A stylish but minor entry in the Mario Bava oeuvre with an Agatha Christie-type set-up.
Following a week long Mario Bava marathon, I approached Five Dolls for an August Moon with some trepidation for two reasons. First of all the cost that I and my family personally paid for the marathon had been brutal and bloody. Secondly Mario Bava himself hated the film, considering it one of his worst movies. For a director to be so forceful in his objections makes the potential viewer pause, but it must be done.
The premise is something out of Agatha Christie. On a remote island businessman George Stark (Teodor Corrà) has gathered a group of people together for a weekend of business and pleasure. Professor Gerry Farrell (William Berger) is a scientist whose new formula is the secret motive for the gathering and who will inveighed upon to sell it to George or perhaps his treacherous partner Nick (Maurice Poli from Rabid Dogs). Adding to the industrial intrigue, there’s also sexual shenanigans afoot as Farrell and Stark’s wives, Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg) and Jill (Edith Meloni) are having an affair. Nick’s wife Marie (Edwige Fenech) is openly dallying with the manservant Charles (Mauro Bosco). Among this bohemian mélange only Jack (Renato Rossini) and his wife Peggy (Helene Ronee) are on an even keel, but the ingénue Isabelle (Justine Gall) stalks the house, a wide-eyed voyeur to the goings-on.
Following a jokey satanic ritual – only Bava would attempt such a red herring – the killings begin at a fair clip. There’s nothing particularly inventive about the kills – quite a few of the victims just get shot! – and the pace of the film doesn’t allow for much in the way of atmosphere. With Antonio Rinaldi’s brightly lit camerawork Bava replaces his mist-laced Gothic piles with postmodern kitsch and a swingy careless ease. The blistering rock soundtrack that punctuates proceedings with blaring guitars lends the film a great 70s feel but does little to promote dread in the viewer. If there were a few jokes, the film could almost be taken as a parody of the giallo genre that Bava inadvertently launched. The plot twists in a way that is so confusing as to be not so much surprising as dumbfounding, and some of the production feels genuinely rushed and slapdash. Bloodless bullet wounds and smokeless gunshots, fiendish plots that make very little sense, a title that seems utterly irrelevant and characters who are barely set up before being summarily dispatched. On the plus side, it is short at just over 80 minutes and an occasional shot will impress – glass balls cascade down a staircase like a pram down the Odessa Steps in one particularly well taken sequence. However, if you’ve never seen a Mario Bava film before I would point you towards several other films before arriving at this self-confessedly minor work.
Watch the trailer: