A Dull Blade
by Brody Rossiter
Following their release of Mario Bava’s celebrated giallo classic, Blood and Black Lace, Arrow Video’s latest restoration of the Italian director’s work comes in the form of the flamboyant Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970).
Wealthy industrialist, George Stark, gathers a group of close friends on his private island for a weekend of business and pleasure. When his attempts to acquire a profitable scientific formula from an inventor staying inside his beautiful postmodern home falter, murder soon washes over the cliffside property – casting a net of suspicion over the devious investors and their beautiful female companions.
Whereas 1964’s Blood and Black Lace possesses the timelessness of a picture that formed the foundation of highly-stylised giallo – a sub-genre that itself would go on to directly influence that slasher films that proved so popular throughout the late-70s and 80s – Five Dolls for an August Moon feels like an antiquated product of its time – repeatedly faltering under the weight of its kitsch delivery.
The outlandish cast of characters is introduced via a series of extreme close-ups. Eyes dart across the room as luxurious items of clothing are removed. The camera lingers upon the female form. Women (specifically the timelessly beautiful Edwidge Fenech) are treated as objects of desire for the men to ogle and insert into their sordid fantasies. This emphasis upon surface appearances resonates throughout and narrative depth proves elusive. Despite the plot revolving around a series of whodunit murders, the killings often occur off-screen and are quickly dismissed as characters retreat from the eye-catching exterior locales back to the interior of their plush retreat. Characters’ demises carry very little weight and their removal from the group dynamic merely acts to progress the plot toward its contrived conclusion.
Despite its brashness, the picture is inherently attractive and many interesting stylistic choices are present as it repeatedly elects to adopt a hazy psychedelic tone, melding homicide with passages of opulent iniquity. Lines of warbling bluesy organ soundtrack mild eroticism as Piero Umiliani’s exotic score commands the events onscreen. The composer’s work is ultimately the film’s most notable component, providing a diverse soundtrack that incorporates numerous musical genres, instruments and tonal qualities.
Bava’s indifference towards the material is evident and he would later cite the picture as one of his worst, despite critical arguments to the contrary. This sense of imbalance noticeably mars the picture. Throughout the film a breezy, almost languid tone envelopes the narrative; pastel pink sunsets and dreamy lounge music descend upon the devious tale in wistful bouts. While such respites are pretty to look at, they are a far cry from the operatic violence that is now synonymous with giallo.
Today, Mario Bava is recognised as a maestro of the macabre whose influence punctuates the work of countless contemporary filmmakers. On this occasion the cult director is overshadowed by his composer and cinematographer, Antonio Rinaldi. However, Arrow’s technically sound restoration ensures that sound and striking visuals somewhat absolve the uninvolved storytelling and tip Five Dolls for an August Moon into the category of interesting but not necessarily essential viewing. The documentary, Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre – a comprehensive profile of the director hosted by Mark Kermode and featuring interviews with Tim Burton and John Carpenter – is also included within the package.
The Film: 2.5/5
The Package: 4/5
FIW Rating: 3/5
Five Dolls for an August Moon is available on dual-format DVD & Blu-ray February 1st. Order your copy here.