August typically finds the air of the cineplex ripe with horror fare—the supernatural thriller Apparition is being released this Friday and The Possession is due out next weekend—so I thought it a fitting time to pay homage to horror master Mario Bava. A true original in a genre rife with uninspired copycatting of well-worn formulas, Bava expanded the horror palette into vivid new dimensions of color, movement and sensuality. If cinema is a kind of architecture, Bava was a master designer of interiors, not just in building indoor set pieces with paltry B-movie resources, but in channeling our deepest fears and desires of the uncanny, in all its luscious depravity. His sinuous camera movements through sinister shadows alternating with lurid, beckoning neon are as seductive as they are threatening, bringing us ever closer to the consuming sensations of both sex and death.
As I edited clips from Blood and Black Lace and The Whip and the Flesh, two Bava films available on Fandor, the danger and sexiness of Bava’s cinema kept bringing to mind the music of The Weeknd, one of my favorite acts of the moment. So I decided to cut the video to the horrorific “High for This,” a track from The Weeknd’s 2011 release House of Balloons. Welcome to the House of Bava.
While there’s pure pleasure to be hand in the mix of Weeknd+Bava, I hope the video also yield’s some critical insights to the texture and craft of Bava’s filmmaking. Mostly I mixed up speeds for the clips, ranging from 1/20th to 10x normal speed. The fast clips are typically to compress Bava’s elaborate long takes, heightening the sensation of Bava’s camera tracking and moving across cavernous spaces. I use slow motion to stretch out moments of terror to get past their initial shock value and dote on their aesthetic properties, the elements of light, color and motion that feed their impact.
Through this we can see the full arsenal of techniques at his command: varying use of both deep staging and extreme closeups; off-screen sounds and negative space; a persistently pulsing sense of rhythm in both the visual and sound design, something like a cinematic corollary to human breathing; and, above all, an incredibly rich color palette that encompasses “all the colors of the dark” (the title of Tim Lucas’s supreme tome on Bava). Bava may possess one of the most borrowed toolkits in cinema history (you can see his tricks in everything from Ridley Scott’s Alien to Japanese exploitation), but his artistry still has plenty of room to be explored in its own right.
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.