Color, 1969, 84 mins.
Directed by Mario Bava / Starring Brett Halsey, Daniela Giordano, Pascale Petit, Dick Randall, Michael Hinz, Brigitte Skay
Anchor Bay, Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Still basking in the giddy comic book haze of his sublime Diabolik, director Mario Bava branched out away even further from gothic terrors with Four Times That Night (Quane volte... quella notte), a loose and breezy sex farce which borrows its structure from Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Bava rises to the task quite well and brings his trademark visual skills into play for some dazzling little flourishes throughout the film, making it a diverting little bon bon in a career lined with masterpieces.

Pretty young Tina (Daniela Giordano) finds her afternoon dog walk disturbed by sports car driving lothario Gianni (Return of the Fly's Brett Halsey), who asks her on a date. Despite her convent breeding, Tina agrees to see him that night but returns home much later than planned with her dress torn. In flashback, Tina frantically tells her mother about the evening, which begin with a trip to a nightclub and escalated into Gianni's frantic rape attempt while dressed in leopardskin underwear. However, the next day Gianni, sporting a nasty scratch on his face, tells his buddies a quite different story in which Tina was actually a sex mad panther who demanded hour after hour of satisfaction. Back at Gianni's apartment, the lecherous doorman (Dick Randall) offers yet another variation of the story, in which Gianni, a manipulative homosexual, lured Tina in for an evening of debauched sexual antics (partially involving Bay of Blood's skinnydipper, Brigitte Skay). Of course, the fourth version - the whole story, natch - proves to be an entirely different affair.

A colorful pop art feast for the eyes, Four Times That Night allows Bava's camera to run rampant and soak in every detail of the mod clothing and sets. Though working with a miniscule budget, the director turns simple settings like a shower or a bedroom into visual playgrounds of bold primary colors and catchy geometric shapes, while inflatable furniture, rope swings, tinted drinking glasses, and wallpapered photo collages become props for each character's Freudian delights. The sexuality itself is limited by today's standards, with a few bare breasts and coyly concealed fumblings making this a quaint reminder of the innocence of pre-Emmanuelle erotic cinema. More importantly, the film is genuinely funny, alternating hilarious verbal wit (particularly Tina's self-empowering claims while locked in the bathroom during the first episode) with physical comedy in the best tradition of an English bedroom farce. The funky lounge score by Coriolano "Lallo" Gori adds to the fun and foreshadows Piero Umiliani's similar work on Bava's similar cotton candy exercise, Five Dolls for an August Moon in 1970.

Rarely seen in any form, this film has become something of a holy grail for Bava completists. Some video dealers have circulated a smudgy tape version of the barely released English dubbed edition, which dumbs down the dialogue and brutally crops Bava's compositions. Therefore the Image DVD is a welcome restoration of a film few even knew to look for, and the print by and large is in satisfying shape. Only the animated opening credits (an amusing cartoon twist on a Rorsach test, appropriately enough) and the first scene suffer from notable damage, while colors are always vibrant and clearly rendered. The Italian dialogue fares much better than the English version, while the subtitles convey the puckish, rapid fire exchanges surprisingly well. The disc also comes with extensive liner notes from Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who provides plenty of historical tidbits to make this an even more cherished and significant release.

B&W, 1963, 83 mins.

Directed by Mario Bava

Starring Leticia Roman, John Saxon, Robert Buchanan, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo / Music by Roberto Nicolosi / Cinematography by Mario Bava

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital Mono

The great granddaddy of the moody Italian slasher film, The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo)) was a marked departure for director Mario Bava, who had already taken the world by storm with his classic Black Sunday. Here for the first time he turned his camera to modern Rome, where naive American whodunit fan Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) flies in to visit her Aunt Adele. After unknowingly pocketing some hemp-laced cigarettes from a charming man on the plane, Nora reaches her aunt's apartment and meets the handsome Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon), who informs Nora that her aunt is not in the best of health. That night Nora is horrified to witness Adele dying of a heart attack and flees out into the street, where a mugger leaves her unconscious. In a daze Nora awakens to hazily witness the stabbing death of a young woman in the street, then passes out again. At the hospital no one believes Nora's story, so she's left with only Marcello to help her uncover the truth. Nora quickly comes to believe that a killer known for a series of gruesome "Alphabet Murders" is still at large in the city and may have targeted our heroine as the next victim.

Widely regarded as the first feature film to lay down the ground rules of the Italian giallo (mysteries with horrific elements), The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a lightweight and enjoyable concoction despite its grim subject matter. The murderer's modus operandi, an obvious homage to Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, is basically a mechanism to propel the film from one setpiece to the next, with the audience left in the dark as to the killer's identity until the very end.

Since the film was partially financed by American money (AIP), the studio mandated that Bava shoot some alternate comic scenes to make the film more palatable for general audiences; the result, The Evil Eye, plays like an entirely different film. The opening twenty minutes in particular are radically different, with Nora introduced after a series of voiceovers revealing the thoughts of each plane passenger. Nora also undergoes a headbutting incident with another visitor at the airport and spends her first night evading the watchful eyes of her uncle (a cameo by Bava himself) - in a portrait hanging on her bedroom wall. The original Italian cut, presented here with subtitles for the first time, is a much more streamlined and taut affair, not to mention a more appropriate installment in Bava's progression as a filmmaker. The AIP version also substituted the jazzy, amusing score by Roberto Nicolosi with a more straightforward one by Les Baxter, a fate which befell quite a few Bava titles over the years.

Apart from the ragged looking opening credits, the DVD of The Girl Who Knew Too Much looks extremely good, with the anamorphically enhanced widescreen image accurately framed and pleasingly detailed. The moody black and white cinematography looks sharp as a tack, while the mono audio is clean if limited somewhat by its age. The optional yellow English subtitles are easy to read and seem to be accurately translated and timed. Also included is the engaging Italian trailer (without subtitles, alas), accompanied by the swinging main title song, and a plethora of Bava stills, poster art, and factual tidbits.

For more Mario Bava, click here.

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