After watching the far superior A Bay of Blood (produced the year after), Mario Bava was seeing what works and what doesn’t with Five Dolls for an August Moon, aka Island of Terror. All the basic elements within A Bay of Blood are present: a convoluted mystery peppered with gore. However, the elements never gel as they did in the latter movie. The story is unnecessarily mind-boggling to the point of boredom, the gore is piddly, and the characters are too similar to stand out. The movie is a great precursor to watch Bava bloom in A Bay of Blood, but if you’ve already seen that movie you can skip this.
A group of friends come together on a remote island seeking rest and relaxation. Along for the ride is a scientist set to make millions if he sells his formula. When members of the group start dying, it’s up to everyone to band together to find the murderer.
Bava meets Agatha Christie in a quasi-remake of Ten Little Indians (I’m using the cleaner title). Normally, this would be an interesting premise, and the movie sets up for it well. You have the typical Bava cast members of hot women with loose morals, smooth men, and an island setting waiting for blood to spurt all over it. The issue is character development. The script is weak with only a few characters having any type of differentiation to set them apart. There’s the scientist, his wife, a young girl, and the bad guy from Kidnapped. The rest all blend into one ball of boredom, and even the characters I mentioned left me grappling to remember their names. Bava has never been a director known for creating well-rounded characters, and in A Bay of Blood it was unnecessary. With Five Dolls, the deaths are spaced out so widely, that there’s several lengthy moments of dialogue between characters where you need something to keep you engaged.
When the murders happen they’re pretty tame by Bava standards. No axes to the face or decapitations here. The bright blood is limited to small areas of the body, and it’s remarkable to see such restraint, although it feels a bit like boredom. The movie turns into a dark comedy when the residents of the island start putting the bodies in a meat locker as if they’re just unsure of what to do with them, especially considering they are on an island surrounded by water.
At only an hour and 21 minutes, Five Dolls for an August Moon is summed up best by one of its characters: “everyone seems to be waiting for something that’s not happening.” The murders are perpetrated quickly, and then there’s lengthy conversations between characters leading you to seek other entertainment. It doesn’t help that I solved the story in a few minutes – look at the character with the least screentime – and felt Bava did things to intentionally complicate the story at the risk of a solid mystery. The score is filled with bizarre organ sounds and guitars which never feel like part of the same movie. It’s better to watch A Bay of Blood and witness the better examination of a similar story. The Kino Blu-ray lacks an Italian cut, so you’re stuck with the American dubbing. In some cases its seamless, but in others it’s incredibly noticeable. There’s an additional commentary with Bava biographer, Tim Lucas, who really gets to the nitty-gritty in examining small details of the plot and characters. You also have the requisite trailers for other movies in the Mario Bava collection.
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