Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Ira Von Furstenberg, Maurice Poli, William Berger
Length: 81 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English: LPCM Mono
Five Dolls for an August Moon aka 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto aka Island of Terror (1970) has finally seen the light of day on Blu-ray with a new release from Kino Lorber. One of Italian maestro Mario Bava’s most obscure films, this is an unusual, stylish, giallo-like riff on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and is generally disliked by giallo purists, but will be of interest to fans of ‘60s and ‘70s Euro-cult cinema. Like Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, this is not strictly a giallo, but is part of a trilogy of films (including Bay of Blood) that subverts the genre and adds some truly bizarre and unexpected elements. Five Dolls for an August Moon is uninterested in being a whodunnit murder mystery and is full of black humor, irony and psychedelic sex appeal. This is allegedly Bava’s least favorite of all his films, though it is a fun, Jess Franco-like exercise in excess.
Four couples travel to a small island, seemingly for rest and relaxation. Three of the men are trying to buy a secret scientific formula from Professor Garrell, who continues to refuse their offers. Marie, one of the wives, is having an affair with the houseboy, who winds up dead. The murders continue, but the party is trapped on the island after their boat goes missing. The surviving men are still after the formula, but their interest is fatal.Five Dolls nearly defies categorization. This somewhat impish, weird, and colorful film lacks any of the typical giallo concerns and revels in a sense of playful, yet sadistic mischief. None of the characters care much about the murders and are instead preoccupied with numerous deals, double-crosses, and sexual affairs. Death is little more than an inconvenience for the dwindling number of characters, who inexplicably and hilariously store the growing number of corpses in the meat freezer. The killings themselves are presented almost as an afterthought and Bava fails to show us any of the murders directly. The film is plagued by some moments of boredom and there’s a lot of unintentionally funny dialogue.
Giallo regular Edwige Fenech stars, and despite the surprising lack of nudity, she shines, especially during the fantastic, over the top opening scene that features a kitschy erotic dance and fake human sacrifice. The overall cinematography is sometimes effectively creepy, but mostly highlights the film’s emphasis on style over substance. As in Hatchet, there is incredible production design and Bava makes use of unusual shots and angles to keep the audience disoriented. The almost non-existent storyline adds to the surreal quality of the film—we know little about the thoroughly unsympathetic characters and even less about the scientific formula. The conclusion is equally hazy and implausible and the identity of the killer seems completely arbitrary.
I thought the previous Anchor Bay release of Five Dolls for an August Moon looked good, but this transfer is fantastic. Though, as with most Kino releases, there is only some minor clean up, the colors, of key importance in such a lushly stylized film, absolutely pop. The print itself is fortunately devoid of much age damage, so Kino’s new 1080p/AVC transfer looks amazing. There are occasional specks and scratches—the film is from 1970, after all—but the damage is minimal. Detail is far clearer than on previous DVD releases and the numerous nighttime and shadowy scenes are balanced well. Natural film grain is present, but is fine and entirely unobtrusive.
The available audio is an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.o mono track in English with no subtitles or other language tracks available. The audio has more age issues than the print, though the occasional hissing, popping, and thin moments are not overly noticeable. The dubbed English audio is not distracting and is clear and easy to understand. It would be nice to have the French track that Tim Lucas mentions in his commentary, or an Italian track if it exists, though films from this period relied on dubbing and generally did not have an “original” language track. The wonderful score from Piero Umiliani perfectly matches Bava’s visuals and is one of the high points of the film.
The only extra included is yet another excellent commentary track from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. Lucas literally wrote the book on Bava, a thousand plus page tome entitled Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, and is uniquely suited to provide information about the production of one of Bava’s most difficult films. Bava completists who find Five Dolls for an August Moon frustrating the first time around may enjoy the film a lot more after Lucas’s commentary. Also included are a number of trailers for some of Bava’s films that Kino has already released on Blu-ray.
One of the maestro’s most obscure films, Five Dolls for an August Moon is certainly an acquired taste and is probably only recommended for Bava completists, such as myself, but it is beautiful and stylish, as well as fun if you aren’t expecting it to be Bay of Blood. Kino has done an excellent job of steadily releasing Bava’s films on Blu-ray and this is another welcome addition to the set that so far includes Kidnapped, Baron Blood, Black Sabbath, and more. Hopefully they’ll add Hercules in the Haunted World, another one of his more obscure efforts, to that list sometime soon.