Mario Bava
Bava in 1975
Born(1914-07-31)31 July 1914
Died27 April 1980(1980-04-27) (aged 65)
Rome, Italy
Other namesJohn M. Old
John Foam[1]
Occupation(s)Film director, cinematographer, special effects artist, screenwriter
ChildrenLamberto Bava
ParentEugenio Bava

Mario Bava (31 July 1914 – 27 April 1980)[2] was an Italian filmmaker who worked variously as a director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter.[3] His low-budget genre films, known for their distinctive visual flair and stylish technical ingenuity, feature recurring themes and imagery concerning the conflict between illusion and reality, as well as the destructive capacity of human nature.[1] Widely regarded as a pioneer of Italian genre cinema and one of the most influential auteurs of the horror film genre,[4][5] he is popularly referred to as the "Master of Italian Horror"[6] and the "Master of the Macabre".[7]

After providing special effects work and other assistance on such productions as I Vampiri (1957), Hercules (1958) and Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959), Bava made his official feature directorial debut with the gothic horror film Black Sunday, released in 1960. He went on to direct such films as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body (all released in 1963), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Kill, Baby, Kill (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), A Bay of Blood (1971), Baron Blood (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1974) and Rabid Dogs (1974).

According to the British Film Institute, "Bava took a vital role in the creation of the modern horror film. If there was to be a Mount Rushmore-style monument dedicated to four directors whose work pioneered a new form of big screen chills and thrills, those giant faces etched in granite on the mountainside would be: Bava, Alfred Hitchcock, Georges Franju and Michael Powell."[5]


Born to sculptor, cinematographer and special effects pioneer Eugenio Bava, the younger Mario Bava followed his father into the film industry, and eventually earned a reputation as one of Italy's foremost cameramen, lighting and providing the special effects for such films as Hercules (1958) and its sequel Hercules Unchained (1959) (both were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000).[8][9]

Mario Bava's son and frequent assistant director Lamberto Bava, later became a noted fantasy and horror film director in his own right.


Mario Bava was born in Sanremo, Liguria on 31 July 1914. He was the son of Eugenio Bava (1886-1966), a sculptor who also worked as a special effects photographer and cameraman in the Italian silent movie industry.[10] Mario Bava's first ambition was to become a painter. Unable to turn out paintings at a profitable rate, he went into his father's business, working as an assistant to other Italian cinematographers like Massimo Terzano. He also helped his father at the special effects department at Benito Mussolini's film factory, the Istituto Luce.

Bava became a cinematographer himself in 1939, shooting two short films with Roberto Rossellini. He made his feature debut in the early 1940s. Bava's camerawork was an instrumental factor in developing the screen personas of such stars of the period as Gina Lollobrigida, Steve Reeves and Aldo Fabrizi.

During the late 1950s, his eventual career trajectory as a director began when he was relied upon to complete projects begun by or credited to his colleague Riccardo Freda and other filmmakers, including I Vampiri (1957) (the first Italian horror film of the sound era), The Day the Sky Exploded (1958) (the first Italian science fiction film), Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959) and The Giant of Marathon (1959).[1]

Bava collaborates in I vampiri (a.k.a. The Devil's Commandment) for director Riccardo Freda in 1956, a movie now referred to as the first Italian horror film.[11] Bava was originally hired as the cinematographer, but when Freda walked out on the project midway through production, Bava completed the film in several days, even creating the innovative special effects that were needed. He also handled the cinematography and special effects on the 1955 Kirk Douglas epic Ulysses and the 1957 Steve Reeves classic Hercules, two films credited with sparking the Italian sword and sandal genre.

Bava co-directed The Day the Sky Exploded in 1958, the first Italian science fiction film, predating even the sci-fi films of Antonio Margheriti. Because he had no earlier credited experience as a director, the film was credited solely to Paolo Heusch.

Bava in 1962

In 1960, Bava directed the gothic horror classic Black Sunday, his first solo directorial effort, which made a genre star out of Barbara Steele. His use of light and dark in black-and-white films is widely acclaimed along with his spectacular use of color in films such as Black Sabbath, Kill, Baby... Kill!, Blood and Black Lace and The Whip and the Body.

Later works

His work has proven to be very influential. Bava directed two films that are now regarded as the earliest entries in the Italian giallo genre: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). His 1965 science fiction horror film Planet of the Vampires was a thematic precursor to Alien (1979). Although comic books had served as the basis for countless serials and children's films in Hollywood, Bava's Danger: Diabolik (1968) brought an adult perspective to the genre; the movie was influenced by Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.[12][13] Many elements of the 1966 film Kill, Baby... Kill!, regarded by Martin Scorsese as Bava's masterpiece, also appear in the Asian strain of terror film known as J-horror. 1971's A Bay of Blood is considered one of the early slasher films, and was explicitly imitated in Friday the 13th Part 2.[14]

Bava was disappointed with the theatrical distribution of some of his later films. His Lisa and the Devil (1972) never was selected by a distributor. Eventually, in order to get it released, the producer reedited the movie into an Exorcist clone, adding footage shot in 1975, and retitling it House of Exorcism. Bava's Semaforo Rosso (1974) never was released theatrically during his lifetime, and in the late 1990s, it also would be reedited, with new footage added, and retitled; it was released on video as Rabid Dogs. It was released on DVD in 2007, slightly altered and again retitled, as Kidnapped.

In 1977, Bava directed his last horror film, Shock. His son, Lamberto Bava, was an uncredited co-director. The elder Bava later did special effects matte work on Dario Argento's 1980 film Inferno. Bava died suddenly of a heart attack on 27 April 1980, at age 65. His doctor had given him a physical just a few days before, and had pronounced him to be in perfect health. At the time of his death, Bava was about to start shooting a science fiction film titled Star Riders, on which Luigi Cozzi had hoped to collaborate.[15]


Feature films

Title Year Credited as Notes Ref(s)
Director Screenwriter Screen story writer Cinematographer Other
Scipione l'africano 1937 Yes Uncredited title designer. [16]
Il dottor Antonio 1938 Yes Uncredited camera assistant. [16]
Princess Tarakanova 1938 Yes Uncredited camera assistant. [16]
Giuseppe Verdi 1938 Yes Uncredited camera assistant. [16]
Inventiamo l'amore 1938 Yes Uncredited camera assistant. [16]
Il socio invisible 1939 Yes Uncredited additional photography [16]
La Comédie du bonheur 1940 Yes Uncredited camera assistant [16]
La compagna della teppa 1941 Yes Uncredited camera assistant [16]
Uomini sul fondo 1941 Yes Additional photography and special effects [16]
Capitan Tempesta 1942 Yes Camera assistant [16]
La nave bianca 1942 Yes Camera assistant and special effects [16]
Alfa tau! 1942 Yes Additional photography and special effects [16]
Uomini e cieli 1943 Yes Additional photography and special effects [16]
Le avventure di Annabella 1943 Yes [16]
Sant'Elena, piccola isola 1943 Yes [16]
Montecassino nel cerchio di fuoco 1946 Yes Uncredited additional photography [16]
Il barbiere di Siviglia 1946 Yes Uncredited camera assistant [16]
Elisir d'amore 1947 Yes [17]
Natale ai campo 119 1947 Yes [17]
Follie per l'opera 1948 Yes [17]
I pagliacci (amore tragico) 1948 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Antonio de Padova 1949 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Miss Italia 1950 Yes [17]
Il leone di Amalfi 1950 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
E arrivato il cavalieri! 1950 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Canzone di primavera 1950 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Quel bandito sono io! 1950 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Vita da cani 1950 Yes [17]
Guardie e ladri 1951 Yes [17]
Amor non ho, pero... pero... 1951 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
La famiglia Passaguai 1951 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
La famiglia Passaguai fa fortuna 1952 Yes Additional photography, uncredited Special effects work [17]
Papà diventa mamma 1952 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Gli eroi della domenica 1952 Yes [17]
Sins of Rome 1953 Yes Uncredited as cinematographer [18][19]
Perdonami! 1953 Yes [17]
Il viale della speranza 1953 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Balocchi e profumi 1953 Yes [17]
Villa Borghese 1953 Yes [17]
Terza liceo 1954 Yes [17]
Cose da pazzi 1954 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Graziella 1954 Yes [17]
Hanno rubato un tram 1954 Yes Yes Special effects [17]
Theodora, Slave Empress 1954 Yes Additional photography and uncredited special effects artist [17][19]
Buonanotte... avvocato! 1955 Yes [17]
Non ch'e amore piu grande 1955 Yes [17]
Le avventure di Giacomo Casanova 1955 Yes [17]
La donna piu bella del mondo 1955 Yes Yes Special effects artist [17]
Da qui all'ereditta 1955 Yes Uncredited additional photography and special effects [17]
Beatrice Cenci 1956 Yes Special effects creator [20][21]
Mio figlio Nerone 1956 Yes [17]
Roland the Mighty 1956 Yes Yes Special effects [17][22]
I Vampiri 1957 Yes Yes Completed the film after Freda left production. Also did uncredited special effects. [23][24][21]
Hercules 1958 Yes Yes Special effects artist [17][25]
Città di notte 1958 Yes [17][25]
The Day the Sky Exploded 1958 Yes Yes Special effects creator. While credited to Paolo Heusch, actors on set state Bava directed the film. [17][26]
Toto in Paris 1958 Yes Yes [17]
Hercules Unchained 1959 Yes Yes Special effects artist [17][25]
Sheba and the Gladiator 1959 Yes Uncredited as cinematographer [27]
The White Warrior 1959 Yes [28]
Caltiki – The Immortal Monster 1959 Yes Yes Special effects. Took over direction from Freda. [17][29]
The Giant of Marathon 1959 Yes Yes Bava shot some interiors 10 days prior to the films premiere. [30][31]
Black Sunday 1960 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Bava developed the matte paintings and special effects uncredited. [32]
Hercules in the Haunted World 1961 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [17]
Erik the Conqueror 1961 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [17]
The Witch's Curse 1962 Yes Uncredited special effects creator [33]
The Girl Who Knew Too Much 1963 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Black Sabbath 1963 Yes Yes Yes Bava is uncredited as cinematographer on some scenes. [35][36][37]
The Whip and the Body 1963 Yes [38]
Blood and Black Lace 1964 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
The Road to Fort Alamo 1964 Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Planet of the Vampires 1965 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Knives of the Avenger 1966 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects [34]
Kill, Baby, Kill 1966 Yes Yes [39]
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs 1966 Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Danger: Diabolik 1968 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Five Dolls for an August Moon 1970 Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator and film editor [34]
Hatchet for the Honeymoon 1970 Yes Yes Yes [40]
Roy Colt & Winchester Jack 1970 Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Four Times That Night 1971 Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
A Bay of Blood 1971 Yes Yes Yes Yes Special effects creator [34]
Baron Blood 1972 Yes Yes [41]
Lisa and the Devil 1974 Yes Yes Yes [42]
Shock 1977 Yes Yes Bava is uncredited as cinematographer [43]
Inferno 1980 Yes Bava created some optical effects, painted maquettes, and other trick shots. [44][45][46][47]
Rabid Dogs 1998 Yes Yes Yes Uncredited cinematographer and on screen as the man in the parking lot. [48]

Influence and legacy

Although most of Bava's films as director failed to achieve major commercial success upon release, many eventually found acclaim as cult classics, with their content and production values being favourably compared to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Despite his reputation as a talented artist during his lifetime, Bava's shy, self-deprecating demeanour prevented him from taking advantage of opportunities that would have furthered his international standing within the film industry, and he turned down multiple opportunities to work in Hollywood.[1]

Mario Bava's son Lamberto Bava worked for 14 years as Bava's assistant director (beginning with Planet of the Vampires), and became a horror film director. On several of Mario's movies, Mario was credited as John M. Old.[49] Later, Lamberto was sometimes credited as John M. Old, Jr.[50] When Lamberto directed his first solo film Macabre in 1980 and screened the completed work for his father, Mario commented jokingly to Lamberto: "I am very proud of you. Now I can die in peace". (He actually did die less than two months later.)

Several books have been published about Mario Bava: Mario Bava by Pascal Martinet (Edilig, 1984) and Mario Bava edited by Jean-Louis Leutrat (Éditions du Céfal, 1994) in French; Mario Bava by Alberto Pezzotta (Il Castoro Cinema, 1995) in Italian; The Haunted Worlds of Mario Bava by Troy Howarth (FAB Press, 2002) and most recently, the massive critical biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark by Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog, 2007; ISBN 0-9633756-1-X).

A documentary about him titled Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre was released in 2000.[51]

Mario Bava's directing style heavily influenced many directors, including Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, John Landis, and Tim Burton.[52][53][54] Bava and his works have also influenced Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Federico Fellini, John Carpenter, Nicolas Winding Refn, Roger Corman, Edgar Wright and Jennifer Kent.[55]

The satirical TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 concluded their show in 1999 with Danger: Diabolik.[56][57][58][59]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Mario Bava Biography". Tripod.
  2. ^ Howarth, Troy (2002). The Haunted World of Mario Bava. BearManor Media.
  3. ^ "Mario Bava". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2007. Archived from the original on 3 November 2007.
  4. ^ "Why your favourite directors love Mario Bava". Little White Lies. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Where to begin with Mario Bava". British Film Institute. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  6. ^ Pezzotta, Alberto (1995). Mario Bava. Milan: Il Castoro Cinema.
  7. ^ Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre (2000)–MUBI
  8. ^ "Mystery Science Theater 3000" Hercules Unchained (TV episode 1992)-IMDb
  9. ^ "Mystery Science Theater 3000" Hercules (TV episode 1993)-IMDb
  10. ^ Kehr, Dave (10 April 2007). "New DVDs". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  11. ^ Curti 2015, p. 11.
  12. ^ Celebrating the Non-Horror Work of Mario Bava—Nerdist
  13. ^ All 24 Mario Bava Movies Ranked from Worst to Best - Page 3 - Taste of Cinema
  14. ^ "Blu-ray Review: 'Friday the 13th Part 2' -". Bloody Disgusting!. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 22 October 2021.
  15. ^ "Planet of the Vampires". Monthly Film Bulletin. 53 (624). London: 59–60. 1986. ISSN 0027-0407.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Lucas 2013, p. 1063.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao Lucas 2013, p. 1064.
  18. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 310.
  19. ^ a b Curti 2017b, p. 311.
  20. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 312.
  21. ^ a b Curti 2017b, p. 313.
  22. ^ Lucas 2013, p. 161.
  23. ^ Curti 2015, p. 21.
  24. ^ Curti 2015, p. 23.
  25. ^ a b c Lucas 2013, p. 202.
  26. ^ Lucas 2013, p. 216.
  27. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 296.
  28. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 314.
  29. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 315.
  30. ^ Kinnard & Crnkovich 2017, p. 60.
  31. ^ Hughes 2011, p. 49.
  32. ^ Curti 2015, p. 37.
  33. ^ Curti 2017b, p. 318.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lucas 2013, p. 1065.
  35. ^ Curti 2015, p. 78.
  36. ^ Curti 2015, p. 79.
  37. ^ "Credits". Black Sabbath (booklet). Arrow Films. 2013. p. 2. FCD778.
  38. ^ Curti 2015, p. 102.
  39. ^ Curti 2015, p. 159.
  40. ^ Curti 2017, p. 19.
  41. ^ Curti 2017, p. 53.
  42. ^ Curti 2017, p. 84.
  43. ^ Curti 2017, p. 177.
  44. ^ Curti 2019, p. 18.
  45. ^ Curti 2019, p. 19.
  46. ^ Curti 2019, p. 26.
  47. ^ Curti 2019, p. 27.
  48. ^ Curti 2013, p. 115.
  49. ^ Johnson, Gary. "The Golden-Age of Italian Horror: c. 1957-1979". Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  50. ^ "BAVA, Lamberto". Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  51. ^ "Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre". TV Guide. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  52. ^ Shock Video: Tim Burton Talks His Love of Mario Bava -
  53. ^ "The Stylish Horror of Mario Bava on Fandor". Archived from the original on 29 January 2022. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  54. ^ 10 Essential Mario Bava Films Every Horror Fan Should See — Taste of Cinema
  55. ^ "Why your favorite directors love Mario Bava". Little White Lies.
  56. ^ Why MST3K's Original Finale Is One of the Best Episodes Ever—Nerdist
  57. ^ Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Time
  58. ^ Viva Bava, Celebrating a Master Craftsman|Balder and Dash|Roger Ebert
  59. ^ Best Sci-Fi Movies Mystery Science Theater 3000 Watched|Gizmodo