biographyBorn in Italy on July 31, 1914, legendary horror director Mario Bava was the son of Eugenio Bava, a respected cinematographer who specialized in special effects photography in Italian silent pictures. After a failed attempt as an artist, Bava followed in his father's footsteps, working his way up to cameraman status by the late 1930s. In 1956, he got his first shot at directing a feature while lensing Lust of the Vampire when director Riccado Freda walked off the picture. Bava stepped in and rescued the production, adding some special effects techniques he learned from his father. Lust of the Vampire, now regarded as the first true Italian horror film, benefited from Bava's keen sense of visuals, creating an eerie mood and atmosphere in what could have been a run-of-the-mill film. He also made his mark on the peplum genre when he served as cinematographer for Hercules (1957; with Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina). He moved up to assistant director status in the late 1950s in the films Hercules Unchained (1959; with Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina), Giant of Marathon (1959; with Steve Reeves), and Son of Samson (1960; with Mark Forest). He directed Hercules in the Haunted World (1961; with Reg Park and Christopher Lee), one of the best films in the genre in which he married horror and peplum to great effect.
LEFT: Bava with Barbara Steele during the filming of Black Sunday in April 1960. RIGHT: From a 1975 interview, toward the end of Bava's career
While Bava directed many types of films, including comedies, westerns, and peplums, horror is where his greatest talent lay. He directed an extraordinary number of now-cult classic films, which in low-budget circles are second to none. His first credited performance as director came in Black Sunday (1960; with Barbara Steele), which established not only his career but Steele's as well. Some of Bava's other early 1960s efforts include The Whip and the Body (1963; with Daliah Lavi and Christopher Lee), Black Sabbath (1963; with Boris Karloff), and Blood and Black Lace (1964; with Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok).
In addition to his expertise as a cinematographer and director, Bava was also very thrifty, making films on a fraction of typical B movie budgets of the period and in less than four weeks on average. When Dino de Laurentiis hired him to direct Danger: Diabolik (1968; with John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell), the film was budgeted at $3 million, but Bava completed the film for less than $500,000. In fact, Bava preferred to direct low-budget films, as producers of cheaper films generally gave him more autonomy. But this tactic would eventually come back to haunt Bava in later years.
the films of mario bava
Black Sunday (1960)
From Bava's horror masterpiece, Black Sunday, the film that made Mario Bava and its star, Barbara Steele, cult horror favorites. LEFT: With Ivo Garrani, John Richardson, and Barbara Steele. CENTER: Barbara Steele is terrified of the iron mask. RIGHT: Barbara Steele as Princess Asa
Erik the Conqueror (1961)
LEFT: Cameron Mitchell portrays Eron in the adventure Erik the Conqueror. RIGHT: With George Ardisson as the title character
Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)
Starring Reg Park as the title character, Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World is one of the best sword and sandal films
The Evil Eye (1963)
John Saxon stars with Leticia Roman in Bava's horror thriller The Evil Eye, which was Bava's last black and white film
The Whip and the Body (1963)
From Bava's horror romance The Whip and the Body with Daliah Lavi
Blood and Black Lace (1964)
LEFT: Lobby card from Mario Bava's horror shocker Blood and Black Lace. Eva Bartok portrays the stylish Contessa Cristina Como, owner of a fashion house in which models are being brutally murdered. CENTER: With Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok. RIGHT: Cameron Mitchell as Max Marian
The Road to Fort Alamo (1964)
From Bava's western The Road to Fort Alamo with Ken Clark and Jany Clair
Planet of the Vampires (1965)
LEFT: Fight scene from Bava's science fiction effort Planet of the Vampires. RIGHT: With star Barry Sullivan
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)
With Franco Franchi, Fabian, and Ciccio Ingrassia in the comedy Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, the sequel to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. While American International Pictures had released all of Bava's films in the US, this film ended his contract with AIP
Danger: Diabolik (1968)
From the Dino de Laurentiis action film Danger: Diabolik, directed by Mario Bava. LEFT: Marisa Mell as Diabolik's beautiful lover and accomplice in crime, Eva Kant. CENTER and RIGHT: Marisa Mell with John Phillip Law as the comic book antihero Diabolik. This film aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as the final episode of the series
Baron Blood (1972)
Elke Sommer is terrorized by the evil Baron Otto von Kleist (Joseph Cotten) in Bava's effective horror flick Baron Blood
Four Times that Night (1972)
From Bava's Italian comedy Four Times that Night with Brett Halsey
Beyond the Door II (1977)
John Steiner portrays Bruno Baldini in Beyond the Door II, the sequel (in name only) to Beyond the Door (1974; with Juliet Mills). This was Bava's last theatrically released film
later yearsWhile one might expect a successful director to have no problems in finding funds to make films, this was not the case with Mario Bava. For example, the production of Kill Baby, Kill (1966; with Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc) ran out of money after two weeks. Bava and his cast worked for no pay afterward to get the film in the can. By the mid 1970s, Bava's luck had run out; the 1973 horror thriller Lisa and the Devil wasn't picked up for distribution until 1975, when it was recut and retitled The House of Exorcism (1975; with Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, and Sylva Koscina). In addition, his crime thriller Rabid Dogs (1974; with Lea Lander), aka Kidnapped, was not released until seventeen years after his death due to lack of funds. Bava's last theatrical release was Beyond the Door II (1977), which was scripted by his son, Lamberto, who later became a director with many horror films to his credit. Mario Bava passed away on April 25, 1980, from a heart attack at the age of 65. Bava was survived by his son, Lamberto.
Bava's horror flicks have withstood the test of time, even as contemporary horror films continue to push the envelope on violence and gore. His films have paved the way for other Italian directors who specialized in horror films, including Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. And Bava's efforts continue to influence such directors as Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and George Romero.