Ghostlight

Theatrical lighting change from THE DEMON OF MOUNT OE (1960).

One thing Fiona and I don’t have time to get into in our forthcoming video essay on KWAIDAN (1964) is the extent to which some of the film’s stylised effects were somewhat longstanding tropes in the kaidan genre. Here, director Tozuko Tanaka is fading up a light to change the aspect of a character and show that something spooky is afoot and to present a transformation.

While I have no trouble believing Masaki Kobayashi had seen this movie or ones like it before embarking on his own ghost story compendium, what I haven’t figured out is whether Mario Bava was aware of this school of filmmaking when he started doing similarly theatrical colour changes in BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Easy to imagine the Italian maestro catching a look at KWAIDAN and loving what he saw, but his effects were staged before Kobayashi’s… but after Tanaka’s. But it doesn’t seem very likely that DEMON OF MT. OE was screened much anywhere in the west.

Is there a missing link in this chain?

Bava had emulated Mamoulian and Karl Struss’s lighting changes in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) when he created a transformation scene in Riccardo Freda’s I VAMPIRI (1957). But that’s slightly different: you’re not aware of the lighting change, since it’s a change only of colour in a b&w movie: what it does is reveals coloured makeup on an actor, resulting in a transformation before your very eyes in a single shot. That could very well have given Bava the idea of doing something in colour where the shifting gel effects are undisguised, which would make it one of those weird cases of parallel development you get sometimes…

2 Responses to “Ghostlight”

  1. A lovely appreciation. I’m so glad Fiona and I got to meet her.

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