Mario Bava took a vital role in the creation of the modern horror film. If there was to be a Mount Rushmore-style monument dedicated to four directors whose work pioneered a new form of big screen chills and thrills, those giant faces etched in granite on the mountainside would be: Bava, Alfred Hitchcock, Georges Franju and Michael Powell. 1960 is to horror what 1939 is to classical Hollywood — a year of exquisite vintage. Along with Bava’s officially credited directorial debut, The Mask of Satan (La maschera del demonio), Hitchcock’s Psycho, Franju’s Eyes without a Face and Powell’s Peeping Tom were released.

Not that Bava was exclusively a horror guy. He made all sorts of pictures: comedies, Viking sagas, comic-book adaptations, sword-and-sandal epics and spaghetti westerns. Before and just after the Second World War, when Italy was rebuilding not only the film industry but its very society, he was employed as a cameraman on a range of features, shorts and short documentaries. Some he directed, too. His career encompassed gritty neorealism, the days of Hollywood on the Tiber and a period where Italian genre product proved hugely popular with international audiences.

By the late 1950s, Bava had completed (without receiving credit) several early stabs at Italian horror, including the Riccardo Freda productions I vampiri (1957) and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (Caltiki, Il mostro immortale, 1959). He also had a major creative hand in Pietro Francisci’s Hercules (Le fatiche di Ercole, 1958) — yet another key work in Italian genre cinema.

But it was the films he made under his own name from 1960 onwards that captured the imagination of the public, critics and generations of filmmakers. Modestly budgeted and hugely inventive, these tales of terror sit as some of the most ingenious genre pictures ever made.

— Martyn Conterio, British Film Institute