Mario Bava

Mario Bava
Mario Bava 75.jpg
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

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]

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). 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.[6] 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 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.

Bava in 1962.

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. 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. [7]

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.[8] Later, Lamberto was sometimes credited as John M. Old, Jr.[9] 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.

Other Languages
brezhoneg: Mario Bava
català: Mario Bava
dansk: Mario Bava
Deutsch: Mario Bava
Ελληνικά: Μάριο Μπάβα
español: Mario Bava
français: Mario Bava
galego: Mario Bava
հայերեն: Մարիո Բավա
hrvatski: Mario Bava
italiano: Mario Bava
Lëtzebuergesch: Mario Bava
Malagasy: Mario Bava
Nederlands: Mario Bava
polski: Mario Bava
português: Mario Bava
română: Mario Bava
русский: Бава, Марио
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mario Bava
suomi: Mario Bava
svenska: Mario Bava
українська: Маріо Бава