Avengers [1998]

Five of Mario Bava's best films are included in this box set, minus his forays into eroticism, like Blood and Black Lace. Still, the lines between sexual pathos and violence blur in these selections that influenced not only other famed directors of Giallo, such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but also spawned the American golden age in horror, led by directors such as John Carpenter. Three black and white films here exemplify Bava's trademark use of chiaroscuro mixed with suspense-building cinematography first developed in early horror classics like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In the Hitchcock-inspired Evil Eye (1963), tourist Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) witnesses a murder but can't convince police of the crime. Kill Baby Kill! (1966) is the prototype for all little girl-ghost films. Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is recruited to solve the mystery of Villa Graps, where Baroness Graps (Giana Vivaldi) reanimates her dead daughter, Melissa, by killing innocent villagers. In Black Sunday (1960), the witch Princess Asa Vajda comes back from the dead to inhabit her look-alike, Katia, both played by Barbara Steele, the original femme fatale to which all brunette vamps, like Soledad Miranda (Vampyros Lesbos) and Elvira, are indebted. In Technicolor, Bava's fantastically rainbow-lit films underpin the director's fascination with connections between our world and those imagined. Black Sabbath (1963) is a trilogy hosted by Boris Karloff, who also stars as a Russian vampire in its segment, "The Wurdalak." "The Telephone," and "The Drop of Water," in which a nurse, Helen Correy (Jacqueline Pierreux), steals a ring then fears that her dead medium patient seeks revenge, are acute studies of guilt and paranoia. The Viking saga, Knives of the Avenger (1966), like Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World, spawned several sword and sorcery films, while protagonist Rurik's (Cameron Mitchell's) knife-throwing is indeed entertaining. Screened back to back, these films provide evidence of Bava's influence in the horror genre. Moreover, they reveal Bava's deep understanding of horror's many facets, whether sexually, psychologically, or physically based. —Trinie Dalton

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