Bay of Blood ; Last House on the Left, Part II ; New House on the Left ; Twitch of the Death Nerve ) (+ sc, ph)
Quante volte. . . quella notte ( Four Times That Night ); Gli Orrori del castello di Norimberga ( Baron Blood )
Cani arrabbiati ( Rabid Dogs ) (unreleased, + ph); La Casa dell'esorcismo ( The House of Exorcism ; Lisa and the Devil ) (+ sc)
Schock ( Shock )
La Venere di Ille ( Venus of Ille ) (for TV)
Il Tacchino prepotente (Rossellini) (short)
Uomini e cieli (De Robertis); Sant'Elena piccola isola (Simoni); L'Avventura di Annabella (Menardi)
L'Elisir d'amore ( This Wine of Love ) (Costa)
Pagliacci ( Love of a Clown—Pagliacci ) (Costa)
Natale al campo 119 ( Christmas at Camp 119 ) (Francisci); Follie per l'opera ( Mad about the Opera ) (Costa)
Antonio di Padova ( Anthony of Padua ) (Francisci); Quel bandito sono io ( The Taming of Dorothy ) (Soldati)
E arrivato il cavaliere! (Monicelli and Steno); Vita da cani ( A Dog's Life ) (Monicelli and Steno); Miss Italia ( Miss Italy ) (Coletti)
Guardie e ladri ( Cops and Robbers ) (Monicelli and Steno); Amor non ho. . . pero. . . pero (Bianchi)
Perdonami (Costa); Papa diventa mamma (Fabrizi)
Villa Borghese (Franciolini); Il Viale della speranza (Risi); Gli Eroi della Domenica (Camerini); Cose da pazzi (Pabst); Balocchi e profumi (Bernadi and Montillo); Il Baciodell'Aurora (Parolini)
Terza liceo (Emmer); Hanno rubato un tram (Bonnard and Fabrizi); Le Avventure di Giacomo Casanova ( Sins of Casanova ) (Steno)
La Donna piu bella del mondo ( Beautiful but Dangerous )(Leonard); Buonanotte. . . avvocato! (Bianchi)
Mio figlio Nerone ( Nero's Big Weekend ) (Steno); Citta di notte ( City at Night ) (Trieste)
Le fatiche di Ercole ( Hercules ; Labors of Hercules ) (Francisci)
La Morte viene dallo spazio ( The Day the Sky Exploded ) (Heusch)
Ercole e la regina di Lidia ( Hercules Unchained ) (Francisci) (+ asst d; uncredited); Agi Murad il diavolo bianco ( The White Warrior ) (Freda) (+ asst d; uncredited)
Seddok, l'erede di Satana ( Atom Age Vampire ) (Majano) (pr)
Inferno (Argento) (d underwater sequence; uncredited)
Leutrat, Jean-Louis, Mario Bava , Liege, 1994.
Pezzotta, Alberto, Mario Bava , Rome, 1995.
Lucas, Tim, "Mario Bava: A Short Biography," in Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture , no. 5, http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue05/infocus/bavabio.htm .
Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, "Mario Bava: The Illusion of Reality," in Horror Film Reader , New York, 2000.
* * *
The day after Germany declared war on France and Russia in response to the assassination of Austria's archduke, Francis Ferdinand—July 31, 1914—Mario Bava was born in San Remo, Italy. His father, Eugenio Bava, was a sculptor turned accomplished cinematographer in the early days of the Italian silent film industry (in 1912, he photographed the epic Quo Vadis ; a year later, he assisted Segundo de Chomon on Cabria , a film whose special effects are legendary). For several years Mario worked as his father's helper, subtitling films for export and animating title sequences for Italian features, until the 1930s, when he began to assist some of Italy's finest cinematographers. Mario was trained as a painter, and his artistic background encouraged in him a strong belief in the importance of visual composition in filmmaking. This led to a fast-growing reputation as a special effects wizard, one with a knack for developing new ways of using optical trickery. In 1939, Mario advanced to the level of director of photography, and besides a series of shorts which he directed in the 1940s, he remained a cinematographer until 1960. Included among the directors for whom Bava photographed films in the early part of his career are Jacques Tourneur, Raoul Walsh, G.W. Pabst, Roberto Rossellini, Paolo Heusch, and Robert Z. Leonard. Furthermore, as Tim Lucas notes, "his stylized lensing was critical in developing the screen personas of such international stars as Gina Lollobrigida and Steve Reeves."
While working with Riccardo Freda on I vampiri ( The Vampires ) in 1956—the first Italian horror film of the sound era—the director left the project early on after an argument with his producers. Bava stepped in and finished directing half of the twelve-day schedule in a mere two days. This would not be the last time he performed such a crucial task: in 1957, Bava directed some of Pietro Francisci's La fatiche di Ercole ( Hercules ), and in 1959, he was credited with "saving" Jacques Tourneur's Giant of Marathon. Legend has it that Freda then tricked Bava by hiring his friend to photograph Caltiki il mostro immortale ( Caltiki, the Immortal Monster , 1959) and once again stepped down as director after just two days. Lionello Santo, the film's producer, was so impressed with Bava's efforts that he invited him to select any film he wanted for his official directorial debut, when he was already forty-six years of age.
Bava couldn't have made a better choice, basing La maschera del demonia ( Black Sunday , 1960) on the Nikolai Gogol story, Vij. Black Sunday , starring Barbara Steele in dual roles as a vampire sorceress and her virginal descendant, is widely acknowledged as the last great black and white Gothic horror film. However, "Bava's tactic," according to Alain Silver and James Ursini, "was a reliance on fresh rendering or novel manipulation of traditional images." The film was an international success overnight, and the British actress Steele became an instant sensation.
Although Black Sunday was shot in black and white, Bava's subsequent reputation was in large built on his extraordinary and highly symbolic use of color. In the words of Jeff Dove, "the projects which followed [ La maschera del demonia ] began to develop stunning photography, making great use of lighting, set design, and camera positioning to compliment mise-en-scenes bathed in deep primaries." Ercole al centro della terra ( Hercules at the Center of the Earth , 1961) shows off Bava's adeptness with Technicolor, and in films such as Sei donne per l'assassino ( Blood and Black Lace , 1963) and Terrore nello spazio ( Planet of the Vampires , 1965), his sets and compositions approach the look of artworks. The one exception to Bava's astounding use of color is his 1962 Hitchcock spoof La ragazza che sappeva troppo ( The Girl Who Knew Too Much / Evil Eye ), a black and white murder mystery that is widely acknowledged as the first of the giallos —peculiarly Italian horror-thrillers named for the yellow pages of the cheap novels upon which they were based.
Silver and Ursini argue quite persuasively that "the unusal and disquieting visuals of Bava's films seem rooted in a conception of life as an uncomfortable union of illusion and reality. The dramatic conflict for his characters lies in confronting the dilemma of distinguishing between the two perceptions." Many of his films—including Black Sunday , Gli Invasoir ( Erik the Conqueror , 1961), and Operazione Paura ( Kill, Baby, Kill , 1966)—make use the doppelgänger theme in order to engender confusion and uncanniness. This last film, about villagers who are compelled to commit suicide by the ghost of a young girl, was an admitted influence on works by Fellini, Martin Scorcese, and David Lynch. Other of Bava's films rely on idiosyncratic camera techniques, such as snap zooms, over-rotated pans, and unconventional point-of-view shots, as a way of conveying the emotional states of characters.
The extreme violence and downbeat endings of much of Bava's output in the 1960s eventually resulted in the dissolution of his contract with American International Pictures, which had been successfully distributing his films in English-speaking countries. After not working for two years, Bava returned with a vengeance in 1968— Diabolik ( Danger: Diabolik ), produced by Dino DeLaurentiis, was a comic book adapation that proved enormously popular in Europe. Three years later, Bava would break new ground once again with L'ecologia del delitto ( A Bay of Blood , 1971), a gory slasher film that preceded Halloween and Friday the 13th in America by nearly a decade.
The last three films directed by Bava all met with misfortune of one sort or another. Lise e il diavolo ( Lisa and the Devil , 1973) is justly proclaimed by Lucas "an extraordinary combination of horror film, art film and personal testament." Unfortunately, this creepy tale of necrophilia, evil, and murder starring Elke Sommer and Telly Savalas proved unsalable at Cannes in 1973. Cani arrabbiati ( Rabid Dogs ), a pet project of Bava's that he had wanted to make for years, was neither completed nor released in the director's lifetime. After producer Roberto Loyola declared bankruptcy, Rabid Dogs was impounded for twenty years, only to be acquired and finished by co-star Lea Lander. In 1996, Lander premiered the film in Brussels under the title Semaforo rosso ( Red Traffic Light ), to great critical acclaim. Bava's final feature, Schock ( Shock , 1977), was scripted by his son Lamberto. But Lamberto had to take over at various times during production, as his father feigned illness in order to provide him with directorial experience. On April 25, 1980, just days after receiving a clean bill of health, Mario Bava died of a heart attack. Never given nearly as much credit for his many accomplishments as he deserved during his lifetime, this director of masterpieces in many different genres, who worked with low budgets under extremely stressful conditions, is only now beginning to elicit the praise and attention he so richly merits.