"George Stark, a wealthy industrialist and playboy, gathers a group of bourgeois friends at his isolated beach house for the weekend. His guest of honour is Gerry Farrell, a brilliant chemist who has discovered a remarkable new formula for a synthetic resin. Moody over the fate of a colleague who died while helping him to develop the formula, Farrell doesn't care to discuss business, but the other businessmen in attendance are determined to talk money - in the millions. Each of them angers the others with secret bids and overbids, spawning an atmosphere of distrust. There is also enough sexual intrigue in the air, between the men and their various wives and mistresses, to complicate suspicions when the guests begin to turn up dead, one by one! Mario Bava strikes again - and gain, and again - in this stylish and wicked whodunnit."
Mario Bava was the master of the macabre, and had a devil of a sense of humour to boot – both sides are more than evident in his 1970 giallo, 5 DOLLS FOR AUGUST MOON.
So, what do you get if you mix a libidinous group of hipsters, a groovy pad on an isolated island retreat, millions of dollars, Edwige Fenech in gold lame hot pants and a whole myriad of murderous urges? Well, you’ll get something like this delirious mind-trip of a movie.
Starting as it means to go on, Bava shows a teenage free-spirit skip along a deserted beach to some loungetastic tunes, before stopping to spy on a way-out party where a young woman, Marie (Fenech) frugs energetically, sporting some of the biggest hair ever captured on film. Whilst the rest of the partygoers stare on - with a curious mixture of boredom and lust - Marie is chased around the room by the host, George (Teodoro Corra’), in the best Benny Hill fashion. Catching hold of her, he tells her, “I’ve never disappointed a young virgin before!”, before tying her up. A butler appears with a silver platter and all the guests take a knife, or other weapon from it. Still smiling, Marie purrs, “Are you going to kill me?”, before asking George, “What’s that razor for?”. Suddenly the lights go out; there’s scream – and when they go back on, Marie is lying there covered in blood with a knife between her breasts. However, like much of what’s to follow, things are not what they seem; Marie is playing a joke – and for that extra kitsch effect one of the party-goers blasts the fake blood off her cleavage with a well aimed shot from a soda siphon!
The guests are made up of a group of wealthy men and their wives, gathered together to try and persuade a scientist, Jerry (William Berger), to sell his secret formula for a new industrial wonder. Each of the men has a cheque for a million dollars, which they regularly wave under his nose – but he insists on helping the world, and not selling out. All a recipe, I’m sure you’ll agree, for violent intrigue.
The first to bite the big one is the hunky houseboy, Charles (Mauro Bosco), who Marie has been bonking on the side – all with the complicit indifference of her husband. She finds him on a yacht with a knife in his belly. Naturally, suspicion falls on her, but she protests her innocence: “I like men – but I like them to be alive!”. The group decide to wrap him in see-through plastic and hang him in the villa’s cold room along with sides of beef until the boat comes to pick them up; prompting one of the guests to cheerfully – and somewhat tastelessly – remark, “We’re the first ones to have a deep frozen house boy!” . Let’s just say, he won’t be the last – and pretty soon the cold room is chock full of see-through plastic and bodies swinging in groovy 70s threads …
Reportedly, 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON was Bava’s least favourite of his films. He was a hired hand, who wasn’t given the chance to adjust the muddled script (a variation of Agatha Christie’s oft filmed TEN LITTLE INDIANS) – and he was less than pleased with the outcome, something matched by the critical mauling the film received on its initial release. However, of course, a failed Bava project is worth ten offering from his less talented contemporaries – and 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON has more than enough of Bava’s trademark style and magic to make it a more than worthwhile, if not ultimately a satisfying, viewing experience. In some strange way, the film’s lack of a coherent script (not to mention copious plot-holes!) only adds to its delirious feel. The enjoyably gaudy mix is almost dreamlike.
It’s remarkable that Bava managed to make the film so visually rich – and so immediately recognisable as one of his own – given how rushed the project was. Fans of 70s kitsch (and I count myself amongst them, obviously) will thrill to wonderfully gaudy outfits, and luxurious trappings (a revolving circular bed seemed to be among Bava’s favourites, also appearing in his highly entertaining comic book adaptation, DANGER DIABOLIK (1968)), as well as the ubiquitous bottle of J&B whiskey (no home should be without one!). Plus, in a standout moment, glass globes tumble from a table and roll down some stairs into a bathroom to reveal yet another dead body (something partially borrowed by Bava acolyte Dario Argento in SUSPIRIA (1976)).
Fenech, in her giallo debut, sadly has little to do here, apart from play on her usual sex kitten image; more a peripheral character than she became as the lead in a whole string of Euro-thrillers throughout the early 1970s.
Interestingly, whilst some blood is spilled almost all of the murders happen off-screen, which is something Bava turned completely on its head with his next stab at the giallo with the next year’s, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1971), where absolutely nothing was left to the imagination with a catalogue of gory excess.
Ultimately, 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON is an exercise is style over content – but what style!
female:4 / male:4
1) Male found with knife in stomach
2) Female shot in the forehead
3) Female found with spike through breast
4) Female found in bath with slit wrists
5) Male found dead (method unseen)
6) Male shot dead
7) Female shot dead
8) Male shot dead