• Blood and Black Lace

Later this week, Doc Films is showing Kidnapped, aka Rabid Dogs, one of the final films by horror master Mario Bava. The film represents the director’s only foray into the crime genre, and it screens as part of Doc’s “Poliziotteschi: Shoot First, Die Later” series. It’s an interesting film, relatively staid compared to Bava’s other stuff, but it has a visceral edge that plays with audience expectations. The director is best known for his horror thrillers and gialli, disturbing yet exciting movies whose stylistic flourishes and devilish attitude influenced a generation of genre filmmakers. (For the uninitiated, take a look at J.R. Jones’s excellent survey of the director.) Like most Bava devotees, I’m most drawn to the director’s visual sensibilities. In the decade leading up to his directorial debut, Bava was a cinematographer, which explains why his films, however gory and unsettling, are first and foremost preoccupied with the emotional flow of light, shadow, color, and movement. He had the eye of a great painter and the imagination of a psychopath. Below, you can see my five favorite Mario Bava films.

5. Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) Maybe the director’s most Hitchcockian effort, a deeply psychological story that deals in the impulses and obsessions of a deranged mind. These themes weave their way into the film’s visual style as well. Bava never had more fun with a zoom lens than he did here, and the framing ranks among his most aggressive and adventurous.

4. Twitch of the Death Nerve, aka Bay of Blood (1971) Of all the director’s films, this is one whose reputation seems to have grown the most. Like Lisa and the Devil, it’s another near comedy, a macabre twist on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that reveals the depths of human greed and indecency. The ending is bitter, one of the director’s sickest story twists, but none of this is hard to swallow—it’s too stylish, too effusive, too ballsy to deny.

3. Lisa and the Devil (1974) I don’t think any Bava film can be adequately described as a comedy, but this one comes closest, and the excessive, delirious stylization has a lot to do with it. It’s maybe his most visually dense film after Black Sunday. Color, always an important element of Bava’s style, is particularly extravagant here, and the camera moves with a knowing grace. The mix of existential dread and gallows humor is profound. The Telly Savalas performance is also something of revelation.

2. Blood and Black Lace (1964) Among the greatest of all gialli, this crazed whodunit, besides anticipating the Grand Guignol of Argento’s Deep Red and Suspiria, owes a lot to the backstage dramas of classic Hollywood. In one of the director’s most inspired sequences, Bava’s camera laterally tracks the dressing rooms of a baroque maison couture, showing us a series of scantily clad models—and future victims—in various states of emotional distress, foreshadowing the chaos that’s about to erupt. The 60s fashion and pop references give this brutally violent film a sort of deranged kitsch appeal.

1. Kill, Baby . . . Kill! (1966) Supposedly Martin Scorsese’s favorite Bava film, this gothic masterpiece borrows a lot from previous films (as J.R. Jones notes in his capsule, there are nods to both Murnau’s Nosferatu and Dreyer’s Vampyr), but it’s also one of the most referenced horror movies of its era (Francis Ford Coppola borrowed many of the POV shots for his Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The best sequences, though, are pure Bava, including a riff on the Scooby-Doo hallway gag that has deeply existential implications.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.