You know those social media “such and such was released 19 years ago today” posts that seem to be popping up more and more? Well recently I saw one for Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka about four or five other amazing titles) and thought about how it’d been a while since I went on a Bava binge, so I scanned my collection and yanked out every Bava Blu-ray I own, lined them up like bodies in a morgue and decided to revisit the cinematic slabs I’ve always liked but never loved… and to see how I feel about them now as my ever evolving tastes have somehow become firmly planted in very specific aesthetics.

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I could write a biography on Mario Bava and how much I adore his pictures but the legendary Tim Lucas already did that with literary masterpiece ‘All the Colors of the Dark’, so I’ll just say that Mario Bava’s lavish visuals have always been something I’ve clamoured over. Even when I was younger and so-so on gothic horror (I’m 100% in love with gothic horror now) I still admired Bava’s colorful aesthetic and immense appreciation of light and shadow. He truly was one of the greats, concocting some of the most visually pleasing pictures imaginable, especially in the horror genre… but oddly enough many of them didn’t click with me the first go around, strange I know, but that seems to be something I’ve noticed from my generation when it comes to Bava. I love Blood and Black Lace, Black Sunday, and worship at the altar of Black Sabbath (same statement rings true for the band as well) but offerings like Lisa and the Devil and Hatchet for the Honeymoon felt like prime choices to revisit—movies I’ve always liked, but never loved.

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Hatchet for the Honeymoon

I’ll start by saying I couldn’t help but notice some very striking similarities between the opening monologue/morning mirror routine scene of John, Hatchet for the Honeymoon’s self proclaimed paranoiac, with that of Patrick Bateman’s daily morning routine in American Psycho. There are a few other very subtle similarities that show up as well, but none as staggeringly noticeable as that intro. After a brief search online, others have noticed it too, (Tim Lucas!) so at least I know I’m not totally crazy!

In odd giallo fashion, we know who the killer is right from the get-go, a serial killer who is triggered to kill by women in bridal gowns, and conveniently enough, he runs a fashion company that specializes in… bridal gowns! After murdering his wife, she comes back, taunting him and putting him on edge, I really liked the supernatural shift about halfway through (and the tenser atmosphere that came along with it) as John continuously out snakes the increasingly suspicious police detective (in comparison, the Willem DaFoe character in American Psycho) who’s investigating the murders.

I totally fell in love with the dark humor and the macabre sensibilities in a non gothic period setting, it all just clicked. The solid score didn’t shine as bright here as in other Bava films (although the whimsical waltzing music is to die for, and the off kilter disturbing cues whenever our killers goes for the butcher’s blade is pretty neat too), it’s deliberately paced (which isn’t a problem for me, but I can see others being turned off by it), and as you’d expect the lighting and colors are supreme.

With a stylishly disturbing, whimsical death waltz amidst a room of exquisitely dressed mannequins and numerous death by cleaver scenes, Hatchet for the Honeymoon delivers a welcome, darkly comedic twist to the giallo from one of cinemas finest purveyors of the eye pleasing murder aesthetic.

Side note: there’s not a Hatchet to be found in this picture.

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Lisa and the Devil

Elke Sommer stars as Lisa, a tourist who finds herself drawn away from her friends and eventually stranded in a crazy villa full of demons and dark secrets, as Lisa and it’s occupants are seemingly held in the supernatural grip of one charmingly odd butler who resembles an earlier seen depiction of the Devil.

The (dream) cycle of death, a necrophilia nightmare. Lisa and the Devil is a logicless supernatural romp through metaphysical Hell composed of scenes that feel like weaving in and out of pieced together dreams with an aesthetic equal parts grandiose Bava gothique and the sleepy surrealistic pillow vibes of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco.

The sheer glee I get when I see the devil’s body with the face of Telly Savalas is almost unexplainable. Oddly enough this was always one of my least favorite of Bava’s horror brushstrokes and the one I was looking forward to revisiting the most, I can say it’s now one of my favorites right there next to Black Sabbath and Rabid Dogs. Purgatory nightmare logic, the surreal doom, haunted mansion doused in so many beautiful colors, a wife running over her husband's body 467,546 times as he rolls around like a lifeless rag doll, intense bludgeonings, Elke Sommer, Alida Valli, and demon Telly Savalas carrying around life-size dummies of all the ‘players’ with that devilish grin that’s never afraid to remind you it’s Telly fucking Savalas and he will always be more sinister than you, especially with a lollipop.

What a strange, frustrating, and incredibly pleasing movie this is, a total mind bender that just keeps getting better and more hallucinatory as it goes, plus that ending a real banger too. Once again, I can see this being a so-so affair for people but I dunno, it hit all my sweet spots as far a dream like terror goes and I no longer prefer the House of Exorcism cut, that’s for damn sure.

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Revisiting both of these really was a treat, and a reminder that as years pass—so do our tastes. Finally connecting with a movie is a great feeling, finally connecting with two movies is cinematic zen! Here in the states, both of these were released by Kino Lorber a few years back and if you’ve been wanting to dip your toes a bit deeper into the world of Mario Bava, I’d suggest picking them up, as well as the other releases in their Mario Bava collection, all available on Amazon.

Ian West