Alive in death : Bataillean eroticism in the 60s gothic cinema of Mario Bava.

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Rod Giblett


In the opening of Eroticism, Geroges Bataille’s seminal text on the relationship between death and sensuality, he chose a quote from the Marques De Sade: ‘There is no better way to know death than to tie it to some licentious image’. It is my contention in this thesis that few filmmakers understand such a sentiment as profoundly as Mario Bava did, and although he is often regarded as one of the foremost directors of Gothic, I argue that he was one of the great cinematic practitioners of eroticism. Transgression pervades Bava’s Gothic works as a means to a paradoxical state of terror and passion whereby neither one is resolved but rather they meet in a kind of jouissance, intermingling iconic binaries such as pleasure and pain, beauty and the grotesque, and order and disorder. However, although he often does displace sexuality into the domains of the dangerous, grotesque and violent through strong symbolic and metaphorical use of objectification, he also has powerful metaphors of romance. These two themes, the ‘normal’ homogenous pursuit of desire and its dangerous, primal, heterogeneous ‘other’, are often viewed as contrasting binaries, yet when viewed from the position of Georges Bataille’s theory of eroticism the oneiric imagery, themes and narratives of Bava’s Gothic films become intricate examinations of guilt, desire and death. Bava, in the spirit of Bataille, refuses to privilege the transgression over the taboo (and vice versa) instead using each to ‘complete and reinforce’ the other. He also ironically exemplifies this dialectic of horror and beauty by making the beauty fit for Douglas Sirk and the horror fit for the Grand Guignol. This thesis examines Bava’s continual fascination with death and desire by concentrating purely on his 60s Gothic Revivalist works Black Sunday, Black Sabbath (The Wurdalak segment), The Whip and the Body and Kill, Baby Kill!, and his 60s Modern Gothic works The Telephone, The Girl who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace. In order to achieve this the thesis also examines important influences, socio-economic factors and culturally specific trends that not only shaped Bava’s Gothic style but also contributed to the evolution of the Gothic style in the cinema. It seeks to apply Bataillian theory (and occasionally various Bataille-informed psychoanalytic principles) to scrutinise both the reoccurring and exclusive ways Bava has situated death and desire within the framework of the Gothic genre.Throughout the writing of this thesis I also concurrently worked on various feature length screenplays as a means of amalgamating the ideas of Bataille and the cinematic language of Bava into an artistic practicum (in the spirit of how Bataille exorcised his own ideas into creative works such as Story of the Eye). The eventual result (a feature length screenplay) stands as an amalgamation between a written interpretation of Bava’s visual and thematic concerns, Bataille’s fiction, and the incorporation of the theoretical framework I established in the thesis. Although I resist the notion of explicitly detailing the various ways I have achieved this from a creative position, there is an exegesis at the end of the thesis which seeks to elucidate and clarify particular artistic decisions and noticeable stylistic tendencies of the screenplay, while also addressing how I integrated the presence of Bataillean eroticism in Bava’s work into the narrative.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to the exegesis and to current ECU staff and students. Email request to library@ecu.edu.au

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.