Film critic Michael Covino still recalls seeing one of Mario Bava's gory giallo flicks at the now-defunct Lux Theatre in downtown Oakland one night in the '70s. "It was so violent in the first fifteen minutes that all these hardcore Oakland thugs, guys in pimp suits with floppy hats with feathers, were getting up and going, 'Oh man, I can't take this,' and fleeing the theater." When Covino heard that nine of the late Italian director's notorious horror films were getting a retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive, he exclaimed: "Mario Bava at the PFA? What has it come to?"
Steve Seid of the PFA had a similar '70s out-of-Bava experience at the World Theatre, a 99¢ house in LA, with Last House on the Left, Part II: "It horrified me. But of course now it's relatively tame. The most horrifying thing is how these films have been butchered over the years." In his search for "outlaw, rogue, marginal" movies from "orphan" genres, Seid found nine prime Bava titles -- many from the tamer, gothic end of the filmography -- for "Mario Bava: Prints of Darkness," which opens Saturday night with a double feature of Kill, Baby ... Kill! and Black Sunday. The former is the tale of a haunted 19th-century village; the latter, Bava's 1960 signature film, stars the mesmerizing Barbara Steele as a witch entombed inside an iron maiden. The retrospective, appropriately, runs through Halloween.
Giallo (yellow) refers to the color of Italian pulp novel jackets of the '50s. Bava, following the lead of the popular mondo exploitationers, took cheap thrills further, with movies about psychedelic seduction (Four Times That Night), an alphabet murderer (The Girl Who Knew Too Much), eternal damnation (Baron Blood), and the old reliable, ultra-sex-and-violence (Twitch of the Death Nerve). Although Bava was later surpassed on the gross-o-meter by such directors as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Umberto Lenzi, this series is a good introduction to one of world cinema's overlooked genres. If you've got the stomach for it.
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