The Giallo Films of Lamberto Bava

Lamberto Bava ‘s first assignment as full director was offered to him by Pupi Avati, another icon of the Italian horror scene. “I had just finished working on Inferno (1980),” he explains, “and received a call from Antonio Avati, Pupi’s brother, who earlier had been my assistant on Mario Lanfranchi’s Il Bacio. He asked me to meet Pupi, whom I already knew as we had both worked in advertising for the same production company. When I got to his office, he asked me, to read a newspaper article about an incident in New Orleans where a woman kept her lover’s severed head in the fridge. I asked, “Why did you make me read this?’ “Because we want you to direct a film about it,’ Pupi replied. I wrote a script with the Avatis and Roberto Gandus, who was in contact with Medusa Film, and the following week I went to the United States with Dario, as we had to reshoot some scenes for Inferno.

“While I was there,” Bava continues, “Antonio called me saying Medusa liked, our story, and less than two months later I was on the set of Macabro/Macabre (1980), my first movie—but I wasn’t afraid. The problem with some first-time directors is that they don’t know where to put the camera, but that never bothered me; I planned everything the night before. On the first day, I did 33 different shots.”

Jane Baker, a woman living in New Orleans, is carrying on an affair with a man, Fred, behind her husband and children’s back. Her adolescent daughter, Lucy, suspects her mother is cheating on her father. Jane carries on trysts with Fred in an apartment she rents in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Duval, whose blind adult son Robert also lives in the building. While Jane is meeting with Fred for sex, Lucy drowns her little brother Michael in the bathtub and stages it as an accident. When she receives news of the death over the phone, Fred offers to drive her home, but crashes into a guardrail en route; Fred is brutally killed in the accident, but Jane survives.

A year later, Jane separates from her husband Leslie and moves in permanently to the Duvals’ boardinghouse, which is managed by Robert alone, as his mother has died in the intervening year. On her first night in the boardinghouse, Robert offers to have Jane over for dinner, but she politely declines. Instead, she makes a shrine for Fred in the apartment, and tends to an unseen item locked in the refrigerator freezer box. That night, Robert hears the sounds Jane moaning in pleasure, as though masturbating. The next morning, Leslie and Lucy arrive to visit Jane, but their reunion is awkward. Later, Jane agrees to have a drink with Robert, whom she allows into her apartment while in the bathtub without hesitation, as he is blind. Jane flirts with Robert coyly, asking him if he has a girlfriend. Later, Robert hears Jane moaning and repeatedly calling Fred’s name.

Suspicious, Robert has a friend obtain newspaper articles regarding the car accident that killed Fred, and he learns that Jane has been in a psychiatric hospital for the last year. That afternoon, Lucy arrives at the boardinghouse and convinces Robert to allow her into her mother’s apartment, where she leaves a photo of her deceased brother on a table. Jane realizes Lucy has been in the apartment upon returning, and chastises Robert for letting her in. Jane briefly attempts to seduce Robert, but pulls away when he responds. Shortly after, he hears Jane greeting “Fred” in the hallway.

On the anniversary of Michael’s death, Jane spends the day in town and visits his grave. Robert attempts to investigate Jane’s apartment, and finds the locked freezer box in the kitchen. He also finds pillows laid out under Jane’s bedspread in the shape of a person. His investigation is interrupted when Lucy arrives to visit her mother, but Robert turns her away. Later that night, Robert enters Jane’s apartment after hearing loud moaning. He walks past the bedroom, where Jane is masturbating with Fred’s decapitated head. After Jane finishes masturbating, she returns the severed head to the freezer box, and it is discovered by Robert.

Lucy overhears a phone call between her father and Robert, who attempts to inform him of what he has discovered, but Leslie dismisses it as fantasy. Lucy confronts Robert, demanding to know the truth. Lucy breaks into the apartment and discovers Fred’s severed head, but proceeds to tell Robert that he has imagined it. That weekend, Robert reluctantly joins Jane and Lucy for dinner; Lucy has prepared soup for them. During the meal, Jane finds an earlobe in her soup, and horrifiedly realizes Lucy has used flesh from Fred’s severed head in the recipe. Lucy follows Jane to the bathroom, and goads before admitting to having murdered Michael. Jane strangles Lucy to death before submerging her in the bathtub. Robert, who attempts to run to Lucy’s defense, is pushed down the stairs by Jane, and falls unconscious.

Jane retrieves Fred’s severed head from the freezer, begins passionately kissing it. Robert awakens and attempts to phone police, but finds Jane has cut the phone cord. Robert enters Jane’s apartment, and she violently attacks him, but he kills her by smashing her face into the hot oven. He screams for Lucy, and crawls over Jane’s bed, where suddenly Fred’s severed head attacks him, biting his neck.

Following the release of Macabre, Lamberto Bava worked in advertising and continued to write stories for potential future film projects. He was approached by director Dario Argento to assist him with his giallo film Tenebre (1982), wherein Bava is credited as an assistant director.

Although Macabre did well at the box office, Bava wasn’t offered another directing job for a few years. “I spoke with many producers, and some complained that my film was a bit slow. Then I was offered A Blade in the Dark/La casa con la scala nel buio (1983), written by Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti. We shot it in only three weeks on a tight budget, almost entirely at a producer friend’s house. At first, it was supposed to be broadcast on TV as five 25-minute episodes, so I pushed hard on the deaths, staging one killing in every chapter. Then they edited everything together and Luciano Martino, one of the producers, decided to release it in theaters.”

In the opening, three kids go to play in an abandoned house. Two of them push the third to go down into a dark cellar to retrieve a specially thrown ball: the boy is very afraid, but in order not to be called “sissy” by his friends he goes. At one point, the child utters a terrible cry: the ball is thrown back, but it is stained with blood. The scene changes: we are in a huge villa where the landlord is chatting with Bruno, the new tenant. Bruno is a composer and musician and is working on the music for a horror film: his work pushes him to move to this house for a month, where he will have his gardener as a neighbor.

Shortly after, Bruno goes to Sandra, the director he is working with. Sandra does not want to reveal the ending of the film to him, but instead makes him look again at a scene he has already seen many times: it is precisely the sequence of children in the cellar, seen at the beginning of the film. Sandra talks to him about how as a child she was terrified of the dark and of her philosophy according to which death and all the pitfalls of life are hidden in the dark, only to reveal to him that she chose him as a composer precisely because he was not very used to cinema and for this reason. in his opinion more spontaneous in transferring his own feelings and those of the film into music. Finally, Sandra claims to have chosen to let him stay in that house because it is too spacious, and for this reason a perfect place to feel fear.

Back home, Bruno starts playing but while he does it he hears some strange voices murmuring something. Then the man decides to explore the house and runs into Katia, a girl who had gone there thinking of finding Linda, the old tenant. As self-confident as she is beautiful, the girl mysteriously disappears after going to the bathroom: in the meantime Bruno has the opportunity to notice other oddities around the house, including the gashes that a woman has just engraved on a pornographic image and a diary of Katia that the girl left there. Bruno tries not to think about it and starts playing and composing music for the film again: just as he does, the girl is savagely killed by someone armed with a cutter. Shortly after Bruno, who still can’t rest after the girl’s disappearance,

Suddenly, Bruno’s girlfriend, Giulia, shows up at home to surprise him. The man tells her what is happening, and shows her the diary of Katia in which the girl wrote that she learned of a secret about Linda. Bruno also reads her the transcription of some sentences that he found imprinted in the recordings made a few hours earlier, in which he spoke precisely of a secret that no one should have known about. Giulia is more prey to jealousy than to worry, and so she soon returns to Naples. In the meantime, another girl, Angela, arrives at the house and is looking for Katia. Bruno receives a phone call from Sandra and is forced to leave; Angela stays there, takes a bath in the pool and finds a cutter on the bottom. She doesn’t know, but that cutter is just the weapon with which Katia was killed. Soon after, a woman attacks Angela in the bathroom, kills her, and tries to clean up the crime scene as well as possible. The gardener, who was previously spying on Angela as she undressed, doesn’t notice anything.

Meanwhile, Bruno waits in vain for Sandra as he watches and looks over the usual scene. Eventually he leaves her a note asking her to visit him at home. Once at his home, Bruno senses that something strange has happened: he therefore begins to explore everything, but finds no evidence of any crime. After a while Sandra arrives home: Bruno tells her what is happening, and together they go to explore the cellar, which until a few minutes before was locked. Here the two discover a box full of tennis balls: at this point Sandra realizes that the Linda who lived in that house is a person she knew herself and who was obsessed with tennis balls, to the point of having inspired her movie. Suddenly, the two hear footsteps coming from the floor above: it is still a woman,

The two sense that something is wrong, and so they go back up trying not to be heard. Meanwhile, the mysterious gun woman hides behind a curtain. However, everything turns out to be a misunderstanding: the woman is simply Giulia, who returned because in the end she was frightened by the stories of her boyfriend and because her play was suspended. The two boyfriends spend a pleasant night together, but the next day Giulia has disappeared into thin air. Meanwhile, Sandra calls her friend Linda: she confesses that she used her story for the film, but assures her that she hasn’t told anyone about her secret. Bruno continues to look for Giulia: the gardener reveals to him that he has seen her around at night for several nights in a row, and is therefore convinced that the girl suffers from insomnia. Meantime, Giulia is listening to their conversation: after a while she will be found by Bruno while listening to music; the two have an argument. At this point Bruno confronts the gardener, trying to understand what he knows. Not trusting Giulia’s story, Bruno calls the production and discovers that Giulia has told him a lot of lies: the show has not been canceled, it is she who has left without even warning.

Bruno then goes to Sandra’s studio, intending to view the film’s ending: the tape that included this sequence was however destroyed. A technician nevertheless decides to reconstruct the tape to show the ending to Bruno: the man therefore discovers that in this scene the story of the cellar was repeated, but this time a woman was also involved. Meanwhile, the gardener Giovanni discovers the bodies of the two girls while he works: terrified, he too runs into the killer, who kills him. Soon after, Sandra also arrives on the spot, finding death at the hand of a woman who strangles her with a belt and then drags her in circles amused. While Bruno is on his way home, Giulia finds Sandra’s corpse in a garage: trapped there, the actress runs into a woman armed with a knife who laughs threateningly. While Giulia goes around the house, numerous tennis balls rain down on her: at that moment she has the opportunity to see for the first time the woman who haunts the house, from which she runs away. However, the woman follows her, and tries to stab her as she repeats lines from Sandra’s film.

Bruno arrives at this very moment: Giulia tries to reach him, but stumbles on the tennis balls and is therefore killed. It turns out that the person who was killing people in that house was actually Tony, the secretly transgender home owner. Tony used to dress up as a woman and be called Linda, however his inability to accept his transsexuality and a trauma suffered as a boy had driven him crazy, pushing him to kill the girls he was dealing with. Bruno has a fight with him and ends up killing him.

Bava also made the television film Midnight Killer/Morirai a mezzanotte/You’ll Die at Midnight (1986) the same year. The film is about a series of murders which are similar to one that was committed 15 years prior, despite the fact that the murderer supposedly died in a fire. Bava makes a cameo in the film as a photographer at the beginning of the film. While working on Midnight Killer, Bava began preparing his next film, Delirium (1987).

Gloria, a former model, runs a men’s magazine, Pussycat, which she inherited from her late husband. One night, a killer in a blonde wig murders Gloria’s friend Kim with a pitchfork outside Gloria’s house. Her paraplegic neighbor Mark witnesses it and calls Gloria to alert her, but she finds nothing outside. The killer takes pictures of Kim’s body in front of Gloria’s modeling shots, send her the photos, which are found by her assistant, Evelyn. When Kim’s body is found in a dumpster, copies of Pussycat start selling out because Kim was on the cover.

Gloria’s brother Tony does a photoshoot for Pussycat with Sabrina. They try to have sex that night but Tony has impotency issues. After he leaves, the killer shows up in a beekeeper suit and releases bees which, attracted to Sabrina’s perfume, proceed to sting her to death. The killer takes more pictures, sends them to Gloria, who recognizes the picture of her in the background. She confronts Roberto, the photographer who tells her that the only negatives he had were stolen a while back.

Flora, an old acquaintance of Gloria’s, attempts to buy Pussycat and Gloria eventually agrees to sell in the hopes that it will bring an end to the murders. Tony introduces Gloria to his new girlfriend Susan, and they scout out her department store for a photoshoot. They become separated and Gloria finds Tony’s body on the escalator. The killer taunts her over the PA system. She escapes down the freight elevator, where she finds Susan’s body. However, when the police arrive both the bodies have been removed. The killer sends Gloria some more photos, and later Evelyn finds Susan’s dead body in her car.

The cops show up at Roberto’s residence to question him and find the backdrops of Gloria. They call Gloria to warn her right as Roberto shows up at her house. She runs from him, he chases after and gets hit by a car which kills him and then drives off. The cops conclude that he was the killer and consider the case closed.

Gloria sells the magazine to Flora and returns home to find out that Evelyn has quit the magazine. She then finds Tony’s body floating in her swimming pool, and starts to put together the clues. The killer taunts her again, inside her home. Then pops up wearing the blonde wig and is revealed to be Tony. He explains his motive, that he committed these murders to protect and get closer to his sister. Mark sees Tony and Gloria from his room and shoots Tony in the groin with his rifle, seriously wounding him. Gloria is taken to the hospital to recover, and Mark brings her flowers.

In an interview, director Lamberto Bava suggested that after doing a few gialli back-to-back, he began to feel unenthusiastic about the genre. Preferring more fantastical films like Demons. This led to Bava to explore the notion of the killer’s point of view in Delirium, which involved showing the killer’s perception of his victims by giving them grotesque visual features. This ranges from one woman having a giant eyeball for a face while another had the appearance of a bee. Bava stated this was one of the few films he had time and budget to get the results he desired for the film.

In the subsequent years, Bava turned largely to TV, directing six episodes of Night Shift/the Turno di Notte (TV Mini-Series 1981), Brivido Giallo. One of his Brivido films, La casa dell’orco/The House of the Ogre, was later released in several countries as Demons III: The Ogre.

Alta Tensione series in the late ’80s. “I had to rely on atmosphere,” he recalls, and couldn’t use too many gore effects, as they were to be shown on television. Alta Tensione was screened during the summer at a time when not many people were home; then, the movies were sold abroad together with other films that would have never sold on their own. It’s a shame, because Alta Tensione wasn’t a bad product.”

The Prince of Terror (1988) The Master of Terror is the director Vincent Omen, originally from Romania, who made his fortune by directing horror films. He lives with his wife and daughter in a beautiful isolated villa. But when he gets writer Paul fired, strange things start to happen. While playing golf, the ball disappears, returned home the garage door is blocked, receives a mysterious phone call and during the dinners with the guests there is no light, a small fire breaks out and he finds the golf ball lost in the afternoon. Do they just want to scare him? And who?

Eyewitness (1999) Elisa and Karl in a department store at closing time are about to steal a shirt, but Karl has to run to retrieve the car. And in the dark, after closing, Elisa witnesses the murder of Mara. Commissioner Marra thus has something to start the investigation with: an eyewitness. But she immediately discovers that Elisa is blind. And when a policewoman who was supposed to protect the witness is killed, things get complicated for the commissioner. And even more complicated when his relationship with Elisa begins to become a relationship of hate-love.

School of Fear (1999) A young woman with a troubled past takes a teaching assignment at a mysterious school. She comes to believe her predecessor was murdered by her pupils, and that they plan to do the same thing to her.

The Man Who Didn’t Want to Die (2007) A young man lies in a hospital suspended between life and death. The police know nothing about him. The patient, in his rare moments of consciousness, only remembers his gang’s involvement in a robbery of a rare painting, and the mysterious Madame Jacno who commissioned Fabrizio, the gang leader, to steal the work of art. But someone is still trying to kill the patient, and as his life is continually threatened, his memory slowly comes back to him…! 

Lamberto Bava had directed Body Puzzle (1992), his declaration of love and hate to the yellow cinema made in Italy; a cinema that basically had never interested him that much, he who felt more attracted to the dreamlike atmospheres of horror or fantastic cinema.

A murderer kills and mutilates his victims, finding the various parts of the body at the home of Tracy, a beautiful young widow, unable to explain what connects her to those murders. The police chief investigates the woman’s life, addressing the friend of her dead husband, a psychopath with an obsession to rebuild her body even at the cost of violence: it turns out that all the mutilated parts have previously been transplanted by the same body.

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