Sunday, October 23, 2016
13 FOR HALLOWEEN #8: Five Dolls for an August Moon
Boasting one of the most spurious titles in the entire history of the giallo, Mario Bava’s essay in lifestyle chic and amorality proves that sometimes style over substance wins the day – particularly when you’ve got access to a beach house that would make Frank Lloyd Wright weep in envy, the retro-coolest set design ever, and a cast – including Edwige Fenech, Ira von Furstenberg, Helena Ronee, Edith Meloni and Ely Galleani – for whom the term “eye candy” could well have been coined.
Essentially, the narrative is little more than this: a bunch of dudes with hot wives/mistresses/girlfriends invite a dude who has something they want (as well as a hot wife of his own) to an island where they make him various offers to acquire the thing he has that they want. The dude who has the thing the other dudes want won’t sell, and as tempers run higher, a murderer strikes. And strikes again. And again. And … well, you get the picture.
Filling in the above paragraph, Professor Farrell (William Berger) and his wife Trudy (von Furstenberg) accept an invitation to stay at the island home of industrialist George Sagan (Teodoro Corra) and his wife Jill (Meloni); the other guests include Nick and Marie (a.k.a. Pook) Cheney (Maurice Poli and Edwige Fenech), and Jack and Peggy Davidson (Howard Ross and Helena Renee). Ostensibly, Sagan, Cheney and Davidson have formed a consortium to buy a formula for an industrial resin that Farrell has developed, but each is keen to cut a deal with Farrell directly and shaft the others. Offers are made to Farrell. Serious offers. At one point, there’s five million on the table.
Mind you, that’s in lire, and the best currency conversion I could come up with in the five minutes I bothered to spend on the internet – bearing in mind lire was replaced by the Euro over 15 years ago – is about $3500, or £2685. It was probably worth a bit more in 1970, when the film was made.
But I digress. Farrell refuses because he wants his formula to be used for the good of mankind … and just pull the McGuffin omnibus over to the side of the Fuck-The-Audience-They’re-Not-Bothered highway. An industrial resin? Like fucking glue? Like a particularly strong fucking glue? Seriously: this Farrell geezer has just reinvented motherfucking Araldite and everyone’s offering him blank cheques and a quick feel of Edwige Fenech for it?
Anyway, that’s the basic set up. Dude who has summat. Other dudes who want it. Hot wives. Fucking glue. And because this irresistible narrative hook ain’t never going to fill even the skimpy 77 minute running time, Bava throws a bunch of other stuff into the mix. Stuff like: Pook having it off on the quiet with the Sagans’ houseboy. Stuff like: Sapphic tensions simmering away between Trudy and Jill. Stuff like: island girl Isabel (Galleani, appearing under her pseudonym Justine Gall) flitting about all over the place and guiltily spying on everyone.
All well and good, except we’ve barely had a glimpse of Fenech sans chemise when the houseboy turns up dead, and the Trudy/Jill subplot is never developed in an aesthetically satisfactory manner. If you know what I mean.
But let’s get back to the houseboy for a moment. Not only is the poor bastard denied his liaison with the pert and prepossessing Pook, but the party who discover him are faced with the quandary of leaving him on the beach until the police arrive (immediate problem: sand crabs looking for a midnight snack) or wrapping his body in plastic and hanging it in the meat store. The increasing proliferation of bodies in the deep freeze, each new cadaver swinging merrily on its hook to the accompaniment of lounge jazz, is the best joke in a film that Bava seems to have conceived as an absurdist comedy from the outset.
It certainly doesn’t function as a thriller – we’re past the hour mark before he throws in the one single scene that even bothers to function as an Agatha Christie-lite “hey let’s all try to figure out how the seemingly impossible happened” mystery – and it only just makes the cut as a horror movie thanks to a couple of genuinely effective and grotesque images. Mainly, he just lets a group of rich, nasty, sexy people roam around a picturesque island, frequently cutting away from them to admire the architecture of the beach house.
Most gialli dabble in architecture porn; ‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ is architecture eroticism. I’m not kidding. For the entire duration of the film – I watched the American release, which runs ten minutes shorter than the Italian cut and still feels like it drags – I wanted that beach house. And I wanted its 1970 interior design. And if Edwige Fenech and Ely Galleani fancied popping over for the housewarming, I wouldn’t have said no.