A Short Biography of Mario Bava
Mario Bava: The Illusion of Reality
I Vampiri
Black Sunday
The Whip and the Body
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Black Sabbath
Blood and Black Lace
Knives of the Avenger
Planet of the Vampires
Kill, Baby ... Kill!
Four Times That Night
Hatchet for a Honeymoon
Five Dolls for an August Moon
Twitch of the Death Nerve
Baron Blood
Lisa and the Devil



Knives of the Avenger is arguably Mario Bava's best movie outside of the horror genre. He joined the project after it was well underway. Several scenes had already been completed by another director when the production ran out of money and closed down until additional resources were discovered. In the liner notes for Image Entertainment's DVD presentation of Knives of the Avenger, Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog speculates that Primo Zeglio, a veteran of spaghetti westerns, was the original director. But little evidence remains in the completed movie. Bava likely chucked everything and started anew.

From its first frames, Knives of the Avenger looks striking and unusual. In an early scene, we see a renegade warrior, his face in profile in the foreground, as he shouts commands to his followers, who sit aside horses in the background. The dramatic positioning of the characters in the frame immediately announces that the following movie isn't standard action fare. With striking visual compositions that arrange actors on two or three planes of action, Knives of the Avenger looks like no other Viking epic. In another impressively designed and photographed scene, Bava turns his camera on the interior of a tavern. In the foreground, a Viking general sits pensively at a table, while in the background a warrior enters through the tavern's front door (which is elevated on a platform). And once again both foreground and background are in sharp focus in a strikingly kinetic arrangement. Knives of the Avenger is filled with stunning compositions in which Bava arranges his actors and props in ways that imply motion and energy.

stills from
Knives of the Avenger
[click photos for larger versions]

The movie's story is fairly familiar material--particularly for fans of Shane and The Odyssey. Cameron Mitchell stars as a lone warrior named Rurik (he's sort of like a samurai warrior) whose wanderings bring him into the home of a married woman and her son. Karin (Elissa Pichelli) is a queen who is now in hiding because her husband, King Harald, has been missing for many months. He led his men in a voyage across the sea and they never returned. Now another Viking wants to claim her as a wife and assume the role of king. Not realizing who this woman is, Rurik (Mitchell) becomes her protector while a strong friendship develops between Rurik and her son Moki (think of Alan Ladd and Brandon de Wilde in Shane). Meanwhile Rurik and Karin share longing glances. This situation becomes complicated considerably when Rurik's past is revealed. He was a vicious warrior who, several years ago, led an assault against this same community that he is now protecting--and during this assault, he raped the queen. So her son may actually be his own offspring (both Rurik and Moki have the same bleached hair, leaving the boy's paternity hardly in doubt). Rurik must face up to his past and the hopelessness of any future between him and Karin, while simultaneously serving as their savior.

Knives of the Avenger is marred by occasional bits of leaden dialogue, but the general thrust of the drama carries an elegiac, mournful sense of tragedy. The story may be overly familiar, but the story still has appeal. It's a compelling portrayal of a wandering warrior who is tired of his vocation and longs to settle down.

When Knives of the Avenger was released in 1966, the spaghetti western genre was going strong, and its influence occasionally echoes in Bava's film. Like James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven (an American western that left a strong impact on spaghetti western), Rurik is defined by his expertise with a knife. This predilection for identifying characters by their weapons became a hallmark feature of the spaghetti western.

Now available on DVD from Image Entertainment, Knives of the Avenger comes with an original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery (as well as Image Entertainment's standard Bava bio and filmography). The movie is presented in a letterboxed (2.35:1 aspect ratio) uncut version that has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The transfer features brilliant colors (although I noticed a slight reddening of the image), and the transfer exhibits little wear.


Knives of the Avenger is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment in a widescreen presentation (2.35:1 aspect ratio). The DVD has been enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Special features: Mario Bava biography and liner notes by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog; director filmographies; theatrical trailer; and a photo and poster gallery. Suggested retail price: $24.99. For additional information, we suggest you check out the Image Entertainment Web site.