Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bava delivers badly done proto-slasher

5 Dolls for an August Moon (aka "Island of Terror") (1970)
Starring: Ira von Furstenberg, Ely Galleani, Maurice Poli, Teodoro Corra, William Berger, Edwige Fenech, Helena Ronee, Howard Ross and Edith Meloni
Director: Mario Bava
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A business magnate (Corra) invites four couples to spend the weekend at his isolated island retreat as part ofa strategy to convince a maverick scientist (Berger) to sell him the formula for a new industrial plastic. It's all fun, games, and fornication until someone starts murdering the guests.

"5 Dolls for an August Moon" is a mostly thrill-free thriller that is a jumbled, inept attempt at presenting a "Ten Little Indians"-style tale of murder and mayhem which features characters so generic most of them are impossible to tell apart, the most inexplicable recurring example of Stupid Character Syndrome I've ever seen on film and what is almost certainly the most inappropriate musical score since the invention of the talkie.

For those who don't know, Stupid Character Syndrome is where the characters in the film behave in a braindead fashion or fail to act on facts they know because it would cause a badly constructed story to fall apart. In the case of this movie, it's the way everyone seems to forget about Isabela, a cute young woman (played by Ely Galleani) who is also present on the island, except when they run into her or ask her whether she's seen this missing person or that missing person pass by.

Isabel doesn't seem to be living at the house, nor anywhere else on the island for that matter, but no one seems surprised or disturbed to meet her wandering about. In fact, no one is even disturbed when she engages in obvious suspicious behavior while bodies are piling up, nor does anyone attempt to make her account for her whereabouts. The mental blind-spot the characters have toward Isabel is so severe that late in the film a character states, "The murderer has got to be one of the four of us!", referring to himself and the other three characters in the room. BUT WHAT ABOUT ISABEL?! There were FIVE people still alive on the island when that phrase was uttered, but everyone had, once again, forgotten about Isabel.

(Now, it's possible I may have missed a throw-away line where they came to conclusion that Isabel was dead, but I doubt it. Either this character was added late in the process for some reason and no-one bothered to intergrate it more fully into already filmed scenes, or this script simply was worse than the average Bava film.)

In addition to a bad script with cookie-cutter characters and massive holes, the film suffers from some truly awful soundtrack music. It starts with the fact that it's mostly performed what sounds like a Hammond Electric Organ, and it gets worse because apparently the filmmakers thought that something that sounds like circus music was appropriate to play whenever a dead body is shown hanging in the freezer. This, of course, might indicate that the film was supposed to be a dark comedy instead of a thriller; if this is the case, it's as much a failure as a comedy as it is a thriller.

Even the direction and photography is weak and unispired in the film. If I didn't know Mario Bava helmed this picture, I might have said that the film was made by someone who wanted to be Mario Bava but who didn't have enough talent. A number of Bava signatures--filming images reflected in pools of liquid, shots of characters far away down a passageway, or shooting through lattices--are featured in the film, but while I sometimes feel like he's trying to show off how clever he can be as far as how he films a scene, I feel in this movie like he's doing a bad imitation of himself. (That said, the film does feature one of the neatest, most creative track-shots/revelation of a dead body that I've ever seen--when a tray of glass balls is overturned, causing them to spill down a spiral staircase and come to rest next to the latest murder victim.)

A single flash of genius, however, goes not make this film worth seeing.

I read somewhere (DVD Verdict, maybe?) that Bava hated this movie. I can clearly see why, as there are many reasons to not like "5 Dolls for an August Moon". They all add up to a recommendation that you skip this movie, unless you've set yourself the goal of watching all Mario Bava pictures, or you're doing a study on the creation of the slasher film genre. Like Bava's "A Bay of Blood," this film is an evolutionary ancestor of "Halloween" and "Friday the Thirteenth"

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