Mario Bava

Mario Bava (31 July 1914 – 27 April 1980) was an Italian cinematographer, director, special effects artist and screenwriter,[2] frequently referred to as the "Master of Italian Horror"[3] and the "Master of the Macabre".[4][5] His low-budget genre films, known for their distinctive visual flair and technical ingenuity, feature recurring themes and imagery concerning the conflict between illusion and reality, and the destructive capacity of human nature.[1]

Mario Bava
Mario Bava in 1975
Born(1914-07-31)31 July 1914
Died27 April 1980(1980-04-27) (aged 65)
Other namesJohn M. Old
John Foam[1]
OccupationFilm director, cinematographer, special effects artist, screenwriter
ChildrenLamberto Bava
Parent(s)Eugenio Bava

Born to sculptor, cinematographer and special effects pioneer Eugenio Bava, the younger Bava followed his father into the film industry, and eventually earned a reputation as one of Italy's foremost cameramen, lighting and providing the special effects for such films as Hercules (1958) and its sequel Hercules Unchained (1959) (each were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000)[6][7]. During the late 1950s, his eventual career trajectory as a director began when he was relied upon to complete projects begun by or credited to his colleague Riccardo Freda and other filmmakers, including I Vampiri (1957) (the first Italian horror film of the sound era), The Day the Sky Exploded (1958) (the first Italian science fiction film), Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959) and The Giant of Marathon (1959).[1]

Although most of Bava's films as director failed to achieve major commercial success upon release, many of them would eventually find acclaim as cult classics, with their content and production values being favourably compared to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Several of them have been noted for their revolutionary impact on their respective genres: Black Sunday (1960), his official directorial debut, was the forerunner of the Italian gothic horror film cycle; The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) is considered to be the first giallo film; Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) heavily influenced the iconography of modern J-Horror; Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970) is regarded as one of the earliest self-parodying Spaghetti Westerns; Four Times That Night (1971) was an early Italian sex comedy; and A Bay of Blood (1971) was a precursor to slasher films. His other notable films include Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), Erik the Conqueror (1961), Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Knives of the Avenger (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Baron Blood (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1974), Rabid Dogs (1974) and Shock (1977). Despite his reputation as a talented artist during his lifetime, Bava's shy, self-deprecating demeanour prevented him from taking advantage of opportunities that would have furthered his international standing within the film industry, and he turned down multiple opportunities to work in Hollywood.[1]

Among the filmmakers Bava and his work have influenced include Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Federico Fellini, John Carpenter, Nicolas Winding Refn, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Joe Dante, John Landis, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Corman, Edgar Wright, Jennifer Kent and Quentin Tarantino.[8] His son and frequent assistant director, Lamberto Bava, later became a noted fantasy and horror film director in his own right.


Mario Bava was born in San Remo, Liguria on 31 July 1914. He was the son of Eugenio Bava (1886-1966), a sculptor who also worked as a special effects photographer and cameraman in the Italian silent movie industry. Mario Bava's first ambition was to become a painter. Unable to turn out paintings at a profitable rate, he went into his father's business, working as an assistant to other Italian cinematographers like Massimo Terzano. He also helped his father at the special effects department at Benito Mussolini's film factory, the Istituto Luce.

Bava became a cinematographer himself in 1939, shooting two short films with Roberto Rossellini. He made his feature debut in the early 1940s. Bava's camerawork was an instrumental factor in developing the screen personas of such stars of the period as Gina Lollobrigida, Steve Reeves and Aldo Fabrizi.

Bava completed filming I vampiri (aka The Devil's Commandment) for director Riccardo Freda in 1956, a movie now referred to as the first Italian horror film. Bava was originally hired as the cinematographer, but when Freda walked out on the project midway through production, Bava completed the film in several days, even creating the innovative special effects that were needed. He also handled the cinematography and special effects on the 1955 Kirk Douglas epic Ulysses and the 1957 Steve Reeves classic Hercules, two films credited with sparking the Italian sword and sandal genre.

Bava co-directed The Day the Sky Exploded in 1958, the first Italian science fiction film, predating even the sci-fi films of Antonio Margheriti. Because he had no earlier credited experience as a director, the film was credited solely to Paolo Heusch. In 1959, Bava completed Caltiki - the Immortal Monster, again for Riccardo Freda who left the project prematurely, and also worked on the lighting and special effects for 2 Steve Reeves epics, Hercules Unchained and (was also as a co-director of) The Giant of Marathon.

In 1960, Bava directed the gothic horror classic Black Sunday, his first solo directorial effort, which made a genre star out of Barbara Steele. His use of light and dark in black-and-white films is widely acclaimed along with his spectacular use of color in films such as Black Sabbath, Kill, Baby... Kill!, Blood and Black Lace and The Whip and the Body.

His work has proved very influential. Bava directed what is now regarded as the earliest of the Italian giallo films, The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). His 1965 sci-fi/ horror film Planet of the Vampires was a thematic precursor to Alien (1979). Although comic books had served as the basis for countless serials and children's films in Hollywood, Bava's Danger: Diabolik (1968) brought an adult perspective to the genre with its' Pop art influence of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein.[9][10] Many elements of his 1966 film Kill, Baby... Kill!, regarded by Martin Scorsese as Bava's masterpiece, also appear in the Asian strain of terror film known as J-horror. 1971's A Bay of Blood is considered one of the earliest slasher films, and was explicitly imitated in Friday the 13th Part 2.

Mario Bava was very disappointed with the theatrical distribution of some of his later films. His Lisa and the Devil (1972) was never picked up by a distributor, and had to be later re-edited by the producer (with new 1975 footage) into an Exorcist-clone retitled House of Exorcism in order to get released. Bava's Semaforo Rosso (1974) was never released theatrically during his lifetime; the film only appeared on Video in the late 1990s, re-edited with some new footage, as Rabid Dogs, and was released again later on DVD in 2007 in a slightly altered version under the title Kidnapped.

In 1977, Bava directed his last horror film, Shock, which was co-directed with his son Lamberto Bava who did the work uncredited. Bava later did special effects matte work on Dario Argento's 1980 film Inferno. Mario Bava died of natural causes on 27 April 1980 at age 65. His doctor had given him a physical just a few days before he died from a sudden heart attack, and had pronounced him in perfect health. Right before Bava's death, he was about to start filming a science fiction film titled Star Riders, a project on which Luigi Cozzi had hoped to collaborate. [11]

Mario Bava's son Lamberto Bava worked for 14 years as Bava's assistant director (beginning with Planet of the Vampires), and went on to become a horror film director on his own. On several of Mario's movies, Mario was credited as John M. Old.[12] Later, Lamberto was sometimes credited as John M. Old, Jr.[13] When Lamberto directed his first solo film Macabre in 1980 and screened the completed work for his father, Mario commented jokingly to Lamberto: "I am very proud of you. Now I can die in peace". (He actually did die less than two months later.)

Several books have been published about Mario Bava: Mario Bava by Pascal Martinet (Edilig, 1984) and Mario Bava edited by Jean-Louis Leutrat (Éditions du Céfal, 1994) in French; Mario Bava by Alberto Pezzotta (Il Castoro Cinema, 1995) in Italian; The Haunted Worlds of Mario Bava by Troy Howarth (FAB Press, 2002) and most recently, the massive critical biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark by Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog, 2007; ISBN 0-9633756-1-X).

In 2002, a documentary entitled Mario Bava: Master of the Macabre was released on DVD.


Year Film Worked as Notes
Director Writer Cinematographer
1943 Annabella's Adventure Yes
1943 Sant'Elena, piccola isola Yes
1946 L'Elisir d'amore (The Love Potion) Yes
1947 Uomini e cieli Yes
1948 Natale al campo 119 Yes
1948 Pagliacci Yes
1949 Anthony of Padua Yes
1949 Follie per l'opera Yes
1950 Miss Italia Yes
1950 È arrivato il cavaliere! Yes
1950 Song of Spring Yes
1950 Vita da cani Yes
1950 Her Favourite Husband Yes
1951 La Famiglia Passaguai Yes
1951 Amor non ho... però... però Yes
1951 Cops and Robbers Yes
1951 La Famiglia Passaguai fa fortuna Yes
1952 Papà diventa mamma Yes
1952 Gli Eroi della domenica Yes
1953 Balocchi e Profumi Yes
1953 Il Bacio dell'Aurora Yes
1953 Perdonami! Yes
1953 Il Viale della speranza Yes
1953 Villa Borghese Yes
1954 Terza liceo Yes
1954 Hanno rubato un tram Yes
1954 Graziella Yes
1954 Cose da pazzi Yes
1955 Buonanotte... avvocato! Yes
1955 Le avventure di Giacomo Casanova Yes
1955 Ulysses Yes Yes
1956 I Vampiri Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* The Devil's Commandment
  • The Vampires
  • Lust of the Vampire
1956 Roland the Mighty Yes
Alternative title
Orlando e i Paladini di Francia/ Orlando and the Knights of France
1956 Città di notte Yes
1956 Beautiful But Dangerous Yes
1956 Mio figlio Nerone (My Son Nero) Yes
Alternative titles
* Nero's Weekend
  • Nero's Mistress
1957 Hercules Yes
Alternative titles
* Le Fatiche di Ercole (The Labors of Hercules)
1958 The Day the Sky Exploded Yes Yes
Alternative title
La morte viene dallo spazio (Death Comes from Space)
1959 Hercules Unchained Yes
Alternative title
Ercole e la Regina di Lidia (Hercules and the Queen of Lydia)
1959 Caltiki - The Immortal Monster Yes Yes
Alternative title
Calitiki il mostro immortale
1959 The Giant of Marathon Yes Yes
Alternative title
The Battle of Marathon (La battaglia di Maratona)
1959 The White Warrior Yes Yes
Alternative title
Agi Murad, the White Devil
1960 Black Sunday Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Mask of the Demon (La maschera del demonio)
  • Revenge of the Vampire
  • The Mask of Satan
1960 Esther and the King Yes Yes
1961 Hercules in the Haunted World Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
* Ercole al centro della terra (Hercules at the Center of the Earth)
1961 Erik the Conqueror Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Fury of the Vikings
  • The Invaders (Gli invasori)
1961 The Wonders of Aladdin Yes
1961 The Last of the Vikings Yes
1963 The Girl Who Knew Too Much Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
* La ragazza che sapeva troppo
  • Evil Eye
1963 Black Sabbath Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
* Three Faces of Fear
  • I tre volti della paura
1963 The Whip and the Body Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* What?
  • La Frusta e il Corpo
1964 Blood and Black Lace Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
Six Women for the Murderer (Sei donne per l'assassino)
1964 The Road to Fort Alamo Yes Yes
Alternative title
Arizona Bill
1965 Planet of the Vampires Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Demon Planet
  • Terrore nello spazio
  • Terror in Space
  • The Haunted Planet
  • The Haunted World
1966 Knives of the Avenger Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Bladestorm
  • Viking Massacre
  • I coltelli del vendicatore
1966 Kill, Baby, Kill Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Curse of the Living Dead
  • Operation Fear
  • Operazione paura
1966 Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Dr. Goldfoot and the Love Bomb
  • Dr. Goldfoot and the Sex Bombs
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Semi-Cold
  • Two Mafia Guys from the FBI
1966 Savage Gringo Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Ringo from Nebraska
  • Nebraska Jim
  • A Gunman Called Nebraska
1968 Danger: Diabolik Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
1968 The Odyssey (made for Italian TV) Yes Yes
Alternative title
The Adventures of Ulysses (Bava directed only the Polyphemus episode)
1970 Five Dolls for an August Moon Yes Yes
Alternative title
* Island of Terror
  • 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto
1970 Hatchet for the Honeymoon Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Blood Brides
  • The Red Stain of Madness
  • Il rosso segno della follia
1970 Roy Colt & Winchester Jack Yes Yes Yes
1971 A Bay of Blood Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Twitch of the Death Nerve
  • Ecology of Crime (Ecologia del delitto)
  • Chain Reaction (Reazione a Catena)
  • Last House on the Left II
  • Carnage
1972 Baron Blood Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood
  • The Horrors of Nuremberg Castle
  • Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga
  • The Blood Baron
1972 Four Times That Night Yes Yes
1972 Lisa and the Devil Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* The Devil Carries the Dead / El diablo se lleva a los muertos
  • The House of Exorcism (1975 re-edited version)
1974 Rabid Dogs (aka Kidnapped) Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Cani arrabbiati
  • Semaforro Rosso (Red (Traffic) Light)
  • Kidnapped (2007 re-edited version)
1977 Shock Yes Yes Yes
Alternative titles
* Beyond the Door II
  • Shock: Transfert-Suspense-Hypnos
1979 La Venere d'Ille (The Venus of Ille) Yes Yes Yes
Alternative title
La Venere d'Ille


Influence and legacy

Mario Bava's directing style has heavily influenced many directors including Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, John Landis, and Tim Burton.[15][16][17]

The satirical TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 concluded their show in 1999 with Danger: Diabolik.[18][19][20]

See also



  • Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano - The Complete Guide From Classics To Cult. London - New York: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-608-0.
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