Mario Bava

b. July 31, 1914, San Remo, Italy
d. April 25, 1980, Rome, Italy

articles in Senses
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Mario Bava directed (or co-directed) twenty-four features during an eighteen year period, 1960 to 1978. His œuvre consists entirely of the formula films (filone) which made Italy the most successful production centre in Western Europe in the ’60s. These less-than-reputable genre films were shot with minuscule budgets and production schedules – a typical filone had a budget under $80,000 and a shooting schedule of three or four weeks – and were often co-financed to further reduce costs (this is why most of the spaghetti westerns were shot in Spain, with largely Spanish crews) (1). Bava is best known for his horror films and giallo thrillers (to which I will turn shortly), but he worked in all of the popular genres of his day: spaghetti westerns, peplum/sword-and-sandal epics, Bond-style spy thrillers, even soft-porn Mondo Cane/World by Night romps. If Bava manages, more often than not, to transcend the limitations of his material it is because of the strength of his imagery, as well as the evident pleasure he derives from exploring the expressive potential of the medium itself: the ability of film to generate a variety of emotions – most of all, wonder and fear.

“Movies,” Bava once explained, “are a magician’s forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands… at least, that’s what it means to me. What attracts me in movies is to be presented with a problem and be able to solve it. Nothing else; just to create an illusion, and effect, with almost nothing” (2). His apprenticeship in cinematic magic began quite early. His father, Eugenio Bava, was also – as Tim Lucas puts it – “the father of special effects photography in Italy” (3). Eugenio Bava began working at the Italian branch of Pathé Frères in 1906. (In the years leading up to the Great War, Pathé Frères was the most successful film company in the world). His credits include cameraman for Quo Vadis (Enrico Guazzoni, 1913) and Cenere (1916) with Eleanora Duse. He also worked with Segundo de Chomon on the special effects for Pastrone’s Cabiria (1914) and later became the head of the optical effects department at the government-sponsored (i.e. Fascist-sponsored) Instituto LUCE. Mario Bava, after serving as an assistant to his father, became a camera operator and cinematographer. Among his earliest works as Director of Photography (DP) were two shorts by Roberto Rossellini: Il tacchino prepotente and La vispa Teresa (both 1940). Bava spent the next twenty years refining his craft, serving as a cinematographer on nearly thirty features before directing his first film Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio, 1960), at the age of forty-six (4).

His subsequent career could be understood as a continuation by other means of his work as cinematographer, for it is clear that Bava’s approach to filmmaking is primarily cinematographic. Henri Alekan, the great French DP, once said that the cinematographer’s task was “to obtain psychological reactions out of mere technical means” and this is a good, basic description of Bava’s style (5). When Andrew Mangravite says that Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino, 1964), one of Bava’s best films, is “a thriller ‘about’ shadowy rooms, and the terrors of nightfall” he does not exaggerate (6). Bava’s films are primarily about the affective qualities of light and shade, of colour and movement. He is credited as his own cinematographer on eight of his twenty-five features, but even when he did not officially shoot his films Bava took an active role in the design of each image: setting up the lights, taking charge of the little red wagon which served as his makeshift dolly, creating optical effects with glass mattes, etc.

The artisanal nature of Bava’s filmmaking extends to story construction as well, for the haphazard nature of film production in Italy gave Bava substantial freedom to rework scripts as he saw fit. He was known to change as much as sixty percent of the material while in production and even postproduction. (This was not a problem, dialogue-wise, since Italian films were typically postsynchronised.) The writing credit given to film editor Mario Serandrei on Black Sunday, as Lucas suggests, is more than likely an acknowledgement of the contribution that Serandrei made to the story after it was shot (7). If you ever complained, while watching an Italian genre film, that the plot “seems to have been made up on the spot,” this, in fact, is not far from the truth. There is a playful allusion to this in Lisa and the Devil (Lisa e il diavolo, 1972) when Sophia, one of the characters stranded in an old family mansion, observes, “The entire setting is so right for a tall tale of gloom and perdition. Why, we can make one up as we go along.”


Black Sunday

Bava remains best known for his first film, Black Sunday. The prologue, in particular, seems engraved in the minds of those who have seen it. We are in seventeenth century Moldavia. A woman has been sentenced to death. A poker with the letter ‘s’ is held over an open flame. When it is red-hot it is used to sear the prisoner’s flesh – to mark her with the brand of Satan. This is just the beginning. The Grand Inquisitor orders that his assistants “cover her face with the mask of Satan.” We realize, with mounting horror, that a spike-lined bronze mask is to be secured to her face with the hammer blow of a hooded executioner. As the executioner advances, mask in hand, we are placed in the position of both victimizer and victim: first, we see the woman from the point-of-view of the mask, then a shot from her perspective of the spikes advancing toward their prey.

There are several reasons why this scene is so memorable. The primordial imagery (perfectly rendered in high contrast black-and-white) returns us to our childhood, when we were alone and afraid. It is also perversely erotic. The sexual nature of the events we are witnessing is alluded to in both speech (we are told that Princess Asa is being punished for her “monstrous love” for Prince Javutich) and in the visuals: the close-up of Asa’s seared flesh (the indentation caused by the red-hot poker); the spiked-lined mask with its promise of a defilement-without-end. This confluence of brutality and eroticism does not contradict the initial impression of childhood recollection, but enhances it – for was not the whole world once charged for us with such obscure sources of pleasure and terror? (In psychoanalysis, Freud will discuss this confluence by way of the primal scene.)

This sequence could serve as the prologue to just about every film Bava has ever made. Each of his works seems somehow a consequence of this originary trauma, this initial (initiatory) act of violation. As though each subsequent work were an attempt to understand, to unfold, the repercussions of this originary event. Nowhere are the repercussions more deeply felt than in the trio of works which Bava made in quick succession between 1963 and 1964: Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura, 1963), Whip and the Body (La frusta e il corpo, 1963), Blood and Black Lace.

Whip and the Body is virtually a colour remake of Black Sunday. It shares the earlier film’s general climate of stagnation; each work centred on a family haunted by a past, a past which exhausts the present with each waking hour. Certain shots “echo” ones from the earlier film: the camera gliding across the room as a woman sits and plays the piano; a family hearth opening to reveal a secret passageway; an old man terrorised in his bed late at night. Compare, as well, the denouement of both films. Black Sunday ends with Princess Asa finally consigned to the flames promised two hundred years before, but rather than produce a sense of closure Bava’s emphasis on the joyful sounds of the villagers gives us pause: there is a little too much pleasure in this act of destruction and death. Isn’t this simply Asa’s “beautiful life of evil and hate” in another guise? In Whip and the Body, Bava “answers” the words of Christian, his hope that Nevenka has found peace in death, with a shot of a piece of rope coiling, writhing in flames (the coil of rope a motif associated with Nevenka and her “desire” for her deceased lover Kurt). The flames grow progressively larger until they finally consume the screen. As Lucas notes, the final image allows us to imagine “[Nevenka’s] reunion with Kurt on a more elemental level” (8).

Whip and the Body

The most notable difference between the two films – and it is what makes Whip and the Body even more remarkable than the previous work – is that instead of focusing on the banal “good” couple (Katya and Adrej in Black Sunday, Tanya and Christian in Whip and the Body) it concentrates on the “evil” one: the monstrous (possibly, incestuous) love of Asa and Javutich in Black Sunday becomes Whip and the Body‘s Sadean romance between Nevenka and Kurt Menliff. As Nevenka, Daliah Lavi (best known for her role in Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town, 1962) is absolutely stunning. We are made to feel the severity of her fear and longing, especially as she is ferociously whipped, barely able to contain herself. Nevenka lives in a state of perpetual anxiety. She’s not sure what idea is more frightening to her: that Kurt has come back from the dead to haunt her; that he has not (9).

His most beautifully sombre work, Whip and the Body turned out to be Bava’s most controversial. The producer was put on trial for charges of obscenity, and it was later distributed abroad in heavy edited versions (in the US, it was released with the unforgivable title What!). This controversy is understandable. Whip and the Body transforms a tale of ghosts and sadomasochistic violence into a classic work of l’amour fou, alongside Buñuel’s L’Age d’or (1930) and Wuthering Heights (1953), Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949) and Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).

Although Black Sabbath consists of three separate stories, set in different historical periods, they can also be read as variations on a theme. This is clearest in the repetition of details between the first story (“The Telephone”) and the third (“A Drop of Water”), both of which chart the emotional collapse of a single character, a woman alone in her apartment. The breakdown, in both cases, is precipitated by a telephone call. Between the first and last story, the material is repeated and transformed. Whereas “The Telephone” takes place in the present, “A Drop of Water” takes place in an indeterminate past. If the threat in “The Telephone” turns out to be all-too-human (a disgruntled ex-lover – two, in fact – driven to commit acts of cruelty), the threat in “A Drop of Water” is purer, more primordial. Here, the revenge is carried out by the dead.

Black Sabbath - A Drop of Water

This revenge of the dead on the living, of death on life, gains additional power because of its placement after the second narrative, “I Wurdulak”. In this variation on the vampire myth, the wurdulak is driven not so much by a need for blood but by a need to reunite with their loved ones in (or through) death. When, at the end, the (living) protagonist says to his beloved, “You know I’d rather die than lose you”, he gives her the confirmation of his love which she needs to reunite for all eternity. The trio of stories thus function dialectically to produce one final face of fear: at the end of “A Drop of Water”, the camera slowly zooms in on the dead heroine’s wild-staring eyes. (The coda – added by request of the distributors – somewhat dilutes the power of the last shot, but it has a charm all its own: Boris Karloff, star of “I Wurdulak”, on set with technical crew, riding a mechanical horse. This self-reflexive gesture allows us to understand both the magical properties of cinema and the emotion we invest in it.)

A near abstraction on colour and movement, Blood and Black Lace is Bava’s cinema distilled to its cruel essence. This film develops with complete abandon what Bava more tentatively explored in The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1962) and “The Telephone” episode of Black Sabbath. From the opening image (an unhinged sign for Christiana’s Haute Couture banging in the wind) to the last (a telephone receiver off the hook swinging like a pendulum, back and forth) we have a remorseless, inexorable movement, a dissipative force, that levels everything in its path. This movement becomes, in the case of Nicole’s murder in the antique shop, a pulsation of light, by which one means not only the neon sign which flickers off-on, off-on as the woman meets her demise with a medieval iron hook (a variation on the death mask of Black Sunday; later, Mary’s demise by way of a red-hot furnace will duplicate the searing of Asa’s flesh), but Bava’s use of primary colours which throb with an intensity all their own. That Bava’s source of inspiration was a lurid type of pulp magazine itself identified by a specific colour, giallo (yellow, the colour of terror, of fearfulness), couldn’t be more appropriate.


In his taxonomy of cinematic signs, Gilles Deleuze suggests that Bava’s work be understood in relation to what he calls “the impulse-image” (l’image pulsion). In the cinema of impulse-images, the viewer perceives “a primordial world of drives and forces immanent within and inseparable from the real world of concrete particularities” (10). There is the co-existence of two worlds, each implicated in the other: an originary world of atavistic impulses and a material world of concrete particulars. “The originary world…exists and operates in the depths of a real milieu, and is only valid through its immanence in this milieu, whose violence and cruelty it reveals” (11).

In Bava, this co-presence of worlds is alluded to in a variety of ways: in Black Sunday, it is the secret passageways which connect the Vadja household to Asa’s crypt (in other words, the passageways which link life to death); in Hercules and the Haunted World (Ercole al centro della terra, 1961) we have the terrain of mortals and the terrain of gods (although, in typical Bava fashion, Hercules returns from the Kingdom of the Dead only to discover another realm of death already located within his beloved’s home); in Planet of the Vampire (Terrore nello spazio, 1965), the separate “vibratory planes” inhabited by the astronauts and the alien species (who are shown to differ by degree rather than kind; near the climax, one of the alien’s states, “On your planet I know you humans have fought and killed down through the centuries. Did you really expect us to be any different?”); in Lisa and the Devil, the heroine, a German tourist in Toledo, Spain, momentarily strays from her tour group and – with the simple act of turning a street corner – discovers another world, a parallel world, in which she also seems to belong, to have always already belonged.

Five Dolls for an August Moon

My favourite example is found in Five Dolls for an August Moon (Cinque bambole per la luna d’Agosto, 1970). The island retreat where the rich industrialist and his friends gather – only to be slaughtered, one by one – is both concrete and primordial. (One contact point between worlds is the walk-in freezer where all the corpses are covered in plastic and hung on hooks like slabs of beef.) Towards the end of the film, when the captain of the yacht and stewards return to the island to pick up the industrialist and his guests they are unable to find a trace of any of them, not even the four survivors passed out on the living room floor: it is as though the bourgeois characters had passed (or descended) from one milieu to another and, in the process, become invisible to the workers. (The weak narrative explanation for this event later in the film hardly matters since there is a logic to this momentary disappearance which defies all rationale explanation.)

In the cinema of impulse-images, the emphasis is placed on drives rather than desires. The drive precedes individuation, whereas desire can be understood as the individuated expression of elementary drives. The intensity of emotion (fear, hatred, love) is never simply the personal attribute of a specific character. Impulses, primordial drives, pass from the milieu to the characters and back again. In Bava’s early films, the force of the impulse is conveyed by camera movements, by lighting, and by colour. It is through such techniques that Bava communicates the violence of the impulse. Technicolor, for example, allows Bava to foreground colour as a form of expression in its own right. In such works as Whip and the Body and Blood and Black Lace, colour is experienced by the viewer as colour, the transmission of a specific quality or vibration, before (or beyond) its actualisation in characters and narrative events. Primary colours become manifestations of elemental forces, brute instincts. This is one reason why the flimsiness of the plot and the characters is easily overlooked in his best films: the plot and characters are insubstantial in contrast to the impulse itself.

The reader might ask here whether the appearance of impulse-images in Bava is simply a consequence of the genres in which he primarily worked (gothic horror, giallo thrillers). Yet, we should not overlook that it was Bava himself who chose to transform a story by Gogol into Black Sunday or that it was Bava who initiates the giallo thriller. So, rather than say that the impulse-image is a consequence of the genre and not the auteur, I would argue the reverse: Bava’s inclination for impulse-images is what leads him to such genres (in fact, leads him – in the case of the giallo – to create a new one). It is the genre trappings which give Bava free rein to explore the various facets of the impulse-image.

By the time we get to his late masterwork Rabid Dogs (Cani arrabbiati, 1974), Bava no longer even needs the generic trappings. Rabid Dogs is neither horror nor giallo, yet it is pure impulse-image. “Bava presents for the viewer a vision of the ‘real world’ more horrific and brutal than any of his stylized giallo films” (12). The hijacked vehicle, travelling down a highway on the outskirts of Rome with three criminals and three hostages, becomes the ultimate manifestation of the originary world and elementary impulses. The trailer for the film neatly summarises this as well, informing us that the film is about “Hunting … Robbing … Humiliating … Killing”, before announcing, “The destination is death.”


Bava’s directorial career can be roughly divided into two periods. During his first six years as a filmmaker, Bava directed over a dozen films and it is during this initial burst of activity that he made many of his best films. 1966 was a year marked by personal and professional misfortune: the death of his beloved father; the death of Mario Serendrei, his film editor (who also worked with Luchino Visconti); the end of Bava’s collaboration with cameraman Ubaldo Terzano, who began working as Bava’s camera operator in the early 1950s and became his director of photography with Black Sabbath. Although his title was believed to be purely nominal (since Bava took on most of the responsibilities associated with a DP), there is a striking difference between the works Bava made with Terzano and the ones he made, beginning in 1965, with Antonio Rinaldi and others. The Bava-Terzano films are distinguished by the remarkable motility of the camera, even more remarkable when you consider that, with the exception of Black Sunday, they never had the budget to rent professional cranes and dollies.

Look, for example, at the intricate use of camera movement during the opening minutes of “The Telephone”. There are multiple long takes here in which the camera executes five or six movements within a single shot. What Bava and Terzano convey so vividly with these movements – as well as the use of several startling 180º reverse cuts – is the terror of being “exposed” in one’s own home. The continuous variation of angles and points-of-view remind us that, even within the interior of one’s abode, there is always some other corner to explore, some other perspective yet unknown. In Blood and Black Lace, the camera laterally tracks back and forth across the dressing rooms of Christiana Haute Couture allowing us to view, in a continuous take, a series of models (and future victims) in various states of dress and emotional distress. These movements allow us to experience firsthand the turbulence into which these characters’ lives swiftly descend.

Planet of the Vampires

After the termination of the Bava-Terzano partnership, Bava’s films become increasingly more static. (Considering his background as cinematographer it is not surprising that the division in Bava’s œuvre would express itself, first and foremost, in visual terms.) The physical, sensual qualities of the tracking shot are replaced by the faux-movement of the zoom lens. Of course, the zoom lens can produce its own thematic resonance and one effect which particularly appeals to Bava is the way a zoom-in flattens space, momentarily abstracting the characters from their surroundings, like cut-out figures, so that we see them both within a specific milieu as well as abstracted from it. But whereas the use of the zoom lens in a film like Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Il rosso segno della follia, 1968) has a sense of experimentation about it – Bava researching its expressive potential – the overuse of zoom shots in the works to follow signal (or seem to signal) the director’s indifference to the material at hand. (The more static nature of Bava’s later works, I might add, is not as evident in the first Bava-Rinaldi collaborations, such as the wonderful sci-fi horror film Planet of the Vampires or Kill, Baby, Kill! [Operazione paura, 1966], whose most dazzling sequence involves a young girl drawn to a metal protuberance like a moth to the flame, her “attraction” communicated by the complex movements of the camera).

What differentiates the two periods as well is the use of colour. The early colour works were shot or processed in Technicolor. The later were made using inferior colour film processes. The vibrant, saturated colours which give such Bava films as Hercules in the Haunted World and Whip and the Body a hallucinatory beauty gives way in the later works to poor contrast and pallid colours, as though the world itself had become impoverished, had lost its allure – its threat (13). (The increased emphasis on location shooting will also restrict Bava’s use of expressive lighting effects.)

Bava would experience the adversities of commercial filmmaking in Italy with growing intimacy. Somehow, as his body of work expanded, the scripts became increasingly more threadbare, the budgets and production circumstances more precarious. Bava and the cast of Kill, Baby, Kill! agreed to complete the film gratis after the producers ran out of money two weeks into production. (Despite this, it is a wonderful mood piece. At the premiere, it is said that Visconti gave the film a standing ovation.) Bava agreed to step-in and salvage the Viking film Knives of the Avenger (I coltelli del vendicatore, 1966) by reworking the script and reshooting almost the entire film in six days. Bava began shooting Five Dolls for an August Moon forty-eight hours after signing a contract to make the film. He then agreed, in postproduction, to edit the movie himself because the producers had no money left to hire a film editor.

Lisa and the Devil

These mishaps would continue to the end. Unable to secure a distributor, the producer Alfred Leone (under the pseudonym Mickey Lion) shot new footage and transformed Lisa and the Devil into an Exorcist knock-off entitled House of Exorcism (La casa dell’esorcismo, 1975) (14). To add insult to injury, Bava’s last theatrical release Shock (All 33 di Via Orologio fa sempre freddo, 1977) was marketed in the US as a sequel to another Exorcist retread, Ovidio G. Assonitis’s Beyond the Door (1975). Worse, though, was the fate of Rabid Dogs. The producer declared bankruptcy while the film was in the final stages of production and his property (including the workprint of Rabid Dogs) was seized and impounded. It would not see the light of day for twenty-three years (seventeen years too late for Bava, who died in 1980).

Yet, despite these professional difficulties, Bava’s final trio of films can now be seen for what they are: a marvellous return to form. Lisa and the Devil was Bava’s reward, by producer Leone, for the commercial success of Baron Blood (Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972) and it is his most daring film, an oneiric narrative with tender volleys of absurdist humour. As Lucas writes, it is “an extraordinary combination of horror film, art film and personal testament. Based on Bava’s memories of growing up among his father’s sculptures, dialogue borrowed from Dostoevski’s I Diavoli, and an unrealized project about real-life necrophile Viktor Ardisson, Lise e il diavolo unfolds like a waking dream” (15). Although it doesn’t quite sustain the invention and charm of the opening hour, Lisa and the Devil is clearly a labour of love, a beautifully crafted puzzle box replete with secret compartments.

Shot on location with little or no artificial lighting and set for almost its entirety in a moving car there is nothing dream-like about Rabid Dogs. Three robbers on the run from the police with three hostages: a man, a woman and a child. That’s it. It is as brutally precise as any film Bava has ever made. The film starts at a fevered pitch (a robbery gone awry) and never lets up. Rabid Dogs consists primarily of a series of remarkable close-ups of the human face in crisis. No matter what emotion is expressed – joy or terror – the one quality which unites all these human countenances is their nakedness. Bava’s study of the human face is a perverse variation on the “symphony of faces” found in Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Whereas the face in Dreyer is both flesh and spirit (made of flesh, but turned toward the spiritual), the face in Bava is nothing but flesh, pure and simple.

Working with a script written by his son Lamberto Bava, in collaboration with Francesco Barbieri, Paola Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, Shock has a gravitas missing from Bava’s middle-period films. The flippant tone of such works as Bay of Blood (Ecologia del delitto or Reazione a catena, 1971) is replaced here by a real sense of pain and anguish. The house that the heroine returns to live in with her family is haunted through and through. The denouement is a worthy finale to Bava’s film career: a mother, pushed to the brink of madness and despair, slits her throat in the basement of her house while, outside, her little son “plays” with the ghost of his father (he serves imaginary tea to a man who isn’t there). Earlier in the film the mother explained to her son that “Death is a part of life, and we must learn from it”, but even she could not have realised what these words would come to mean – for her son or for the viewer.

In his final series of works, Bava manages to reaffirm his belief in the alchemic properties of film, its ability to convert “almost nothing” into images of terror and beauty.

The cinema is a magician’s forge and Mario Bava is one of its master sorcerers.

Mario Bava


Note: I have cobbled together this filmography based on information I have gathered re: the year of production (as opposed to year of release) and the order in which they were made. There is no uniformity amongst the various filmographies that were consulted. Much of this information comes from the wonderful liner notes which Tim Lucas has written for nearly all Bava films released on DVD in the US. (However, I would point out that even these liner notes occasionally have contradictory information, as do the filmographies offered as bonus features on both the Image and VCI DVD releases which contain them.) The definitive filmography will no doubt be found in Lucas’ forthcoming monograph on the director. I have refrained from including films which are credited to other directors, no matter the extent of Bava’s contribution. I have also refrained from providing all of the alternative titles for each film, since a list of this type would run to several pages.

Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio, also known as The Mask of Satan) (1960)

Hercules in the Haunted World (Ercole al centro della terra, also known as Hercules at the Center of the Earth) (1961)

Erik the Conqueror (Gli invasori) (1961)

Wonders of Aladdin (Le meraviglie di Aladino) (1961) co-directed by Harry Levin

Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo, also known as The Evil Eye) (1962)

Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura) (1963)

Whip and the Body (La frusta e il corpo, also known as What!) (1963)

Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino) (1964)

Road to Fort Alamo (La strada per Fort Alamo) (1964)

Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio, also known as Haunted Planet) (1965)

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (Spie vengono dal semifreddo) (1966)

Kill, Baby, Kill! (Operazione paura) (1966)

Hercules in the Haunted World

Knives of the Avenger (I coltelli del vendicatore) (1966)

Danger: Diabolik (Diabolik) (1967)

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (Il rosso segno della folia) (1968)

Four Times that Night (Quante volte … quella notte) (1969)

Five Dolls for an August Moon (Cinque bambole per la luna d’Agosto) (1969)

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (Roy Colt e Winchester Jack) (1970)

Bay of Blood (Ecologia del delitto, also known as Antefatto, also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) (1971)

Baron Blood (Gli orrori del castello di norimberga) (1972)

Lisa and the Devil (Lisa e il diavolo) (1972) released in 1975 with additional footage (not shot by Bava) as House of Exorcism (La casa dell’exorcismo)

Rabid Dogs (Cani arrabbiati, also known as Semaforo rosso) (1974)

Shock (All 33 di Via Orologio fa sempre freddo, also known as Beyond the Door II) (1977) co-directed by Lamberto Bava

Venus of Ille (La venere d’ille) (1978) made for television, co-directed by Lamberto Bava

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Mario Bava’s Black Sunday aka The Mask of Satan by Christopher J. Jarmick

Whips and Bodies: The Sadean Cinema Text by Lindsay Hallam

Barbara Steele’s Ephemeral Skin: Feminism, Fetishism and Film by Patricia MacCormack

Web Resources

Mario Bava Webpage
Nice site, with reviews, biography, image gallery, “Bava speaks”, guestbook, links and filmography.

Danger: Diabolik

Mario Bava: il piu grande
Good overview (in English), with lots of links.

A Short Biography of Mario Bava
Article by Tim Lucas for Images journal.

Classic Horror Masters – Mario Bava
Page features a filmography with links to articles on individual films.

Informative Italian site.

Click here to search for Mario Bava DVDs, videos and books at


  1. For more information on the Italian film industry in the ’60s, see Christopher Wagstaff, “A Forkful of Westerns: Industry, Audiences and the Italian Western” in Richard Dyer and Ginette Vincendeau (eds), Popular European Cinema, London and New York, Routledge, 1992, pp. 245–61.
  2. Quoted in “Bava Talks”.
  3. Tim Lucas, audio commentary, Black Sunday DVD, Image Entertainment.
  4. Some recent filmographies have credited Bava for his directorial work on several movies he worked on (as DP) in the late ’50s, such as Riccardo Freda’s I vampiri (1956) and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (Caltiki – il mostro imortale, 1959), and Jacques Tourneur’s Giant of Marathon (La Battaglia di Maratona, 1960). However, Black Sunday was his first directorial assignment and should be treated as such.
  5. Quoted in Jean-Pierre Geuens, Film Production Theory, New York, State University of New York Press, 2000, p. 159.
  6. Andrew Mangravite, “Once Upon a Time in the Crypt”, Film Comment, vol. 29, no. 1, January–February 1993, p. 60.
  7. Lucas, audio commentary, Black Sunday. Barbara Steele tells Lucas that she never saw a complete script for the film. She was given the scenes she would play and her dialogue on a day-to-day basis.
  8. Tim Lucas, audio commentary, Whip and the Body DVD, VCI Home Video.
  9. The shocking nature of the material can be partly credited to the screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Gastaldi is responsible for writing another classic Italo horror of the period, Horrible Dr. Hichcock (L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock, dir: Riccardo Freda, 1962). In this film, the title character is a necrophile. He is “haunted” by his desire to commune with the dead.
  10. Ronald Bogue, Deleuze on Cinema, New York and London: Routledge, 2003, p. 82.
  11. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1986, p. 125. Deleuze, admittedly, only makes a passing reference to Bava in his chapter on the impulse-image, which is primarily focused on the works of Buñuel, Losey and Stroheim. However, I would point out that even this passing reference is twice as much commentary as Bava usually generates.
  12. Alain Silver and James Ursini, “Mario Bava: The Illusion of Reality” in Silver and Ursini (eds), Horror Film Reader, New York: Limelight, 2000, p. 105.
  13. The fade-proof quality of Technicolor has allowed a film like Whip and the Body to be rediscovered (on DVD) in all its visual splendour.
  14. Undeniably wretched, House of Exorcism nevertheless contains one remarkable insight. The events of Lisa and the Devil are reconfigured as a cosmic form of repetition-compulsion, each of the inhabitants forced to reenact through eternity some long-forgotten trauma. In House of Exorcism, it is this repetition that needs to be exorcised. It is this repetition that is hell.
  15. Tim Lucas, “A Short Biography of Mario Bava

About The Author

Sam Ishii-Gonzales is Assistant Professor in the School of Media Studies at the New School University in New York City, where he teaches courses on aesthetics, media theory and film production. He is the co-editor of two books on Alfred Hitchcock and has published essays on a variety of artists and philosophers, including Francis Bacon, Henri Bergson, Claire Denis, Gilles Deleuze and David Lynch. His writings have been translated into Hungarian and Italian. His current book project is entitled “Being and Immanence: Towards a Cinema of the Non-Actor”. It considers the different uses of the non-actor throughout cinema history and the relevance of this figure for understanding the ontology of film. He is also working on a short experimental film (“Phantom’s Due”) and a video essay based on the writings of Robert Bresson.

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