As noted earlier this week, the upcoming DVD re-releases of some of Mario Bava's key 1960s features is cause for celebration in the Bissette household, and it's amazing to see competing releases of Kill, Baby, Kill/Operazione Paura (1966) popping up after years of public domain videocassettes and DVDs.
The upcoming Anchor Bay boxed set (pictured here) promises transfers of the original European versions (I can't say Italian, given Black Sunday's packaging of US and UK prints only; see the links noted below) along with their US theatrical versions, the American-International Pictures (AIP) edits we all grew up with. Those brassy Les Baxter musical scores defined my generation's only experience with these classics prior to the video bootleg market and eventual official DVD releases, which were at times revelatory: Black Sabbath in particular is a completely different experience and film, from AIP's reorchestration of the order of the three stories to the Boris Karloff Thriller-like intros to the deletion of all lesbian references essential to "The Telephone" (a story that never made a lick of sense in its AIP cut, and I do mean cut). Most infamous of all was/is AIP's removal of Bava's original unusual coda, a comedic flourish featuring Karloff in his wurdulak makeup and costume astride a horse mockup that playfully reveals the artifice of Bava's filmmaking tricks (which makes this a precursor to the ending of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, sans the fusion/faux-religious context). Seeing this at last (it had been mentioned in newsstand monster zines like Castle of Frankenstein and in Karloff bios in the 1960s, but never seen in the US) was the icing on the Bava birthday cake, but there are elements of the AIP version I still love and miss. At last, they'll be together, in one release!
Anchor Bay is also releasing (April 3) Bava's lost film Rabid Dogs/Cani Arrabbiati, which had malingered in post-production limbo and was imprisoned & unreleased for three decades. Only a lucky, attentive and devoted few (including moi) snapped up the limited-edition Lucertola Media DVD release from Germany years ago (1997); Anchor Bay's upcoming DVD represents the film's US debut in any form. Rabid Dogs is a lean-and-mean-spirited gem. It was and is unlike any other of Bava's films, essentially an entry in the ire-fueled Italian crime film cycle of the 1970s caustically fused with a Last House on the Left "anything can and will go bad" intensity unique to the '70s; shot and shelved in 1974 -- the death of one of its key investors in a car accident doomed the raw footage to impoundment, finally 'freed' and edited in 1996 according to Bava's notes! -- this taut, claustrophobic nerve-jangler boasts the tightest script of any Bava film and a volatile, in-your-face ferocity (and morbid final turn of the blade) that razors the edge of Bay of Blood (aka Antefatto, Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve, Last House Part II) to a less stylized, more pragmatic & lethal precision. It's a missing link in Bava's body of work, very much of its time and a direct prototype/contemporary of Pasquale Festa Campanile's better-known (and why not? It was completed and released!) Hitch-Hike/Autostop rosso sangue (1977), which starred Franco Nero and Last House on the Left's David Hess. Bava had no such star-power, but Rabid Dogs is the superior film, and it also anticipates more contemporary incarnations of the genre like, well, Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Anchor Bay is offering two versions of this resurrected opus, Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped; I've no idea what (other than the one-minute difference in running time) defines the differences between these two versions, but I can't wait to find out.
This generosity extends to Anchor Bay's Bava boxed set (Vol. 1), which finally preserves both the European and US versions of the two films most often referenced as Bava's best (sorry, Bava diehards like yours truly beg to differ, though they are delicious and deserving of their classic stature). Black Sunday and Black Sabbath are packaged with the seminal giallo (the first of the genre!) The Girl Who Knew Too Much (coupled with its AIP version, The Evil Eye, never released legally in any format since 16mm, and strikingly different from the Italian version in many respects), the spectral Kill, Baby, Kill (which surprising fared best of all of Bava's '60s horror films, in that it was intact in its US releases whatever title it was released under) and Bava's muscular remake of Shane as a Cameron Mitchell viking opus, Knives of the Avenger. That may not sound promising, but it's among my favorite Bava films, eschewing the maestro's usual color schemes for an earthier palette amid inventively restagings of the generic western elements (i.e., six-shooters become thrown knives) while infusing the Shane boy/child relationship with a more primal paternal twist (Viking rape and pillaging yields an illegitimate son, the young boy the now-repentant viking loner bonds with) and showcasing an excellent Mitchell performance. Its among the most heartfelt of Bava's films, and a real treat; give it a look.
The 'Volume 1' status is worthy of notice, too: if a Volume 2 is in the works, one can hope at last for a definitive US release of Antefatto/Bay of Blood, my favorite of all Bava's 1970s films. Image's 2000 DVD release of this classic (as part of their mastheaded "The Mario Bava Collection") was visually impeccable but fatally flawed by a botched soundtrack transfer that distorted the terrific Stelvio Cipriana score on every system I played it on, rendering the film almost unwatchable. Despite mono sound, even Simitar's cheapjack 1999 DVD release was preferable, despite its shoddy image, for being at least listenable; this eventually drove me to purchase the Raro Video/Nocturno/Horror Club import DVD, though that, too, had its problems. Here's hoping Anchor Bay's re-releases and restorations includes salvaging this seminal slasher and Bava's best black comedy, and preserving Hallmark Releasing's delirious Carnage trailer, which is still among the oddest of its very-odd drive-in era.
[An aside: Hallmark -- the Boston-based exploitation distributor who made their indelible mark with their release of Last House on the Left and Mark of the Devil -- test-marketed Bay of Blood in Boston markets under the title Carnage and tried to revisit the boxoffice bonanza of Mark of the Devil by promoting Carnage as "The 2nd Film Rated 'V' for Violence," and with a possessive "Mario Bava's" moniker above the title (!). That apparently failed to produce results, so Hallmark trotted the film back out later that summer under the much more successful (and inspired) Twitch of the Death Nerve title, with aggressive new ballyhoo: "The first motion picture to require a face-to-face warning*" -- the ad then referencing with its asterisk follow-through, "* Every Ticket Holder Must Pass Through The Final Warning Station -- We Must Warn You Face-to-Face!" Ah, the '70s. Anchor Bay can't restore The Final Warning Station, but if they can restore the soundtrack, I'll be happy!]
This all bodes well for those of us who've long waited for definitive releases of these classics, and
30 and 40 years ago, it was almost impossible to find anything on Bava outside of the insightful capsule reviews (many by Joe Dante) in Castle of Frankenstein, and seeing a Bava film was a matter of haunting late-night TV broadcasts and local drive-ins, usually rewarded with cut and pan-and-scanned dubbed prints in rough shape.
2007 is shaping up to be quite a year from where I sit...
Have a great weekend, one and all!