Born 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.

Mario Bava and Barbara SteeleMario Bava

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)

Ivo Garrani, John Richardson, and Barbara SteeleBarbara SteeleBarbara Steele

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)

Cameron MitchellGeorge Ardisson

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)

Reg ParkReg ParkReg Park

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 and Leticia Roman

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)

Daliah Lavi

From Bava's horror romance The Whip and the Body with Daliah Lavi

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Eva BartokCameron Mitchell and Eva BartokCameron Mitchell

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)

Ken Clark and Jany Clair

From Bava's western The Road to Fort Alamo with Ken Clark and Jany Clair

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Planet of the VampiresPlanet of the Vampires

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)

Franco Franchi, Fabian, and Ciccio Ingrassia

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)

Marisa MellJohn Phillip Law and Marisa MellJohn Phillip Law and Marisa MellJohn Phillip Law and Marisa Mell

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

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)

Brett Halsey

From Bava's Italian comedy Four Times that Night with Brett Halsey

Beyond the Door II (1977)

John Steiner

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 years

While 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.

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This listing includes only those films for which Mario Bava is credited as director:
La Venere d'Ille (1979) with Daria Nicolodi
Beyond the Door II (1977) with Daria Nicolodi, John Steiner, and Ivan Rassimov
Rabid Dogs (1974) with George Eastman
Lisa and the Devil (1974) with Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, and Sylva Koscina
Four Times that Night (1972) with Brett Halsey and Daniela Giordano
Baron Blood (1972) with Joseph Cotten and Elke Sommer
Bay of Blood (1971) with Claudine Auger and Isa Miranda
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970) with Brett Halsey, Marilu Tolo, and Isa Miranda
Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) with Stephen Forsyth and Dagmar Lassander
5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970) with William Berger
Danger: Diabolik (1968) with John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, and Adolfo Celi
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) with Fabian, Vincent Price, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, and Laura Antonelli
Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966) with Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc
Knives of the Avengers (1966) with Cameron Mitchell and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart
Gunman Called Nebraska (1966) with Ken Clark
Planet of the Vampires (1965) with Barry Sullivan and Norma Bengell
The Road to Fort Alamo (1964) with Ken Clark and Jany Clair
Blood and Black Lace (1964) with Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, and Thomas Reiner
The Whip and the Body (1963) with Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee, and Tony Kendall
Black Sabbath (1963) with Boris Karloff, Michele Mercier, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, and Massimo Righi
The Evil Eye (1963) with John Saxon, Leticia Roman, and Valentina Cortese
Erik the Conqueror (1961) with Cameron Mitchell and Raf Baldassarre
Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) with Reg Park, Christopher Lee, and Raf Baldassarre
The Wonders of Aladdin (1961) with Donald O'Connor, Noƫlle Adam, Vittorio De Sica, Michele Mercier, and Terence Hill
The Last of the Vikings (1961) with Cameron Mitchell and Edmund Purdom
Esther and the King (1960) (Italian version) with Joan Collins, Richard Egan, and Rik Battaglia
Black Sunday (1960) with Barbara Steele and John Richardson
Giant of Marathon (1959) with Steve Reeves, Mylene Demongeot, and Daniele Vargas
Caltiki the Undying Monster (1959) with John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, and Daniele Vargas
Lust of the Vampire (1956) with Gianna Maria Canale
Ulysses (1954) with Kirk Douglas, Silvana Mangano, Anthony Quinn, and Rossana Podesta

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Watch Mario Bava's 1966 horror flick Kill, Baby... Kill!
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This page premiered February 15, 2012.