A group of friends have been brought together by industrialist George Stark (Teodoro Corrà) at his house on his exclusive island home for a holiday mixed with business. One of the friends is Professor Gerry Farrell (William Berger) who has created a new synthetic resin the formula of which could make its owner very rich indeed. Gerry tries to forget about his professional life for a while, although remains noncommittal about joining in the frolics at the house which include grooving the night away and playing a prank that makes it look as if Marie (Edwige Fenech) has been murdered - but what if someone is not joking?
5 Dolls for an August Moon, or 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto as it was known in its native Italy, is not one of the better thought of works from director Mario Bava, in spite of his high reputation amongst cineastes. It was effectively a job for hire dry run for his Bay of Blood, which some would have that it invented the slasher movie genre even if it did not popularise it to the extent that John Carpenter's Halloween did. This, however, owed far more to Agatha Christie than horror movies, being a thriller where the suspects are killed off one by one in the And Then There Were None mould, although you have to be paying special attention to work out why this is happening.
In fact, many find this a film too confusing to be truly enjoyable, but if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense unless you are taking notes, there were compensations. It may be a short film, not even eighty minutes, but it does pack in quite a bit of incident even though much of that incident involves the same thing happening over and over again, that being that a body is found, put in a body bag (where did George get access to all that plastic covering in the first place?) then placed in the freezer, leaving the survivors to contemplate who the killer might be and who may be next. Suffice to say most of the cast have to endure their own death scenes, and when you get the solution it is possible to be unsure of who did what to whom.
Still, the locations are attractive as the actors pose artfully around them, until the lifeless body of one of the friends Charles (Mauro Bosco), turns up on the beach. Immediately they are all suspicious of one another, but in typical style they are stuck where they are with the killer because George has sent the yacht back to the mainland, he says due to the stormy weather impending and the fact that he has no harbour to protect the vessel from the elements. Mind you, the weather we see is perfectly clement, so either George is telling porkies, or Bava and his crew could not rely on there being a storm blowing up for the sake of their production. Probably the latter, to be honest.
It takes a while for the next murder to occur, but as with Bay of Blood these deaths are all centered around the love of money, specifically the money that Gerry's formula could bring. There are at least two million pound cheques being handed around pass the parcel style between the characters, and being rich already, these people can only think about acquiring more money than they already have. It's a dim view of the wealthy to take, that they will literally kill to secure their fortune, but not one exclusive to this film, and adds an edge of decadent cruelty to a plot which is largely going through the motions. It does look stylish, but the characters are pretty much interchangeable, and the ones alive nearer the end have a curious lapse of memory which means they completely forget about another person on the island who naturally it turns out is vital to what is going on. Not terrible, then, but fairly average, although the music by Piero Umiliani is fine.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.