This week sees the release of author Troy Howarth's extensively updated and revised Mario Bava biography "The Haunted World Of Mario Bava" through publisher Midnight Marquee. RSP!'s Horace Cordier had five questions for the author which he was kind enough to answer. Enjoy - and check out the link to the Midnight Marquee website at the bottom of the interview for more information!
R!S!P!: The first edition of your book spent quite a bit of space on plot synopsis. Since that time Bava's films have become both more widely available (in often deluxe editions) and discussed. Can you briefly tell us how this impacted the new version? Many readers who have the first edition may want an idea of just how significantly this new version differs.
Troy: Truthfully, I never wanted in-depth plot synopses in the first volume. I pretty much loathe plot synopses. I always figure, if you’ve seen the film, why do you want a recap of what you already know? And if you haven’t, well, surely you don’t want every facet discussed in detail? Unfortunately, at that time, they were regarded as something of a “necessary evil,” since so many of the films were hard to get at that time. At least, that’s what FAB thought. Now, if you go to the back of the old edition and look at the filmography, you will see little one or two sentence plot synopses at the end of each entry… THAT is what I wanted to do in the main body of the book. But I was in no position to argue that point and did as I was asked, so ultimately the first volume had a lot more plot recapping than I would have liked. Was it EXCESSIVE? I think I’ve seen worse—but it was more than I had in mind. That said, I’m not knocking FAB for this. They felt it was necessary, so I complied. It’s as simple as that. Now that most of these films are within arm’s reach, it may seem silly or redundant—but at the time things were different.
As to how the new version differs in this area and others, the answer is: substantially. First off, given that pretty much all of Bava’s films are now readily available on video—especially if you are region free—there was no longer a push to include heavy plot synopsis information. That was a major relief in itself. Secondly, the original manuscript is on a floppy disc… try getting one of those to work nowadays! So I had to retype the whole thing, from beginning to end. In so doing, I reshaped a lot of what I had written, omitted things that now strike me as pretentious, expanded on things that I didn’t cover in enough detail before, and—above all else—corrected the many errors that escaped me the first time around. I sincerely believe this new version to be far better, tighter, more focused and better written than the first one. On top of that, I was able to get some wonderful new additions: Lamberto Bava wrote a nice foreword, Roberto Curti and Alessio Di Rocco contributed a new piece on Bava’s final projects in the sci-fi genre which never got off the ground, and, most importantly, I was able to get my friend Russ Lanier to interview Barbara Steele about her experiences working on this film. I also had the pleasure of talking with Ms. Steele on the phone and that was quite an experience—she’s quite a character and has some great stories to tell. I also added in a new section on Bava’s films on DVD and Blu-ray, though I struggled with that at first since it will already be dated by the time the book comes out! Still, I hope the end result of all these changes will please people—the first edition went over very well on the whole, though there were a few harsh reviews here and there, which is to be expected. I think this one is much stronger.
R!S!P!: Bava worked quite successfully in other genres besides horror. What do you consider his strongest genre after gothic horror?
Troy: He only was able to make one “realistic” crime thriller, or poliziottesco, but it’s a doozy: Rabid Dogs. Sadly, the film was later changed by Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava, albeit with the best of intentions. Their new edit, titled Kidnapped, really emasculates the film, in my opinion. With this one last desperate attempt at trying something completely new, Bava proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could have held his own against Umberto Lenzi, Fernando Di Leo, Damiano Damiani, Enzo G. Castellari and all the other acknowledged masters of that subgenre. It’s a remarkable film: tense, claustrophobic, nihilistic, gripping from the first frame to the last.
R!S!P!: Did Bava have any unfulfilled ambitions as a filmmaker in your opinion? Was he happy making the kinds of films he did or did he feel some frustration?
Troy: I believe he was drawn to the horror and fantasy genre for a variety of reasons. He was a rather shy man, a workaholic who wasn’t necessarily all that comfortable in his own skin. I think he saw the world as a pretty nasty and unforgiving place, so what better escape than to create his own very stylized and artificial alternate reality? He had a chance to make any film he wanted to make when he first started off as an “official” director and he chose to make a film of The Viy. Granted, it’s not like he was offered a multi-million dollar budget and access to huge stars, but he could have picked a pepla or an adventure film or a comedy or a romance… and he picked horror. Later on, Alfredo Leone gave him a chance to make a film of his choice following the success of Baron Blood. He elected to make The Devil and the Dead, which emerged as Lisa and the Devil. The thing you have to understand is, Bava’s films were not popular in Italy. The British, the French, to an extent the Americans appreciated his work and wrote about it seriously, at least in niche circles, but in Italy his films sank without a trace. Dario Argento was the first director to make horror films in Italy who really attracted a huge native audience; he was also more aggressive about selling himself and making himself into a celebrity. Bava wasn’t interested in that. When he was interviewed, he deflated interviewers by deriding his own work. He cared about it, but he wasn’t interested in becoming a celebrity. He valued his anonymity. In the mid-60s, he made a film called Le spie vengono dal semifreddo… it was radically overhauled without his input and released in the US as Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. It’s a bad film. But it was a huge hit at the Italian box office, because the stars, Franco and Ciccio, were so popular over there. This made him interested in pursuing more comedy films, but he would only go on to direct a sexy comedy called Four Times That Night, which ran into censorship problems, and a comic western titled Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, which is no feather in his cap. That said, MOST of his films have a very ironic, darkly comic quality. I think he was basically content doing what he was doing, but I think he was also very frustrated in the 1970s—his films flopped, two pet projects ran into problems and were basically unreleased during his life time, and he saw himself being eclipsed by Dario Argento. I think it upset him, but he tried to keep busy—that was the key for him: keeping busy.
R!S!P!: Bava was notoriously private. Did you get a better sense of the man as a person and not just a filmmaker during the course of your research for the book? I believe you were in touch with his son Lamberto (also a director of some note) as well as many other collaborators of his. Did that provide additional personal insight?
Troy: Bava’s own secrecy is telling in itself. He was very shy, self-effacing. He wasn’t the typical screaming lunatic on an Italian film set. Barbara Steele told me that he was very cool, very mercurial, very in control—but always very quiet. John Saxon had a slightly different experience with him, but this was down to a misunderstanding: Bava didn’t realize he was an established actor and when he was told that Saxon got the role because he was sleeping with the leading lady, it pissed him off. Once Bava saw Saxon doing such a good job, he changed his tune and they became friendly. Saxon told me that they met up for a few lunches after filming. Brett Halsey had nothing but great things to say about him, too. Speaking with these people and more gave me a good sense of what he was like on set. His own interviews also show him to be a man of a sardonic disposition. Lamberto Bava regarded him not only as his father but as his friend and confidante. He inspired great loyalty in people. Lucio Fulci—who I sadly never did get to speak to—was quite acerbic about many of his colleagues, but he always spoke reverentially about Bava; he would call him “the great Mario Bava.” Fulci was a very blunt man and a straight shooter when it came to his feelings, so that also says a lot.
R!S!P!: Since the release of your first Bava edition there has been another Bava biography self-published by author Tim Lucas. Playing devil's advocate for a second can you tell folks who have that book why they should pick up yours? I'm a personal believer that diversity of opinion and scholarship in film writing is a very positive thing but would like your thoughts.
Troy: Each book is its own thing and they should be judged as such. When the Lucas book came out, I bought it despite some animosity that existed between the two of us, which I won’t bore people with. I read it and was very impressed; I told him as much. He told me that he was glad I did my own book when I did as it pushed him towards finally finishing his. There was never any desire on my part to have any kind of a competition with him or anybody else. My own work will stand or fall on its own merits and that is as it should be. The Lucas book is very ambitious and goes into every facet of the man’s life and career. My focus is primarily on the films that he directed. I wanted to provide some insight into the man and how he ticked and I think I was able to do so, but the bulk of the book is comprised of my impressions of his films. In addition to this, I also have some unique contributions from collaborators like Lamberto Bava and Barbara Steele and Ernesto Gastaldi and Luigi Cozzi, as well as good scholarly research from Roberto Curti and Alessio Di Rocca on his final unrealized projects. I think the true Bava fans should have room on their shelves for both books. Others may elect to be more choosy and at the end of the day, the choice is theirs. I do believe that the new edition is superior to the old one, however, and I hope people who liked the first one agree—and that those who found the first edition lacking may get more out of this one.
R!S!P!: Thanks Troy. You are also currently working on a few other projects. Feel free to fill us in here.
Troy: I have been working for the past six years or so with my friend Chris Workman on a very ambitious series called The Tome of Terror. It’s a multi-volume study of the horror film, from 1895 to the present day. We have completed three volumes—1895-1919; the 20s; the 30s—and have a deal set up with Midnight Marquee Press. Due to the highly specialized nature of the early volumes—let’s face it, a lot of folks simply aren’t interested in silent films—they are starting off with the 30s, then doing the 20s… Chris and I will be working on the 40s volume this summer and then pressing on with other installments so long as Midnight Marquee is interested in having them. The 1895-1919 volume will be held off for later as it’s almost guaranteed not to make much of a profit. In addition to that series, I just finished a book on the giallo called SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE: 50 YEARS OF ITALIAN GIALLO FILMS. Stupidly, I didn’t realize until late in the game that it was too big of a project for just one book; fortunately for me, Gary Svelha at Midnight Marquee didn’t bat an eye and we are doing it as two volumes. The first volume is being edited now and I am doing captions for the images. It will probably be out late this year. The second volume is finished, too, but needs an edit and I need to work on the captions… it should be out early next year. I am very proud of this book and feel it will hopefully appeal to the fans of these films. I am also writing liner notes for the upcoming Odeon Blu-ray release of THE WHIP AND THE BODY in the UK and just submitted two different articles on Jess Franco to the magazines MIDNIGHT MARQUEE and WENG’S CHOP. I am also laying ground work for my next book, on the films of Lucio Fulci, and have committed to doing a book on the mythological pepla films from Italy. There are other projects in the pipeline, as well. When I did my first book in 2002, I made the mistake of being idle for too long… I am determined not to have that happen again. I love keeping busy and I hope people enjoy what I come up with. I also need to say that Gary Svelha and his wife Sue are second to none when it comes to being supportive and enthusiastic about my projects. I merely mentioned the idea of a giallo book as an aside and Gary told me he wanted to publish it! This kind of enthusiasm is rare. I see myself remaining with them for a while… they’ve been wonderful and I truly appreciate it. So between the ongoing TOME series and all these other projects, I anticipate being productive for a long while; I just hope it pays off with some decent sales for Gary and Sue.
If you want to check out more info on the re-issue of The Haunted World Of Mario Bava click here to be redirected to the Midnight Marquee website!