Monday 29 February 2016

American Horror Project (1973-1976)

Here at the House of Mortal Cinema we have a special place reserved for Backwoods USA movies, the kind of films put together by independent American moviemakers often working outside the Hollywood system (and sometimes, it must be said, outside any kind of system at all). Sometimes the directors in question only ever made one film before going back to their day jobs (or before being captured and returned to their longterm care facilities for all we know). Often quirky, frequently interesting (if only for their sheer bizarreness), and always low-budget, there still remains a wealth of weird and obscure films out there that deserve to be brought to the attention of a (slightly) wider audience than those who already know about them.
Bravo to the team at Arrow Films, then, for attempting to do just that with their planned AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT series, the first volume of which has just been released. This time around we get three films and without any further ado here’s what you can expect to find inside their gorgeously presented three-disc set:

The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)

Matt Cimber’s character study anticipates William Lustig’s 1980 MANIAC in its tale of a psychotic character abused by a parent who is subsequently driven to murdering members of the opposite sex in graphic fashion. The difference here is that the individual concerned is a woman. Millie Perkins does a great job as Molly, who lives in the dreariest depiction of Malibu ever filmed. She spends her days looking after her nephews Tad and Tripoli (me neither), her evenings working in a bar and her nights slashing off the genitals of football and television stars. Or does she? 
          Her increasingly fragmenting sanity is called into question from pretty much the first frame, and it’s difficult to know how much of what we see is only going on inside her head. Don’t expect a forerunner of HALLOWEEN, or any other slasher, though - Cimber’s film is a languid character study that’s not altogether successful, with some ropey dialogue and several scenes that go on a bit too long. It’s an interesting watch but don’t expect anything too special from this item whose sole claim to fame is probably going to be that it made it onto the UK’s Video Nasties list.
Extras include an introduction by Stephen Thrower (author of the ultimate Backwoods USA movie book Nightmare USA) a commentary by the cast and crew, and making of featurettes with director Cimber, star Perkins and DP Dean Cundey amongst others. The print looks a bit scratchy in places but is 2.35:1 and looks pretty good overall for such an obscure item. 

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)

More ramshackle, more amateur, more insane and consequently rather more interesting is this weird offering from one-off feature director Christopher Speeth. The Norris family get a job working at the tattiest, most depressing amusement park ever committed to film and fall victim to the monsters that seem to make up the rest of the staff. That’s pretty much it for plot as most of the 74 minute running time is taken up with the stuff of low-budget nightmare.    
          You’re best off forgetting any standard rules of narrative (as one presumes the film-makers did) and just lose yourself in the parade of weird images and bizarre situations that present themselves. Herve Villechaize pops up as Bobo the dwarf, there’s a bunch of flesh-eating ghouls in the basement who watch old silent movies, and the place seems to be run by vampires. Whatever’s going on it’s very odd, strangely disorientating, and probably only for certain tastes. I loved it but bear in mind I love the movies of Jess Franco, too. Arrow’s disc comes with a number of interviews, including one with the director and another with the ‘writer’, and there are out-takes and a stills gallery as well.

The Premonition (1975)

Quite possibly the best film in this set, both in terms of quality of film-making and general watchability, THE PREMONITION also boasts a fairly off-kilter plot combined with some arresting imagery (especially at the end). Mad Andrea Fletcher gets released, Pete Walker-FRIGHTMARE-like, from a mental hospital ‘completely cured’ but immediately plans to kidnap her daughter Janie from Janie’s foster parents of the past five years. To do this she enlists the aid of boyfriend Jude, a circus clown who works at yet another scary rundown American amusement park (how many of these things were there in the 1970s?). 
          She dons a bright red dress and breaks into the foster home, kidnapping a doll by mistake. Jude pulls the head off the doll and stabs Andrea to death. Then things get really weird as foster mum Sheri starts to see strange visions and ends up playing the harpsichord on the steps of what looks like a huge museum in an attempt to gain psychic aid in the search for her now-vanished daughter. The climax is wonderfully batshit-Italian and gives THE PREMONITION well-deserved pride of place as the best film in the set. You also get a commentary track, short films, and several interviews (including ones ported over from a previous DVD release). 

Is AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT worth getting? Hopefully the above has helped you decide. Personally I think it’s an excellent and wholly admirable project, and it’s marvellous to see curiosities like these being made more readily available. Stephen Thrower’s little introductions help to tie the movies together, and the packaging is gorgeous. Let’s hope the project takes off so that we get the chance to see oddball delights like THE REDEEMER, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS or HOMEBODIES given the same treatment. 

Arrow Films released the AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT in a 6-disc set of 3 Blu-rays and 3 DVDs on Monday 22nd February 2016. Let's hope Volume 2 is on the way.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Audition (1999)

“Cold, clinical, bone-scraping horror classic”

Don’t you just love movies you can watch over and over again? Ones that never seem to get old? That offer something new on each viewing? Something you’ve never really picked up on before? And don’t you love it when films don’t just do that, but also provide you with a final act that’s so extreme you realise that as well as appreciating the subtleties you’re discovering on each viewing you’re also dreading the out-and-out horror that’s going to come in about an hour’s time?

Japanese director Takashi Miike’s AUDITION is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films. A film that has always looked cold and grainy on both VHS and DVD, the Blu-ray presentation of this one is exceptionally fine, still keeping the image dispassionately clinical for most of the running time while making everything look crisper, clearer, and if anything, colder.

So what’s the plot? Seven years after the death of his wife TV executive Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) decides he wants to remarry, but doesn’t know how to go about finding ‘the right girl’. He lists what he considers to be the appropriate attributes of his new future wife to his boss Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), who hits on a “brilliant” idea. They will set up a fake audition at the studio for the lead in a fake film. Aoyama can look through the applicants’ CVs, shortlist them, and interview with Yoshikawa. Then the one he likes the most he can ring up and take out for a date, explaining later that she didn’t get the part after all.

Of course, seemingly sweet, polite, innocent Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) doesn’t turn out to be what Aoyama initially think she is at all. What’s that thing in the sack? Where did those marks on her legs come from? Who taught her ballet for 12 years and how much torture porn was involved? All this and more is revealed, culminating in an ending that is all the more effective for the slow build-up to it.

Despite AUDITION being famous for its climax of unrelenting horror, it’s worth paying attention throughout Miike’s film. Both dialogue and situations reveal a great deal about the lead character’s relationship with women, but Miike’s framing of many scenes (for example in the bar) has a lot to say as well. It’s difficult to take it all in on a single viewing, especially as you’re going to come away thinking about nothing but THAT ending, but then that’s what the Blu-ray’s for, isn’t it?

As well as a sparkling transfer, Arrow’s Blu-ray comes with a Takashi Miike introduction and commentary from previous releases, plus a brand new commentary from Miike biographer Tom Mes which also discusses the source novel. There’s a new Miike interview, as well as interviews with four cast members including the two leads. Tony Rayns rounds off a very respectable package with his appreciation of the works of Miike in general and AUDITION in particular. An excellent presentation of a film that more than deserves it.

Arrow Films are bringing out Takashi Miike's AUDITION in dual format Blu-ray & DVD standard and steelbook editions on 29th February 2016

Saturday 27 February 2016

Pray For Death (1985)

“A decent slice of 1980s ninja action”

         After starring in Cannon’s Ninja Trilogy, Sho Kosugi went on to topline a number of mid-1980s martial arts exploitation pictures. First up were Emmett Alstom’s NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA for Crown International, and PRAY FOR DEATH for Transworld, now released on UK DVD & Blu-ray by 101 Films.

         Akira Saito (Kosugi) is unsatisfied with life in Japan. His wife Aiko (Donna K Benz) wants to move to the US with their two little boys (played by Kosugi’s real life sons). They purchase a grubby restaurant in a rundown part of Los Angeles, which turns out to double as a drop where bent policemen leave stolen goods for Michael Constantine’s gang to pick up. 

Unfortunately one of the policemen is even more crooked than usual and keeps a valuable necklace for himself. When chief goon Limehouse Willie (screenwriter James Booth) fails to find the stolen merchandise, he suspects Akira and kidnaps his son. What he doesn’t know is that back in Japan Akira was a ninja. Still plagued by guilt over killing his evil brother in front of their adopted father (Robert QUINCY Ito in lots of old age makeup) Akira believe he has set aside his ninja ways. But sooner than you can say NINJA DEATH WISH Akira becomes a killing machine and the stage is set for his revenge on Constantine and his gang.

         Not as good as either ENTER THE NINJA or REVENGE OF THE NINJA, PRAY FOR DEATH is still lots of 1980s ninja fun for the undiscriminating fan. Tighter editing in the middle and a stronger music score to keep everything moving would have been an immense help, but there’s still plenty of action, including an opening scene that’s plays delightfully with audience expectations.

         Gordon Hessler (SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD) doesn’t handle things quite as well as Sam Firstenberg, but he does manage one memorable scene in a mannikin factory that manage to be both eerie and suspenseful at the same time.

         101 Films’ Blu-ray transfer looks great. If you’re a fan of PRAY FOR DEATH  from the days of VHS you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to discover just how good it looks in 2.35:1 widescreen. There are no extras at all which is a shame but understandable, especially as Gordon Hessler is no longer with us. 

101 Films are releasing Gordon Hessler's PRAY FOR DEATH on UK DVD and Blu-ray on 29 February 2016

Thursday 18 February 2016

Valentino (1977)

“Top quality biopic from our Uncle Ken”

The BFI continues its valuable work of preserving the films of Ken Russell on Blu-ray with the release of his lavish 1977 biopic of the life of silent film star Rudolph Valentino.

Hollywood 1926: following mock newsreel footage we are shown the coffin containing the body of Rudolph Valentino (played by Rudolf Nureyev) in an opening scene that virtually screams ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES with its gorgeous art deco production design. The funeral home is broken into by the hysterical mourners who have been besieging the building. Once order is restored, the important women in his life remember their time with him via flashbacks up to his death.

These include Bianca (Emily Bolton from TENKO and MOONRAKER), June (Felicity Kendal from THE GOOD LIFE & subsequently immortalised in THE YOUNG ONES), deliciously mad Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron) and Natacha Rambova (Michelle Phillips) who seduces Valentino in a dance of the seven veils that made it onto the poster and lots of the stills used to advertise the film (and the Blu-ray box cover up the top there). Battles with studio bosses, a lucrative contract advertising perfume, and a boxing match with a known heavyweight champion all follow before Valentino’s untimely death from peritonitis and associated complications. 

Ken Russell does a fine job of bringing Valentino’s life story to the screen, managing to remain admirably restrained in some place while going superbly over the top in others (especially the scenes in the funeral home). He’s ably assisted by a fine cast including all of the above plus a cadre of (mainly) character actors, meaning you’ll be spotting the likes of Linda Thorson (THE AVENGERS), Alfred Marks (SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN), Peter Vaughan (DIE DIE MY DARLING), Dudley Sutton (THE DEVILS) and Anton Diffring (THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH). As I’ve mentioned above, the production and costume design (by Philip Harrison and Shirley Russell respectively) are occasionally  breathtaking, echoing Danilo Donati’s work on Fellini’s CASANOVA from the previous year.

The BFI’s dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition comes with a number of excellent extras, including archival material of Ludovic Kennedy interviewing Nureyev about the film, and a nine minute short of Valentino’s actual funeral from 1926. Derek Malcolm’s Guardian Lecture interview with Ken Russell from 1987 is audio only, but is accompanied by the film so it serves as a second commentary. The commentary proper is by the always excellent Tim Lucas who yet again provides a fact-packed track that saves you having to read a textbook about the movie.

There’s a new interview with Dudley Sutton who discusses working with Russell, and some of his other projects (but sadly not COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES) in a charming twenty minutes that’s also a delight to listen to. You also get TV spots, trailers, a picture gallery, a short piece where Lynn Seymour remembers Rudolf Nureyev, and a booklet of essays. The entire package is excellent and another highly recommended release from the BFI. 

The BFI are releasing Ken Russell's VALENTINO on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on 29th February 2016

Sunday 14 February 2016

Navy SEALS Vs Zombies (2015)

“Sunday Teatime Timewaster”

Well it is. If you like zombies. And Navy SEALS (Sea, Air & Land Teams, so I’m informed). And, of course, the two together in a smackdown in the city of Baton Rouge in Louisiana, which is where this film takes place.

         While the US Vice President is visiting the above town, a zombie outbreak occurs. Nobody knows why or really seems that bothered. Michael Dudikoff - the AMERICAN NINJA himself - sends in a crack team of Navy SEALS to get the US VP out and save him from the impending ZA. They do but before anyone can say WTF the helicopter they’ve got the VP into crashes and he’s presumably DOA from some zombie’s MO. But the SEALS are given a second SR mission to access a tower and rescue some PhDs who have been working on a cure. 

         Cue lots of shooting, zombies, and the kind of acronym-filled dialogue that seems to pervade films like these. Some of the Navy SEALS are quite fat and I was given to wondering just what kind of seals the Navy had actually ordered. There’s certainly no beach balls being balanced on noses here, but there are some quite massive beards being balanced on chins - is one allowed to boast such facial hair in a crack commando unit? Mightn’t it get in the way, or end up being used in torture and interogation techniques by the other side? “Oooh look at you you’re beard’s rubbish. Now tell us your government’s plans or we’ll taunt you again.”

         NAVY SEALS VS ZOMBIES is actually a very by the numbers bit of zombie action. There’s no real style, no wit, and no originality. Near the start there’s a news clip where they can’t spell the word discretion “Viewer discression advised” it says, which made this viewer cringe more than any of the blood and guts on display. That said, if you like this sort of thing it’ll certainly help you waste 84 minutes. There are no extras. 

NAVY SEALS VS ZOMBIES is out on DVD from Icon on 
15th February 2016

Friday 12 February 2016

Crimson Peak (2015)

“As good as Jan de Bont’s THE HAUNTING”

The latest film from Guillermo del Toro, director of CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies amongst others, comes to UK Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Universal Pictures. 

America 1887: little Edith Cushing is visited by her mother’s ghost, who warns her to beware of something called ‘Crimson Peak’. Fourteen years later, Edith is now played by Mia Wasikowska and wants to be a writer ‘like Mary Shelley’. She meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who has come to visit her wealthy industrialist father in the hope that he and his colleagues will finance a mining device that Sharpe has invented. 

          Edith’s father refuses and does the ‘Stay away from seducing my daughter because I suspect all you want is my money’ routine, for which he subsequently gets his head bashed in by a not-so-mysterious someone. By the machinations of the overtly contrived gothic plot that this film is, Edith ends up marrying Sir Thomas and goes to live with him and his sister in the UK. In fact, they go to Cumberland, where we see not a sausage but instead lots of the red clay that is apparently common to the area, and which the Sharpes' crumbling old manor house was built on and is slowly sinking into. 

The house has no roof and little in the way of heating. Edith takes a bath and manages not look in the slightest bit chilly, even when she gets out to investigate one of the many ghostly apparitions that begin to appear to her now that she’s firmly ensconced in gothic land. Why are the ghosts appearing? Should the fact that Sir Thomas lives with his sister and absolutely nobody else, not even a single servant, bother her? Will Sir Thomas’ floppy goth haircut get caught in the digging machine he’s set up near the front of the house? It will if he leans any nearer to it, I can tell you.

CRIMSON PEAK looks absolutely gorgeous. The photography is lush and glowing, and the production design is so deliciously gothic you can’t take your eyes of it. But that’s it. There’s really not much else to recommend this one, I’m afraid. The plot is daft and seems to ultimately revolve around killing lots of people in order to build a digger. The two leads (Wasikowska and Hiddleston) play their roles as blandly as the young love interests in a Hammer or Corman/Poe film. The problem is, nobody ever cared about those characters back then either, because it was Price, Cushing and Lee, or even John Carson or Eric Porter, who were the ones keeping us interested. CRIMSON PEAK has nobody to keep us interested. Nobody at all. And when your cast is in danger of being out-acted by the scenery you’re in a lot of trouble.

I wanted to like CRIMSON PEAK. In fact I really wanted to love it. But by fifty minutes in I was desperate for something to actually happen, because by then the seduction of the rich visuals and the lovely sets had worn off. Call it a gothic romance, gothic melodrama, or whatever you like, CRIMSON PEAK is still horribly, horribly boring. Burn Gorman (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE) turns up for a tiny character turn, and only goes to emphasise how sadly lacking CRIMSON PEAK is in actors who can bring the necessary life to gothic characters in a movie like this. There’s no depth, no verve, no energy to any of them. They’re all deader than the house that no-one in their right mind would live in. I’m really, really sorry Guillermo del Toro because I think you’re a fantastic film-maker, but this is movie is just eye candy, in fact eye candy that's so excessive it starts to make your eyes smart after a bit, if you haven’t already fallen asleep.

Universal’s DVD and Blu-ray contains a number of extras for the CRIMSON PEAK fan. There’s a feature-length commentary track by del Toro, five deleted scenes, four tiny making of featurettes (under the collective title I Remember CRIMSON PEAK) and six other short behind the scenes pieces that last between five and twelve minutes each. If I told you they are a bugger to negotiate between the different menus you might say I was being unfair and perhaps I am. But CRIMSON PEAK really is a massively disappointing film. In YA gothic romance terms it’s nowhere near as good as TWILIGHT. In terms of gothic horror I can’t really rate it at all. Sorry Guillermo. 

Universal are releasing Guillermo del Toro's CRIMSON PEAK on Blu-ray and DVD on 15th February 2016

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Birdemic - Shock & Terror (2010)

“Enough things wrong with it to fill a PhD thesis”

In 2010 future GODZILLA director Gareth Edwards made a film with very little money, creating the impressive special effects with the aid of his laptop. That very same year, Vietnamese director James Nguyen used the same principles to make his own monster movie, utilising a tiny budget and home-made computer generated effects. The difference between Mr Edwards' MONSTERS and BIRDEMIC is that Mr Nguyen got it all horribly, unbelievably, breathtakingly wrong. If you’ve never experienced the unique motion picture event that is BIRDEMIC, now’s your chance because Severin Films are bringing it out on Blu-ray.

Uncanny special effects
For some mysterious reason birds start to attack the residents of an American seaside town. Well, they’re not really birds, more the CGI animated version of cardboard cut-outs that can barely manage a flap let alone pose any serious threat to anyone. Oh, except that they explode. I don’t know why. I don’t think anyone else does either. It all turns out to be due to that “damned global warming”. There probably a message here, and if you can make it all the way through the film BIRDEMIC will certainly leave you thinking, just not necessarily about environmental issues.

This ain't no SUMMER HOLIDAY
If nothing else, James Nguyen’s BIRDEMIC should stand as an inspiration to all aspiring film-makers out there. Because with this in the world, the chances are they're going to come up with something better, if perhaps not necessarily quite so entertaining.

More very special effects!
Where to start with the wrongness of BIRDEMIC? The sound track recording is as amateur as me and my brother interviewing our cat when I was nine; the camera frequently can’t frame what little action is going on; scenes unnecessary to what little plot there is, like a man filling his car with petrol, seem to go on forever. After forty seven minutes of BIRDEMIC’s painful and meandering romantic subplot we finally get our first view of the killer birds. And yes, you really will never have seen anything quite like them before. BIRDEMIC is a film that makes Ed Wood and his counterparts look like genius film-makers, and how much you’re going to enjoy this will depend directly on your tolerance (or curiosity - this is indeed a very curious film) to such low rent rubbish.

Lessons in promoting your film No.1 - Can you see what he's managed to get wrong here?
Severin’s Blu-ray comes with plenty of extras, including two commentary tracks, one from James Nguyen himself and one from the two leading actors. There are a couple of deleted scenes (if one was feeling unkind one could argue that the entirety of BIRDEMIC is just one long scene deserving of being deleted). You also get Nguyen’s tour of American cities and some British ones too! This extra is one of the best bits as you get to see audiences experiencing the film for the first time, and the subsequent raucous reception BIRDEMIC received at these premieres. There’s also a Severin trailer reel that one presumes promises forthcoming Blu’s of GWENDOLINE, BMX BANDITS and (yes!) PSYCHOMANIA!

Severin Films are releasing James Nguyen's BIRDEMIC SHOCK & TERROR on UK Blu-ray and DVD on 15th February 2016, right after Valentine's Day 

Sunday 7 February 2016

The Mutilator (1984)

“Exhaustively good value for money”

Sounding like a film about an especially aggressive American wrestler, Buddy Cooper’s FALL BREAK comes to UK Blu-ray and DVD in a splendid package that contains more extras than you can shake an unfeasibly huge boathook at.
We kick off with little Ed deciding to surprise his father for the man’s birthday by cleaning his gun collection. Unfortunately all does not go as planned, and by accident Ed shoots his mother through the chest, providing a warning for gun lovers everywhere, and the only (and presumably unintended) subtext in this film. Dad arrives home, drags his wife’s body over to the drinks cabinet and offers the dead woman a sip of Jack Daniels.

Not a murder weapon, unfortunately
Now it's ten years later, possibly - it’s not terribly clear. What is clear is that while Ed has grown into a man in his early twenties (at least he looks as if he is) the fashions in the area of North Carolina where THE MUTILATOR is set have changed not one iota. Who knows? Perhaps they’re still walking around over there with their sweaters casually knotted around their necks right at this moment.
         Ed receives a phone call to say that his father has had a bit of a funny turn. Ed and his friends decide to spend their fall break vacation at his father’s beach house. Dad's hiding there, has gone completely mad, and starts bumping them off one by one, using the kind of items one might keep in a holiday home such as an antique battle axe and a massive boat hook.

Definitely murder weapons
        THE MUTILATOR arrived at the end of the first wave of American slasher movies that had been kickstarted by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, and it’s unapologetically in the same mode as all the imitators that followed. So if you love PROM NIGHT, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, FINAL EXAM and all the others you’ll love this one too. If you’re unfamiliar with the slasher subgenre, then a better description for this is probably the one coined by Leslie Halliwell for any number of horror movies he didn’t like, namely ‘short sharp shocks punctuate slabs of tedium’. Admittedly THE MUTILATOR does get going in its final act, but don’t expect too much of it.

Murder weapon in use
Arrow’s Blu-ray and DVD offers so many extras that this has to be one of the best value for money packages of the month. As well as two commentary tracks there’s a feature-length making of, which means if you’re an 80s slasher fan with the film itself as well you’ve already got six hours of entertainment right there. But that’s not all. You also get a charming little introduction from Mr Cooper and friend, a new piece featuring Mark Shostrom whose effects work on this is really very good indeed, a short interview with composer Michael Minard (again a lot of fun), a behind the scenes reel, trailers, the full length theme song to the film (with instrumental!) and the screenplay on DVD-ROM, making the entire MUTILATOR package exhaustively good value for money. 

Arrow are releasing Buddy Cooper's THE MUTILATOR aka
FALL BREAK on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on 
15th February 2016

Saturday 6 February 2016

Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

“The best thing about it is the title”

         Not one of director Mario Bava’s best (although it is better than DR GOLDFOOT & THE GIRL BOMBS which I had the misfortune of reviewing on here last week) FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON has been given the lovely Blu-ray treatment by Arrow. If you’ve never seen a Mario Bava film before don’t start with this. I made that mistake many years ago and wondered why on earth people thought his work was so impressive. Watch BLACK SABBATH (1963) instead (probably my favourite) or maybe LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972). But not this. If you’re undecided about watching this specific Bava picture then hopefully the following will help.

Nice framing
         A group of unpleasant Italians with appalling fashion sense and a taste for J&B (there are often two bottles of it on display) congregate at a “modern” (for 1970s loonies with no taste and no sense of practicalities) villa on an isolated island. Cut off from the mainland they soon start to be bumped off. Everyone’s there to try and bid for the formula to a revolutionary resin. But Professor Farell (William Berger) is sticking to his chunky sweater and sandal-wearing roots and says he wants to ‘do science for the good of mankind’. Or something like that. Which begs the question why is he there in the first place. 

More nice framing
         As we near the end virtually everyone is dead. We eventually discover who the killer was in one of the stupidest endings for one of these things ever filmed. Seriously - I’ve watched FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON three times now (because I’m possibly as mad as whoever came up with some of the dreadful costumes in this) and the final revelatory speech still makes my jaw drop. It’s a very poor ending indeed, and smacks of someone who has got so bored with the project they’re decided to do a Jess Franco and leave the audience with any old nonsense.

Horrible rotating bed in case you like nausea with your sex.
Ah yes, Jess Franco. If you had shown me the opening thirty minutes of this with no prior knowledge and asked me to guess a director it would have been His Jessness. The camera zooms in and out and in and out, there are a few wobbly shots of the setting sun, and an interest in weird architecture, all of which would suggest the slide-trombone-wielding hand of Mr Franco here. 

One reason to watch FIVE DOLLS
         But it’s not. It’s Mario Bava, who really should have known better. As should whoever approved the music score, which is another truly awful aspect to this film that cannot be forgiven. It’s as if someone lost the tapes for the orchestral Bruno Nicolai score that was intended to accompany this one and instead some bloke knocked it up on his Bontempi in 24 hours. Possibly one of the worst, most intrusive and most inappropriate scores to grace an Italian horror film, Piero Umiliani’s jazzy rubbish will be stuck in your head for hours afterwards, even though you won’t want it there.

Two reasons to watch FIVE DOLLS
         Are there any good points? Well, it IS Bava and so there are a few nicely framed shots, as well as at least one clever discovery of a murder. But the rest of the film is so boring that these are little recompense. At about forty minutes in one character says “Everyone seems to be waiting for something that’s not happening” and we know exactly what she means.

Bloody murder! At least you can't hear the music
Arrow’s Blu-ray comes with Italian and English dialogue tracks, and an option where you can just play the music if you’re completely insane. Tim Lucas provides us with his usual, thoroughly scholarly, work in a commentary track and there’s an hour long Bava documentary from 2000. 
         Oh, and I should probably mention FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON has got the supremely lovely Edwige Fenech in it. So there you go - one good reason for watching it after all. And I bet I end up watching it again someday for her if nothing else. If I ever get that theme tune out of my head. 

Arrow Films released Mario Bava's FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON on dual format UK Blu-ray and DVD on 
1st February 2016