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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 TROPPO.

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 Tim Lucas.)

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


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