Five Dolls For An August Moon


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Five Dolls For An August Moon
"Bava's trademark brilliant framing and his playful relationship with modernism maximise the visual appeal of every scene."

The concept of a glamorous group of people being trapped on an island with an unknown, deadly threat has been a staple of pulp cinema since the Forties. Naturally, nobody can make it look as stylish as Mario Bava. It helps that, this time, the group is visiting the home of a wealthy industrialist, a gleaming marvel of Sixities architecture with huge windows and sweeping spiral staircases which stops just short of the overt silliness of the director's supervillain caper Danger: Diabolik. They're there because one of them, a chemist, has developed a revolutionary new formula for industrial resin, and everybody wants to persuade him to sell it. At least one of them may be willing to kill for it.

The film opens with a game. One woman agrees to play the victim; each of the others is presented with a knife. Then the lights go out. But nobody was expected to take the game seriously, and what they see when the lights go back up leads to panic. Nothing is quite what it seems, but this scene foreshadows a descent into chaos as people begin to die one by one, their bodies left swinging on hooks in cold storage, faces blank and doll-like.

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There are no straightforward heroes here and Bava keeps us guessing as to who the killer could be. It should go without saying that communications are down and there is no easy route back to the mainland. Each character has an agenda, the women as ruthless as the men, and we are invited not so much to worry for them, or even to identify with them, as to root for them out of admiration for their scheming. This has the advantage of meaning that there are no scenes of frustrating stupidity. With the limited resources available to them, each is determined to survive - and, perhaps, to come out on top.

Bava's trademark brilliant framing and his playful relationship with modernism maximise the visual appeal of every scene. There's also some delightfully bold costume work which suits the characters' fierce personalities and casual attitude to spending. The performances are of variable quality with no-one really making a big impression, but there's still a good deal here to entertain.

This is a film very much of its time, with sexism and silly macho posturing contributing to a kitsch atmosphere. There's a knowing humour undercutting the drama that helps it to retain a sense of energy throughout. Flawed as it is, for those with a fondness for Sixties excess, it's a treat.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2017
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Five Dolls For An August Moon packshot
A wealthy industrialist gathers his friends on a remote island for a party, but they soon realise that there's a killer on the lose.
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Director: Mario Bava

Writer: Mario di Nardo

Starring: Edwige Fenech, Ira von Fürstenberg, William Berger, Howard Ross

Year: 1970

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy


Abertoir 2017

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