For a director whose name is so little-known by the general public,
Mario Bava's films have had a tremendous impact on the development of
modern cinema. In his native Italy, his efforts in the horror/giallo
field influenced the works of Dario Argento (DEEP RED, in particular,
owes a debt to IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA) and Lucio Fulci. Even
Bava's contemporary, the underrated Riccardo Freda, was inspired to
cast Barbara Steele in two of his most memorable films (L'ORRIBILE
SEGRETTO DEL DOTTORE HICHCOCK [TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK, 1962] and LO
SPETTRO [THE GHOST, 1963]) based on her fabulous genre debut in LA
MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO. Even moreso than LA MASCHERA, Freda's films
display a fetishistic fascination with Steele's unearthly beauty, and
seem to be built around her uncommon physicality. Freda's last film to
date, the disturbing L'OSSESSIONE CHE UCCIDE (MURDER OBSESSION, 1980),
features a horror film director who is obsessed with a camera which he
refers to as his third eye. Bava, who shot all of his films with a
Mitchell camera, seems to have been the inspiration for this character,
though Freda has never publicly acknowledged this.
In America, Bava's film ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO served as the unacknowledged inspiration for Paramount's lamentable FRIDAY THE
THIRTEENTH series, which kicked off in 1980, the year of Bava's untimely
death. The previous year, Ridley Scott's blockbuster ALIEN impressed
viewers with its "inspired" view of outerspace. Little did critics or
viewers realize it, but some of ALIEN's key setpieces (the exploration
of a fossilized space craft, for instance) were lifted -- almost
verbatim -- from Bava's TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO. Even more prophetically,
Bava's 1964 masterpiece SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO served as the
blueprint for all subsequent slasher films.
Fortunately, not all of Bava's American protegees have borrowed from him
without credit. Martin Scorsese, the legendary creator of such
masterpieces as RAGING BULL (1980) and MEAN STREETS (1974), has paid
open tribute to Bava in many interviews. In fact, his stylish remake of
CAPE FEAR (1991) can be seen as an exercise in Bava-esque stylistics,
from the flamboyantly expressionistic cinematography of Freddie Francis
to the shocking bursts of intense violence. In particular, the scene in
which Joe Don Baker tries to bait the killer with a crude booby trap is
a modified photocopy of an identical scene in LA RAGAZZA CHE SAPEVA
Tim Burton, acclaimed director of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1991) and ED WOOD
(1994), also pays tribute to Bava's odd brand of stylistics in his
expressionistic BATMAN films. Apart from the obvious comic book model
laid down by Bava in DIABOLIK, Burton has also singled out LA MASCHERA
DEL DEMONIO and ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA as particular favorites.
Even more blatant homage has been paid by Quentin Tarantino, whose use
of camera movement and cutting reveals a strong Bavian influence.
Interestingly, Tarantino -- who has noted that Bava is one of his one of
his favorite directors -- attempted to re-release SEI DONNE PER
L'ASSASSINO to theatres in its original Italian dialect. The project
fell through due to lack of interest on the part of the Italian owners
of the film, but such an idea is a touching tribute in and of itself.
Tarantino's model for the blockbuster hit PULP FICTION (1994) was none
other than Bava's anthology I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA.
The image of "the child as monster" established in OPERAZIONE PAURA had
a profound impact as far back as 1967. In that year, Federico Fellini
re-created the image of the ghostly child in white in the short film
"Toby Dammit, or Never Bet the Devil Your Head," which made up the final
part of the three-part Edgar Allan Poe anthology SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.
In Bob Kelljan's THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971), the image crops up
yet again as a little boy, complete with bouncing ball, carries out the
orders of the nefarious title character played by Robert Quarry.
Martin Scorsese was also inspired by this image, presenting Satan in the form of a little girl in his controversial film THE LAST TEMPTATION OF
CHRIST (1988), while David Lynch used one of OPERAZIONE PAURA's most
memorable scenes -- a man chasing his double through a time warp -- in
the finale of his cult TV series TWIN PEAKS. (Information provided by
Bava's influence has even extended to the music scene. The cult rock
group BLACK SABBATH have openly acknowledged that the American title of
I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA provided the name of their group. In a recent
TV documentary, the Bava film was spoken of with great respect -- quite
a change from the inital response to his innovative work.
This is but a short list of the many artists who have been inspired by
Bava, and no doubt there are many I have left out, but even this should
be enough to convey the tremendous impact his work continues to have on the
film industry. Modern cinema could ill afford his loss.
© Troy Howarth