Blu-ray distributor Kino Lorber, and its offshoot Redemption, have been cranking out the Mario Bava Collection at a steady beat. Being lucky enough to have reviewed all of the releases so far — typically released two at a time — I sure hope they have their hands on all of the films. Not only are they typically classier horror fare — as opposed to their Jess Franco releases — but they’re also in far better shape than most films out of the era. Some look like they could have been made yesterday. But make no mistake, Kino’s Mario Bava releases are sure to please all videophiles alike.
The Mario Bava Collection gives us A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) and Five Dolls for an August Moon. Bay of Blood treats us to a murderous family out to kill each other off one by one after Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) is murdered by her husband Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti). Now, everyone from real estate agent Frank Ventura (Chris Avram) and his main squeeze Laura (Anna Maria Rosati), to the Countess’s daughter Renata (Claudine Auger) and illegitimate son, Simon (Claudio Volonté), will stop at nothing to do whatever it takes to make the bay their own. Five Dolls for an August Moon gives us a reimagining of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, set on a remote island where a group of swinging cats are trying to buy off the formula of a new industrial resin, but not before someone can try to kill them all first.
A Bay of Blood is by far the better of the two films presented this month. It’s a whole lot of fun, filled with some gruesome killings and a surprise ending. The current horror film You’re Next owes a lot of debt to A Bay of Blood, as does the original Friday the 13th. The similarities are nearly endless, and clearly A Bay of Blood was one of the true kick-starters to the slasher genre. Five Dolls on the other hand, is a convoluted mess filled with characters you want to see bite the big one, but the screenplay takes forever to kill anyone off. And when the killings finally start to come around, they’re pretty forgettable. At least Bava could have put some more interesting kills in the film, or maybe even some nudity considering the characters all seem to have stepped out of a ’70s porno.
A Bay of Blood and Five Dolls for an August Moon are both given new life, mastered from 35mm negatives in full 1080p, and framed in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I’ve never seen either film on DVD, VHS, or even on television, but one of the special features on Bay of Blood is the inclusion of the original Italian version and the difference is phenomenal. Considering there was absolutely no touch up of the original Italian version makes no sense to have included it here because the picture quality is abysmal. It honestly looks like the print was soaked in urine with how yellow the picture is. The Blu-rays on the other hand, both look amazing. Fine detail is apparent in nearly every frame, there are of course the occasional soft shots, but considering the films are over 30 years old, they are highly commendable.
There’s no crush or aliasing, and between both films, there was only one spot of banding towards the end of A Bay of Blood. Five Dolls has a little less going for it, with the traditional white specks, scratches, strobing, and vertical lines, but detail never wavers. They both feature 2.0 LPCM tracks, with A Bay of Blood coming out on top again. Aside from some very tinny, echoey dialogue, the music and dialogue all come through in crystal clarity. Five Dolls unfortunately has plenty of pop and hiss associated with the typical post-synchronization, but both films are in English and were filmed that way. It’s just too bad they were then dubbed after because Five Dolls was clearly recorded on some kind of record with a huge popping sound in one scene that sounds like it skipped.
The special features are exactly the same for both releases: trailers for previous Bava Blu-ray releases, including Black Sabbath, Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil, The House of Exorcism, and A Bay of Blood. The only other special feature is an audio commentary for each film by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.
Lucas comes across as very knowledgeable in all things Bava, but still manages to sound like a pompous ass. In his commentary for Five Dolls, Lucas first says that the film was ahead of its time, but then goes on to say that the film was misunderstood by even its own director. Lucas should have stopped himself there because then he indulges that Bava didn’t want to make the film in the first place and didn’t even know the actors names on set. But at least in A Bay of Blood, Lucas alerts us that the Countess, played by Isa Miranda, was a very famous Italian actress, which just makes me think that killing her off in the opening sequence may have been where Kevin Williamson got his idea for the beginning of Scream.
Picking up A Bay of Blood on Blu-ray is a no-brainer. Featuring stellar picture quality and a fun, twisty, blood-soaked plot, anyone wondering where the birth of the slasher genre is in for a real treat. Five Dolls for an August Moon, is worth a look for any Mario Bava completest considering the upgrade in its picture quality also. Some better special features could have made these even better releases, but considering how good they both look, are worth a purchase for anyone interested.