When movie nerds discuss Italian films, the first name that comes up is Federico Fellini, followed by perhaps Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. Those were the five directors to whom Martin Scorsese paid tribute in his wonderful four-hour documentary My Voyage to Italy (1999). From there, more die-hard film buffs might throw in the political Gillo Pontecorvo, or the controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini, or Bernardo Bertolucci, who only made a few Italian films before swapping to English for good. Someone might even remember that Max Ophuls once made a couple of films in Italian. After a moment's recollection, someone might recall the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. The Italian horror films would get mentioned last, and hardly anyone would suggest that horror director Mario Bava was the greatest of them all.
There are three reasons why Bava is not considered as highly as he should be. The main one is that he made mostly horror films, and we are not trained to see the artistry in that genre, just as we're not trained to see any artistry in erotic films or comedies, or any of the "body genres." Another reason is that, due to the Italian cinema's practice of dubbing, Bava's films have an "unprofessional" quality; the lips don't match the actor's line readings. This is commonplace in Italy due to many factors, but mainly due to the casting of actors with various dialects or from other countries. For example, see Luchino Visconti's dazzling epic The Leopard (1963), starring Burt Lancaster. On the Criterion DVD, viewers can watch either the Italian version with Lancaster dubbed by another actor, or the English version with Lancaster's voice and every other actor dubbed. Bava himself worked a roster of non-Italian stars, some of whom appear dubbed: Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, John Savage, Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Michel Piccoli, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele (the latter of which went on to appear in Fellini's 8 ½).