Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of people gather at an isolated location where someone begins to murder them one by one. Who is doing the killing, why are they doing it, and can they be stopped while anyone is left alive? Sound familiar? Everyone from Agatha Christie to Sean S. Cunningham has used the set-up. In 5 Dolls for an August Moon, 3 couples and a younger girl gather at George Stark’s (Teodoro Corra) island getaway, supposedly for a holiday but really so that Stark, Nick (Maurice Poli, Rabid Dogs), and Jack (Howard Ross) can convince Gerry (William Berger, Hercules) to sell them his latest chemical formula. To that end each brings along a $1 million check from their Swiss bank accounts. When Stark’s houseboy Charles (Mauro Bosco) shows up murdered on the beach, the weekend adds terror to the planned mix of business and pleasure….
5 Dolls for an August Moon is Mario Bava’s Giallo take on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with more explicitly violent deaths than in most adaptations of the tale, many of the victims are sleeping with one another, and a few big twists befitting an Italian thriller of this era. In many ways it’s a dry run for Bava’s other variation on the set-up, the blackly comic Bay of Blood, which plays with viewer expectations and whose gory, elaborate murders were copied in Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 (sadly, everything else about Bava’s film was discarded). In Bay of Blood, Bava would expand upon the experiments in the identity and number of killers he conducts here, as well as the inclusion of morally bankrupt killers and victims (not quite true here, but very much true in Bay of Blood).
Still, even with Bava’s own touches, the film doesn’t quite work. The characters aren’t likable and they aren’t interesting enough to keep the audience paying attention, either. The murders are relatively straight forward, and the film takes a long while to get to its final twist. It’s not a bad variation on Ten Little Indians, but it’s not a particularly memorable one either. Bava fans looking to see Bava’s ideas evolve may find it interesting, but others should skip directly to his superior Bay of Blood.