The Blog that Knew Too Much

2018/365/017: The Blog that Knew Too Much

Today I picked up this very large, colorful French film poster for Mario Bava’s 1963 film giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much. It’s pretty special, and not just because it’s a cool piece of vintage film poster art for the home office—but also as a tribute to the bava blog. It’s something like a 12th birthday present.  I love this blog, and it has loved me back a million times over with connections far and wide across the web. The bava is not only the place where I was able to build the foundations of my pathetic edtech career—providing the mental space to help shape everything from UMW Blogs to EDUPUNK to  ds106 to Domain of One’s Own to Reclaim Hosting. But even more than that, it’s been the portal through which I got to come into contact, and in some cases get to know, some truly great people. All the while it has been a fairly faithful chronicle of the vicissitudes of fortune that make up one small life. I smile when I look at this poster because not only do I see an awesome film by a great Italian b-movie auteur, but I also see my life online. bavatuesdays started with a header from this very film with a close-up of Leticia Roman’s startled eyes that resonates deeply with the look she wears in the poster.

More than even the eyes, the blog is the window to the soul!


Posted in art, mario bava, movies, poster | Tagged | Leave a comment

Il Giallo a Fumetti: Diabolik

Il Diabolik

Antonella bought me a Diabolik comic at the Mestre train station outside of Venice, Italy the other day. Diabolik is a fictional master thief and the anti-hero of Italy’s most popular fumetti (Italian for comic) which has been published monthly since 1962. What’s more, it’s  just the right reading level for me—made all the more accessible by a pretty set formula of robbery, ensuing complication, and ultimate resolution in favor of Diabolik. This one was called “Colpo Alla Cieca,” or “The Blind Heist,” in which Diabolik goes blind after a job gone bad and his lover Eva does whatever it takes to help him get his sight back.

It was fun reading this comic because it reinforces just how pitch perfect Mario Bava’s film adaptation of the comic was in Danger: Diabolik (1968). In one of our many conversations about Bava’s films, Paul Bond and I discussed this film and its roots in the comic aesthetic. What’s interesting is that on the cover of each Diabolik comic is the phrase “Il Giallo a Fumetti” which might literally be translated as “pulp mystery comics.” Giallo, which literally means yellow in Italian, is  a term used to describe the pulp crime novels published by Mondadori in Italy during the 1950s. They were called Giallo because they came with bright yellow covers that usually featured a lurid scene of sex or violence or both.

But I don’t think I directly connected the giallo to the fumetti, which I understand is silly. Diabolik is an exaggerated giallo, and it would make perfect sense for producer Dino DeLaurentis to tap  Mario Bava—who put film gialli on the map during the 1960s with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Blood and Black Lace, and Kill, Baby, Killto bring Italy’s crime comic to life.

And from what little I have read, Bava seemed to have an intimate understanding that first and foremost this comic is a love story between Diabolik and his moll Eva Kant. He’s a master theif, an anti-hero, terrorist, etc, but in the end he’s a devout partner and lover in an idealized realtionship wherein the two will do anything for each other. Like in Bava’s film Danger: Diabolik, the action of “The Blind Heist” is predicated upon Diabolik’s decision to steal the most valuable crystal in the world as a sign of his undying affection for Eva. Diabolik is a lover, not a fighter—his crime is rooted in transcending the norms of a culture that values things over relationships, he’s the ultimate rebel who can only express his love for Eva through seemingly arbitrary criminal acts against capital. What’s not to love about this character? Diabolik is to Italy what Godzilla is to Japan!

There are some special color editions of the Diabolik comic around that cost a few more Euro, I might have to pick one up for the great Paul Bond.

Posted in dangerdiabolik, Diabolik, fumetti, giallo, mario bava, pop culture | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mario Bava must have gotten bit by Rabid Dogs

Paul Bond and I were as good as our word, we worked through ten of Mario Bava’s best films for the Bavafest we’ve been doing since March. This post has the tenth and final (for now!) discussion of what might have been Mario Bava’s  bleakest film: Rabid Dogs.  This film never saw the light of day during Bava’s lifetime because of some bad luck Paul outlines in his post. It was released on VHS in 1998 for the first time, but if it had been released in 1974—when it was scheduled to be—it would most certainly have been considered a classic Poliziotteschi (a subgenre of 1970s hyper-violent and gritty street crime films in Italy). What’s more, it resonates within a broader, international exploration of violence in films at the time, two in particular come to mind, namely the class of 1971:  A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs.

Rabid Dogs is the title of the rough cut by Mario Bava, which is significanty different—and  better —than the re-edited version by Lamberto Bava released on DVD titled Kidnapped. I would go as far to say Kidnapped is a radically different film than Rabid Dogs, and not only because it includes a series of additional scenes shot after the fact. Kidnapped includes a few scenes that force feed the surpirse ending, while at the same time subverting the real import of final scene in the the rought cut—essentially changing the entire register of the film (but more on that soon). If you havent seen Rabid Dogs, well today is your lucky day, or for as long as the copyright bots allow it. Below is the full version of the 1998 cut on YouTube.

We moved to Google Hangouts for these discussions since the fifth film, but I hate that we had to. I’ve learned a lot about Hangouts as a result, and I still have a deep-seated loathing of them—even though they’re easy and now in HD! Anyway, during this discussion we were playing with broadcasting YouTube videos within the Google Hangout interface, which didn’t work in the end. So at minute 11:25 to 12:25 we are talking abou the credit sequences—which is a frozen screen on this video. I’m trying to re-edit this discussion, but as a reference point we were talking about the differnet credit sequence for Rabid Dogs versus Kidnapped. You can see the Twitch of the Death Nerve-inspired credit sequence for Kidnapped we mention in this conversation below. What’s more, while we are talking about opening credits, the sequence for Kidnapped on Netflix is just a black background with off-white scrolling text. That was also the case for Kill, Baby, Kill! on Netflix—I wonder what’s going on there.

Here are the credits for Rabid Dogs:

Here are the credits for Kidnapped:

We then talked about the intensity of the opening robbery scene, which is one of my favorite scenes from all of Bava’s films. Once again we tried using the YouTube feature in Google Hangouts to no avail, which I admit is probabaly user error. Anyway, there’s more frozen-screen from 18:53-20:41. You can see the sequence we were trying to share by watching the first video immediatey below. I also included the opening sequence from Kidnapped so you can get a sense of some of the difference between the two films:

Rabid Dogs Robbery sequence

Kidnapped Robbery Sequence

We also showed the car garage scene which I’m including below. It’s another hyper-violent scene from this film that really captures the street violence, as well as the idea Paul Bond hits on when talking about bad luck in this film: “Pretty much every character in the film was unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ” Thsi couldn’t be more accurate, and the two women in the following scene who find themselves between the cops and the criminals in a parking garage prove a really powerful and deeply effecting example of this.

Car Garage Scene

A scene we mentioned in passing, but didn’t spend too much time is the “piss scene.” A Scene in which two of the criminals/sociopaths force their hostage to piss in front of them. This is probabaly the most overtly psycho-sexually depraved moment in Bava’s film career (and there are a bunch of them), and it reinforces some of the discussions that Bava is trying to push into new territory. Paul talked about Tim Lucas’s suggestion that given this is the most realisitc world Bavaever created on film, it might demonstrate how he really felt about the world. It’s not something you can ever really know, but if it were the case then both the piss scene and the final scene paint a very dark vision of Bava’s sense of the world. And gven the state of violence in Italy during the “Years of Lead,” it might not be all that surprisng.

Speaking of the final scene, the question camee up during our discussion as to whether or not Kidnapped included the final scene wherein the kidnapper opens up the trunk of his car to expose the body of the what we assumed throughout the film was his deathly ill child. [As an aside, I love the whole crime-within-a-crime twist we shockingly learn about at the end of the film.] I went and checked the version of Kidnapped on Netflix and can confirm that it did not have that final shot of the child in the trunk. Leaving that detail out totally changes the film. Seeing the body of the kidnapped child in the trunk—presumably dead— makes the vision of an already dark film, paranoid, and claustrophobic film downright horrific and misanthropic.

But I can’t end on a misanthropic note, because the process of taking the time and energy to have the conversations of the past five motnhs has been generative. When the conversation starts about each film Paul and I have no clear or rehearsed idea of where it’s going. In fact, it’s amazing how much comes out as a result of letting go of a plan, sharing your ideas with someone, and trusting in a sense the ability to conenct around ideas. I love this process cause it peels it all back to a certain amount of simplicity—take time to read/watch/write the things you dig and share that with others. Learn more about the things you love, share them openly, and experiment along the way. That’s kind of what I’ve come to apprecaite about Mario Bava. Over the course of 13 years of films we watched, hee has a presistent vision of platfulnees, experimentation, not taking himself to seriously, and being at one with his b-status. Less is more for Bava, the less he has, often the more spectacular the film. And regardless of resources, he was continually able to push into new territory and create a vision of what’s possible. His work parallels beautifully with what I feel like we are doing at DTLT for my day job, adn it just further reinforces my deep conenction to his work.

I also want to stop and say that Paul continues to be an amazing partner in all these cultural crimes. I hope we can keep the Bava series going with ten more films, but for the moment we simply need to relish that it’s done. But only for the moment!

Posted in bavafest, Kidnapped, Lamberto Bava, mario bava, Paul Bond, rabid dogs | Tagged | Leave a comment

Friday the 13th

We’re planning on covering our final Bava film, Rabid Dogs, tomorrow on Friday the 13th. And as it falls on the 13th year, it’s double bad luck. Maybe it would have been more appropriate to do Twitch of the Death Nerve on Friday the 13th, but we’re getting to them when we can.

Of course, Rabid Dogs is a tale of bad luck on many levels. Pretty much every character in the film was unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bava had bad luck of his own with the film. One of the producers died during the late stages of production, and all the film was impounded by the courts. Bava did not see it released in his lifetime. A few people tried and failed to get the film out before lead actress Lea Lander finally succeeded in 1998.

above: Carnage trailer below: Rabid Dogs opening

above: Carnage trailer
below: Rabid Dogs opening

According to Lucas’ commentary, Lander made some decisions about what music went where, as Cipriani’s soundtrack had been recorded but not queued up to the film. Lander also titled the film Semaforo Rosso (Italian for Red Light), in reference to an early pivotal scene. The film is available in a few versions. The one titled Kidnapped has a few scenes that Bava didn’t get to film, which tie in to the ending. The Rabid Dogs version was Bava’s work in progress, without additional footage. I’m not sure if he did the opening credits. It looks more like someone else did it in a Bava style, reminiscent of the trailer for Carnage (Twitch of the Death Nerve, et al.) . I found a Youtube version called Cani arrabbiati (Italian for Rabid Dogs) with a different credit sequence that tries to make up for the scenes that Bava didn’t get done.

The most striking thing to me about this film is how little it looks like a Bava film. It is such a departure from his visual style. He had been building to it, bringing more and more realism into his lighting and camerawork, but it’s still a big jump. The only thing he really brings from his earlier work is some of the comic book inspired framing in some action sequences, like in Diabolik, although more understated. Lucas says that the real location/real time/real lighting let us know how Bava really felt about the real world – it’s a dark, violent place, and just when you think it’s going to be all right, it’s actually worse than you could have imagined.

In the commentary on the DVD, Lucas has a more positive  quote: “[A]s this story demonstrates, sometimes we’re hijacked by life’s little jobs, when what we’re really after is the big jobs, the ones that really mean something to us. Which is surely something that Mario Bava understood well. He also knew how to make the little jobs count, how to make them mean something.” Of course, this quote is nestled in between the two big revelations at the end.

The ending made me think of the Stephen King novel Cujo. After being trapped in a car in the sweltering sun, after facing down a rabid dog, we find the boy is dead. I thought that was the most horrifying thing I read from King, and this is possibly the most horrifying thing I’ve seen from Bava.Untitled 3

Posted in mariobava, rabid dogs | Leave a comment

Of nature and hippies

One of the things we didn’t get to talk about from Twitch of the Death Nerve was the octopus or squid or whatever that thing was. I don’t know why it stood out for me – it’s only in a couple of quick shots. It may have been the “eeww, slime!” factor, or maybe there was something Alien/Cthulhu about it. The first time we see it Simon is playing with it.octopus

That kind of grossed me out. Maybe it says he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, as we saw with the billhook. We see it again enveloping a dead guy’s face.octopusface

This could be saying that while man may play with nature, nature ultimately wins. And swallows man’s face. But really the movie is all about the hippies.jim 1

Posted in hippies, mariobava, twitchofthedeathnerve | Leave a comment

Of nature and hippies

One of the things we didn’t get to talk about from Twitch of the Death Nerve was the octopus or squid or whatever that thing was. I don’t know why it stood out for me – it’s only in a couple of quick shots. It may have been the “eeww, slime!” factor, or maybe there was something Alien/Cthulhu about it. The first time we see it Simon is playing with it.octopus

That kind of grossed me out. Maybe it says he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, as we saw with the billhook. We see it again enveloping a dead guy’s face.octopusface

This could be saying that while man may play with nature, nature ultimately wins. And swallows man’s face. But really the movie is all about the hippies.jim 1

Posted in hippies, mariobava, twitchofthedeathnerve | Leave a comment

bavatuesdays: Twitch fo the Death Nerve

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.” – King Lear

This week’s film for the Mario Bava film fest was  the 1971  Twitch of the Death Nerve (a.k.a. Reazione a catena, Carnage, Last House on the Left 2, Bay of Blood, and a dozen other titles). This is arguably Mario Bava’s most influential film, often cited as the prototype for the 1980s slasher/body count film like the Friday the 13th franchise. You can see this influence on the slasher genre right down to the settings and increasingly ridiculous murders, Friday the 13th Part 2 quotes at least two of the stylized murders from this film shot-for-shot, namely the billhook to the face of an unassuming manboy and the skewering  of a young couple making love with a spear.

In many ways the thirteen stylized murders are the sport of this film. Story has it Bava and Laura Betti, who worked together previously on Blood and Black Lace (1964)—arguably Bava’s first body count film, were looking for an excuse to work together again and came up with a ludicrous script that was the genesis of this film. Bava, as usual, had next to no budget and shot this on an insanely tight schedule at the producer’s lake house. The plot is easily the most convoluted and absurd of all of Bava’s films , and that’s saying somthing given plots are not his specialty. That said, more than a few Italian film luminaries worked on this film: the aforementioned Laura Betti, special effects legend Carlo Rimbaldi (best know for designing E.T.), b-movie Italian horror movie scriptwriter [Dardano Sacchetti]], and b-movie actor Luigi Pistilli—one of my personal favorites.

But returning to my poit about the stylized murder as the sport of this film, it seems Bava was having fun with Twitch with no real concern for the plot. He seemed to be truly making sport of hyperobolic murder scenes in this one. And unlike Tim Lucas who argues that the gore holds up as realistic in this film, it seems to me far more ridiculous and  over-the-top than any of Dario Argento’s skin slashing gore fests. For me, the quote from King Lear above seems to summarize Bava’s approach in this film. It’s as if he’s a twisted boy treating actors like flies, and the body count is a kind of playful torture of the audience. All of which comes into sharp focus with the shot of the Entomologist’s impaled beetle.

Paul Bond’s GIF from Twitch of the Death Nerve

But the idea of playful torture is important here, because I think every murder is more like a wink and a joke than a shot at one’s sense of decency. As Paul Bondnotes in the video, the above GIF scene with the anguished insect kept Bava up all night, wracked with guilt. [As an aside, if you want a nice reading of intertextual guilt in this film, check out Paul's post on this one.]

Beyond that, the Twitch continues to play on both the generational tension and youth culture revolution themes we’ve seem recur in his late 60s films like Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) and Danger:Diabolik (1968). Despite the fact the plot is a mess, the ending of this film is still a total shocker, and is one of my favorite endings of any film ever. [Spoiler alert!] After the distributed murders seem to be finished—another interesting note about this film is there are numerous murderes working against one another, not one pyschotic slasher—the final depicts the murderous couple who seem to have emerged victorious from the carnage only to be shot dead by their young children with a shotgun. Again, I can’t help read this as Bava’s utter disdain for the hippie movement (one of the children is wearing a tiedye t-shirt) and its presumed innocence and purity ignoring the deep generational violence thye remain part and parcel of. [I also linked this to the failure of the Baby Boomers more generally and the rise of the adjunct nation in higher ed more specifically in the video :) ] The ending of the film has the children noting how their parents “play dead good” and running down to the lake to frolic on the beach. An idyllic scene that seems irreconcilable with the blood bath that has led up to it—which in many ways are the two narratives of the 1960s in the U.S. at least. 

Posted in Carlo Rimbaldi, Dario Argento, Friday the 13th, King Lear, Laura Betti, Luidi Pistilli, mario bava, Tim Lucas, Twitch of the Death Nerve | Tagged | Leave a comment

All’s well that ends well


Twitch of the Death Nerve band logo from Encyclopedia Metallum

I had never seen Twitch of the Death Nerve before. I guess I just figured I had outgrown Friday the 13th type movies, so I never put it in my Netflix queue.

After the opening credits, we hear a fly buzzing around. The camera tries to follow it, then it dies and plummets into the water, leaving only a ripple. This is reminiscent of “The Drop of Water” from Bava’s earlier film, Black Sabbath. There, the fly represented the nurse’s guilty conscience, something that was bothering her that she couldn’t easily get away from. Here it foreshadows people dropping like flies, but maybe it also suggests a deficit of conscience on the part of many of the characters.


We’ve seen Bava use this framing technique before.

I watched Bay of Blood (one of the many alternate titles for Twitch of the Death Nerve) on Netflix streaming, then acquired the DVD through interlibrary loan. (I asked my wife if she wanted to watch “grisly death with color commentary” and she agreed. She rules.) Lucas’ commentary helps quite a bit. On the first run through, the movie seemed like a string of killings with a few scenes of dialogue tacked on to make a story. Characters sometimes die before they are identified or explained, then flashbacks occur much later to make sense of things. Lucas tells about the characters as they appear, so the viewer isn’t left wondering what the killing was about or whodunit.

Untitled 7The DVD was also a better print. It’s kind of amazing just how much this means to the experience of the film. Bava does his own camerawork in this film. There is a quality to the photography that’s subtly different from what we’ve seen in his post-Ubaldo era. His Bava-colors are still there, but much less insistent as he goes for a look that’s more realistic than otherworldly. There are some nice blasts of color in certain scenes – yellows that recall the gialli and reds like in Blood and Black Lace.

The DVD also comes with radio ads for the movie. I can’t recall ever hearing a radio commercial for a film before.

Flickr set of the week

Posted in mariobava, twitchofthedeathnerve | Leave a comment

Danger: Diabolik or, Bava Does Good Fumetti

In this week’s episode of the bavatuesdays film festival Paul Bond and I talk about Mario Bava’s contribution to the comic book cum film genre with Danger: Diabolik (1968). Paul has already blogged about some of the artistic influences on this film, as well as how Danger:Diabolik continues to reflect the evolution of Bava’s move to a more strict aesthetic realism—an element that will be even more apparent in the next two week’s films. Paul Bond rules!

I think this is one of Bava’s most gorgeous films, and while it’s part and parcel of the late 1960s push for kitsch inspired by the 1966 Batman film, it’s anything but camp. In addition to Danger: Diabolik, Dino DeLaurentis also produced the French comicbook Barbarella as a film the same year for similar reasons, but if you watch the two side-by-side you can quickly see why Bava is consider a master. Add to Bava’s brilliant camera effects, set designs, and costumes the best soundtrack ever by the one and only Ennio Morricone and you have pure gold! This might possibly be Morricone’s wildest soundtrack. There are at least four unforgettable gems in this film: Under Wah-WahDeep, Deep DownMoney Orgy, and Driving Decoys (the last of which now rivals my other favorite Morricone song from Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini available at the bottom of this post).

One of the most pleasant surprises of the DVD was the short documentary about the film titled Danger: Diabolik: From Fumetti to Film, which features brief interviews with Ennio Morricone, the great Dino DeLaurentis, and MCA of the Beastie Boys. But luckily the majority of the documentary’s commentary was framed by comics artist, publisher, and professor  Stephen R. Bissette, who was absolutely awesome to listen to. His discussion of Bava’s comic aesthetic is one of the best I have heard, he perfectly explains how Bava primally understood the comics medium. I have included a four minute excerpt from the documentary below in which he brilliantly explains how Bava translates the Diabolik comic to film.

The only thing better than that was his discussion of the comic Diabolik as a moment in pop culture history, which provides a wonderfully contextualized discussion of the cultural history of comics in post-WW II Europe. Bissette offers a fascinating explanation of why the tradition of super criminals (or anti-heroes) took hold in Europe, as opposed to the US tradition of super heroes. If you have two-minutes to spare, I highly recommend you listen to him contextualize the cultural history of comics in post-WW II popular culture, it’s this kind of intelligent discussion and the ability to relate what might appear to many a cheesy b-movie to a broader shift in thinking as a result of historical events like WW II and the counter-culture movement of the 60s that makes me fall in love with film and film criticism again and again. It just seems like he is having so much fun make these connections, and framing his interpretation–not to mention he’s quite smart.

Another special feature on the DVD I missed was the Beastie Boys music video “Body Movin’.” I hadn;t seen this music video before, and it is a fullblown tribute to Danger: Diabolik. Those Brooklyn kids have good taste in 1960s films, and they also seem to have a blast in this music video playing with the brilliant visual elements of Bava’s film.

Posted in Beastie Boys, Danger Diabolik, Dino DeLaurentis, ennio morricone, mario bava, MCA, Stephen Bissette | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fumetti and mirrors

Danger: Diabolik was Bava’s first and only big budget film. He had been used to making $50,000 films. Here, Dino De Laurentiis gave him $3 million to work with. Bava left $2.6 million on the table. Since his forte had long been using camera trickery and special effects to bring things in under budget, maybe he just didn’t know what to do with that kind of money. While some of his shots are obviously faked, Diabolik doesn’t look cheap. But then his films had always looked more expensive than they were.

Untitled 10Diabolik does show a continuing evolution in Bava’s visual style. The comic book colors we had seen him employ since Hercules are still present, but used more subtly. Many of the daytime shots show a greater sense of realism in lighting and color. The night sequences were dark and kind of muddy in the YouTube version I watched, but I suspect this is due to copy degradation. “Comic book colors” may not be the best term to use, since pulp printing processes of the 60s weren’t capable reproducing those Frank Frazetta/Rich Corben tones – it would be more accurate to say Frazetta and Corben were using Bava colors.

Untitled 1The color yellow is prominent in many scenes, which connected to the covers of Italian gialli, at least in the domestic audience’s mind. Later in the film the color gold appears more frequently, foreshadowing the climax. Another visual motif, the use of horizontal and vertical lines, is used to good effect throughout the film to remind us of the comic book panel grid.Untitled 4

And speaking of gialli, Irenebrination did a great two part essay on Diabolik in fumetti and on film. She writes:

The comic was successful for three main reasons: its practical format, its controversial protagonist and its readership who saw their new anti-hero as an incarnation of their deepest fantasies.

In the commentary on the Diabolik DVD, John Phillip Law says part of the appeal of the character was that he was “sticking it to the man.” The scene where he blows up all the tax offices exemplifies this. It’s not a Robin Hood act, but it’s a kind of rebellion that people can secretly or otherwise cheer. Thinking about the appeal of making a hero-character out of a thief and killer brings to mind the Plato quote from Schecter’s True Crime anthology: “the virtuous man is content to dream what a wicked man really does.”

Untitled 3

Former James Bond villain Adolfo Celi in a comic book style shot, framing the other half of the conversation through a reflection.

Untitled 5

This shot is reminiscent of the spiral staircase from Kill, Baby… Kill!

Untitled 7

We’ve seen Bava use framing techniques like this before, but here it takes on a very comic book appearance.

 Flickr set for the week

Posted in dangerdiabolik, mariobava | Leave a comment