Mario Bava was one of the most underrated filmmakers of the 20th century -- not to mention the most versatile, turning out giallo thrillers, gothic horror, Viking action, Hercules, a Western, and even a Swinging Sixties crime caper. Five of these brilliant movies are brought together in the "Mario Bava Collection Volume 1," including one of his most famous horror movies ever.
The poorly-named "Kill Baby Kill" opens when a young woman leaps onto an iron fence. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is called in to do an autopsy, with the help of beautiful Monica (Erica Blanc). He finds a coin in the girl's heart, and none of the townspeople will tell him -- because if they do, they will suffer a similar fate.
He's even more annoyed when local sorceress Ruth (Fabienne Dali) begins using her powers to protect a young girl from a childlike specter -- little dead aristocrat Melissa Graps. But as the bodies pile up, and Monica is plagued by bizarre nightmares, Eswai must accept Ruth's help to save Monica from the ghost, and an evil baroness.
"Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan)" is a bizarre tale of vampirism -- evil princess Asa (Barbare Steele) and her servant were executed centuries ago, for serving the devil and all-around nastiness. As usual, she places an evil curse on the Vadja family, and vows to return one day to get revenge on them, just before being impaled by the "devil's mask," a spiked mask that kills the wearer.
But in the modern day, two doctors on their way to a convention accidentally reopen her grave, and awaken her with a drop of blood. Turns out that Asa isn't QUITE dead -- and now gaining new power, as she discovers that her distant descendent Katia Vadja is a dead ringer for her. Now she's trying to possess Katia's body -- can one of the doctors save her?
"Black Sabbath" is actually three stories -- "The Telephone," a Hitchcockian giallo thriller about a woman haunted by phone calls from an ex-lover. "The Wurdalak" is a twist on typical vampire stories, with Boris Karloff turned into a wurdalak, a vampire who only drinks the blood of loved ones. And in "A Drop of Water," a nurse steals a ring from the corpse of a medium, and is unsurprisingly haunted by her.
"Knives of the Avenger" is one of Bava's lesser movies, but shows he could handle unusual genre films. A mystery man (Cameron Mitchell) who calls himself Helmut saves young widow Karin (Elissa Pichelli) and her son from some thugs, sent by a local regent who wants to marry the woman (whether she likes it or not), because she is the widow of the late king.
Helmut stays in the house to protect Karin from the regent, and becomes a sort of mentor to the boy. But Karin doesn't realize that Helmut (not his real name) has a nasty past that he's keeping hidden -- he may be the man who raped her many years ago. When Karin's husband returns, the mystery man saddles up to save the mother and child.
No, "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" was not a sequel to Hitchcock's movies, but a stylish Hitchcockian giallo. Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) arrives in Rome to care for an ill friend, only to have her expire that evening of a heart attack. As she tries to get help, she is mugged, and blearily sees a man pulling a knife out of a woman's corpse -- but of course, nobody believes her.
Nora moves in near her friend's house, and does some detecting on her own -- it seems that this murder follows the pattern of a serial killer who has haunted the area for years. They thought they caught the man who did it, but they captured the wrong man -- and now the killer is coming after Nora next.
Mario Bava didn't need massive budgets or special effects to create his brilliant movies -- just some solid actors and a haunting backdrop. Crumbling castles, the streets of Rome, sword-and-sandal countryside and misty mountains are all used in these movies, with performances that range from brilliant (Steele) to merely solid (Mitchell).
In fact, Bava was such a brilliant director that he was able to elevate anything with his cinematic touches -- colourful lighting, eerie camerawork, exquisite use of light and shadow, gory executions, and even a touch of comedy here and there. Even when the scripts are subpar ("Knives of the Avenger"), he manages to include some nice touches.
"Mario Bava Collection Volume 1" is a collection of five excellent movies, ranging from amazing to solidly enjoyable. And it's a good demonstration of Bava's talents, and the kinds of movies he could undertake. Definitely worth getting, especially for horror buffs.