“I'm not a man of thought. I'm a man of action.”
On a beautiful yet secluded island in an equally beautiful pop-art villa, George Stark (Teodoro Corrà, Body Puzzle) and his wife Jill (Edith Meloni, That Little Difference) are playing host to a group of their high-flying friends; Prof. Gerry Farrell (William Berger, Keoma) and his wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg, The Fifth Cord). Jack Davidson (Howard Ross, The New York Ripper) and his wife Peggy (Helena Ronee, On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Nick Cherry (Maurice Poli, Rabid Dogs) and his wife Marie (Edwige Fenech, Strip Nude for Your Killer). Accompanying the well off houseguests are George's houseboy Charles (Mauro Bosco, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) and the young and innocent Isabel (Ely Galleani, Lizard in a Woman's Skin), a girl in George's care whilst her parents are away. What starts off as a jolly get together soon becomes a tense and all-round torrid affair. Things begin to turn sour when all the husbands become involved in a bitter bidding war for the professor's sought after and revolutionary formula, the formula that drove him to take this little excursion in the first place. Of course, the professor's minor annoyance is nothing compared to fact that affairs of all types are being acted out on. To make matters infinitely worse however, starting with Charles, the houseguests are being picked off one by one. Tensions rise and paranoia kicks in. This is one swinging party that those who may or may not survive will never forget. There's me thinking LSD was a trip!
Taking influence from Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers (a story Bava would make the basis of his highly influential A Bay of Blood a year later.), we find a group coming together and finding themselves in a somewhat quirky whodunnit murder mystery. To some, Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon is purely an exercise in style over substance. I can sympathise with that viewpoint, the final third of the film does get a little hectic in turns of story and pacing, but I actually think that Mario di Nardo's (Ricco the Mean Machine) story has enough there in terms of plot and narrative structure even if Bava did despise the story and do his own thing. Speaking of which, this IS for me Bava at his most stylish. A beautiful locale combined with stylish (so what if it's dated!?) décor and equally (if not more) beautiful women; there's a lot to digest. The film is lensed by Bava collaborator Antonio Rinaldi (Danger: Diabolik) and is somewhat subtle which allows the loud and vibrant design to take centre stage. There are however, some nicely incorporated handheld shots which work brilliantly with the rest of the film. The icing on the already splendid technicolour cake is Piero Umiliani's (Big Deal on Madonna Street) score. It's a mixture of the dreamlike, groovy and sinister. Not a note is out of place and it helps lift the film even more. Considering that Bava was working with a script he disliked, working with a limited budget and had a shooting schedule of just over two weeks, it's amazing what he has achieved here. It might not be a classic example of the gialli, but it still has some characteristics that we associate with the genre. There's stylishly executed kills, red herrings, a sense of tension and a good amount of twists. To me, it's more than just one of my favourite Bava films; it's one of my favourites of the genre.
In terms of presentation, Arrow have done a good job with the sound and picture. I don't have the previous Kino Lorber release to make comparisons, but it seems like it's a slight upgrade of an already good restoration. Aside from the odd scratch and pop, the film looks and sounds great. In terms of audio options, there's both the Italian and English dub, with the Italian dub being the superior. There's also an option to listen to an isolated score and effects track, a feature ported over from the Kino Lorber release. Speaking of which, Tim Lucas's commentary is also included. As well as that there's a trailer, English language opening titles and the fantastic Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre documentary. To go with the on disc extras there's newly commissioned art from Graham Humphreys complimented with the original poster artwork and a booklet including writings from Adrian Smith and Glenn Kenny. Overall, this is worthy release for a somewhat under-appreciated Bava outing. An essential release from Arrow for new and old fans a like. Plus, who doesn't want to see the beautiful Edwige Fenech shaking her thing?
5 Dolls for an August Moon is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo release from Arrow Films.