Despite being one of Mario Bava’s lesser known films, Five Dolls for an August Moon is a stylish giallo that is beautifully shot with surprisingly little blood, but a mystery that draws you in from start to finish. The film has many of Bava’s trademarks stamped upon it, from setting it in an out of the way locale, complicated relationships between the characters, a little skin – though no nudity, shady men and beautiful women including giallo stalwart Edwige Fenech. There are times when it is a little clichéd, there having been many movies that are familiar in plot to this one, but Bava does a great job at keeping things interesting and surprises the viewer with the ending.
The story involves a man named Stark who has invited many of his colleagues and their wives for an island getaway to convince another man named Farrell to sell them his chemical formula for a new compound he has invented. Farrell wants none of it, even when offered three million dollars and he assumes that will be the end of it. Soon enough one of them is murdered, by whom, it is unknown. Not long after, one by one, both the men and the women start to get killed off including Farrell, though his formula still exists as well as the cheques for a million dollars apiece. Paranoia and distrust run rampant among the survivors and when they are down to just four members, that is when things really heat up.
After that first murder is committed, Bava ratchets up the tension with each additional kill. Everything is random and you never know just when the next body is going to turn up or who it is going to be. While you would expect there to be a little blood or gore, there is shockingly very little, but Bava does manage to throw in the repetitive scene of the meat locker where the bodies hang to keep the viewer slightly unnerved through it all. The script could have used a little bit of work and as this was said to be one of Bava’s least favourite films that he had ever worked on, perhaps in the end he simply did not care. That did not prevent it from being a good movie though, for whether he liked it or not, his direction was still as tight as any of his other movies.
There are essentially, two endings to this film. The first is where you would think it would naturally end with the killer revealed and a perfect resolution to everything that had come before. Then there is the final scene that seems completely unnecessary which adds to the popular opinion that the movie is more than a little uneven. No matter what faults that may or may not have made their way to the screen, Five Dolls for an August Moon is an entertaining film and offers more than people might think.
3.5 out of 5