A Bay Of Blood has been known by several titles over the years from the generic (Carnage) to the nonsensical (The Ecology Of A Crime) to the absolutely goddamn brilliant (Twitch Of the Death Nerve), but while the names have changed the quality of the film itself has remained the same. Mario Bava’s film has long been considered the granddaddy of the slasher, and it’s easy to see why once you’ve watched it. But what may come as a surprise is just how blackly comic the damn movie is too. Especially that killer ending…
An old woman in a wheelchair rolls around her big, dark mansion pausing only briefly to admire the nighttime view out her window. Turns out that’s the last view she’ll ever see as an unseen assailant slips a noose around her neck, knocks the wheelchair out from under her, and hangs the old broad. Unexpectedly, the killer reveals himself to the viewer… only to be stabbed in the back by a second unseen assailant. From there we’re introduced to several people, many of them vying for the old woman’s estate, and all capable of doing whatever it takes to get it. Cue the slashing, stabbing, strangling, shooting, and more as the visitors to this peaceful little waterside locale all end up as food and fodder for the octopus.
And no, that shouldn’t be taken literally. For the most part.
Bava’s film succeeds on several levels starting with the most basic one of being a killer on the loose flick. We’re given a plethora of possible suspects, surprises, and sharp implements. The blood flows fast and heavy, due in part to the early seventies Italian penchant for thick, paint-like fake blood, as characters fall victim to murderous greed and madness in some fairly creative ways. A short running time allows for the kills to continue at a fairly steady pace so there’s no risk of getting bored.
Not that boredom is a possibility with Bava’s erratic and vibrant visual style keeping the eyes open and moving. He acts as his own cinematographer here and rarely lets the camera sit still for very long. Shots move in and out of focus, sometimes in the same scene, and Bava zooms in on faces and other details only to pull back again before the scene is finished. He also handles color well when framing shots and setting the mood. The movie’s dated, but it looks good. The film’s score by Stelvio Cipriani also adds immensely to the experience with ominous notes intermingling with playful, childlike sounds and chorals.
Genre elements aside, the film manages to weave an undercurrent of humor and commentary beneath and between the murders. There’s some talk about greedy land developers despoiling the natural beauty of the bay as well as some minor effort made towards the idea of nature vs nurture and what motivates mankind towards violence. Neither subtext is really developed all that well, but they still add an additional layer of enjoyment to an already fun film.
On the downside, the short running time also allows little time to get to know the characters in any real fashion. (The questionable and varied acting levels don’t always help either.) They’re introduced quickly and dispatched almost as fast which leads to a fair bit of confusion when trying to recall who’s who and how they interconnect with the others. This is especially true around the film’s midpoint when a dune buggy loaded with four twenty-something “teens” arrives at the bay. They talk gibberish, dance around like background actors from an Austin Powers film, and at least three of them die partially clothed as horny teens are wont to do.
A Bay Of Blood’s influence can be clearly seen in the decades since in slasher films both Italian and domestic. Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th even appropriated a similar setting, a primary use of the number 13, and an exact recreation of the fornicating human kabob murder seen at the top of the page. It works well as a bloody slasher filled with creative kills, but Bava exceeds the fledgling genre’s traditional limitations with stylish visuals, odd narrative choices, and a wickedly humorous thread that runs through from beginning to end.
The Upside: Plot has more layers than most slasher films attempt; stylish and colorful cinematography; fair amount of black humor; fantastic ending
The Downside: Acting is less than stellar; characters have motivation but little depth; scenes transitioning in and out of focus can grow tiresome
A Bay Of Blood was recently released in a spiffy new special edition from Arrow Video. Both their region free Blu-ray and DVD feature a remastered English version, the Italian cut, featurettes, interviews, and two ‘Trailers From Hell’ segments featuring Edgar Wright. Arrow’s releases are always beautifully packaged affairs, and the remastered film looks far better than any previous version. A purchase is highly recommended for Bava fans and genre fans alike. Order the region-free Blu-ray here and the DVD here.
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