Gratuity is the watchword for Italian giallo cinema; blood, nudity and violence are all hallmarks of the genre. It is more than a little surprising, then, that Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon is a rather tame entry in Arrow Video’s latest slew of high definition giallo releases. ‘Tame’, of course, is a relative term, and while Bava’s film can’t quite boast the sheer volume of sex and gore of What Have You Done to Solange? or Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Five Dolls for an August Moon still retains an impressive body count, impossibly buxom cast and an Italian aesthetic of opulent excess.
Riffing on Agatha Christie’s famous novel Ten Little Indians, Five Dolls finds a group of people on an island weekend retreat. One of the group, Gerry Farrell (William Berger), has apparently discovered a ground-breaking secret chemical formula. It transpires that three of the other men concocted the weekend in order to buy the formula from the scientist, but Farrell is having none of it, refusing even the million dollar cheques that are offered to him. Things take a turn for the worse when one by one, the party are murdered by an unseen killer. The obvious candidate is Isabelle (Ely Galleani), a strange girl who lives on the island and has been voyeuristically observing the group. She may or may not be a red herring, and as the victims pile up (quite literally: they are comically hung up in the meat locker for safe keeping), the tension and paranoia rise. Or so they would, were it not for a distinctly slack sense of pacing, resulting in long stretches of very little happening followed by a game of catch-up whereby several occupants are bumped off within just a few minutes. The result is that in the film’s final third it’s virtually impossible to follow who’s left and who isn’t: a problem exacerbated by very little time being dedicated to character development or motivation.
However, despite its shortcomings, it does succeed as a whodunit thriller cast in the mould of Italian exploitation cinema. The cinematography by Antonio Rinaldi is at once grubby and luxuriant, and both the glittering set dressing and frilly, open-chested costumes situate the island as an intriguingly feminine space; one in which the women characters are afforded a degree of power rarely found in other giallos. Throw in a killer ending (no pun intended) with a genuinely effective twist and a Tarantino-esque needle-drop, and Five Dolls for an August Moon just about redeems itself, resulting in a flawed but enjoyable thriller that at only 80 minutes, doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Christopher Machell | @MagnificenTramp