Five Dolls For An August Moon sounds like a satanical sacrifice and when you see that Italian director Mario Bava (Black Sunday, 1960) was behind it, then you expect it to be just that. You could say there was a lot of sacrifice in this feature; unfortunately the slasher element of this Giallo film doesn't quite live up to Bava's reputation. A group of friends gather for a vacation on a remote island. What is supposed to be a fun and relaxing holiday soon turns into a whodunit, when one of them decides to go on a killing spree. Tensions rise as they try to understand each other’s motives and the true reasoning for being trapped on this island in the first place.
The opening scene starts as if it were a sixties Spanish soap opera, young woman peers in from the outside, into a stylish living room, a group of wealthy socialites are having an intimate party whilst on an island retreat. It's magnificently cheesy and obvious, however, you also have to appreciate Bava's eye in this moment, and there is sly humour that is mocking these characters. He portrays a carefree atmosphere then he swiftly introduces individual characters and all of a sudden the atmosphere is disturbed by envy, boredom and desperation, anyone of these people could be a psycho killer, it is this that Bava has managed to depict, creating a story with no words necessary. Fuelled by alcohol and drugs, a faux murder is staged to fool friends but just a day later a real murder is committed. Now this is where it really starts to become bizarre, common sense is out the window as the story comes off its hinges. The house boy is found washed up with a stab wound, the women are slightly perturbed, the men bemused but actually no-one really cares so they continue their vacation after wrapping the guy up and popping him in the cold store room. So a murder mystery is very slowly unwinding as one by one the group dwindles, the body count rises as each cadaver is placed in the giant fridge with a score that is like chalk on a board. The desperation to discover the murderer is definite but more for the audience than the ignorant characters.
Mario Bava insisted this was one of his worst films and though it most certainly isn't his best work, Bava still delivers a feeling of unrest and discomfort that he has been known to do so well. It may have perhaps been the script that made Bava despise it so, after admitting from the beginning the script was pretty much an Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians knock-off. He had little to no input in the screenplay and was hired last minute to direct after another had dropped out. You could say this film had little passion behind it and that could well be what is at fault, though there are still moments to appreciate with Bava's cinematography expertise. The graceful movements of the camera, the light and airiness of the film is alluring and radiant, even more so on Blu-ray. The colours and detail are so vibrant we are transported to the slick colour pop of the sixties.
The fact that Bava made the decision to have the majority of the murders off screen is a very interesting one and could have succeeded had the script and characters been well developed. Bava chose to focus on the drama and politics of the film rather than the slasher horror aspects and whilst (in parts) this brought some interesting scenes, the reactions of the characters were far from believable and ineffective. The final double-twist is filled with dramatic irony; it's a satisfying finish despite it also being a ridiculous one. This could have been Bava playing around with the script or merely shunning it, either way, it seems he would have produced the same effect. It's very enlightening to notice the difference in Bava's work before and after this project, Five Dolls For An August Moon is still an integral piece to his filmography.
Special Features: Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas, English/Italian Soundtracks, Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre documentary, Isolated Music and Effects Track, Optional Subtitles, Designer sleeve, Illustrated Booklet, Trailer
FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON (1970) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: MARIO DI NARDO / STARRING: WILLIAM BERGER, IRA VON FÜRSTENBERG, EDWIGE FENECH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW