A BAY OF BLOOD

Finding the true root of a genre can be a matter of debate, but there is very little doubt that the slasher genre owes its birth to Mario Bava’s (LUST OF THE VAMPIRE (1957), BLACK SUNDAY (1960), BLACK SABBATH (1963), SHOCK (1977)) 1971 gory classic A BAY OF BLOOD (aka CARNAGE and TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE).  The film tells the story of “An elderly heiress that is killed by her husband who wants control of her fortunes. What ensues is an all-out murder spree as relatives and friends attempt to reduce the inheritance playing field, complicated by some teenagers who decide to camp out in a dilapidated building on the estate.”  From the very start, you see every trope that has since been copied by every slasher film that followed, but it is interesting to note that greed over money and teenage sex were the first seeds planted in what would become a rich tradition in the genre. What is very interesting about this film is not that you look at it and say “X movie did it better” but “NOW I see where X movie got that from!” Considered by most to be Bava’s most violent and bloody film, it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to the buckets of gore that flow unfettered across the screen. The story uses 13 different murders and hides the killer(s?) in classic giallo style and you can see the obvious influence the film had on the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci…

Speaking of the murders, there is plenty to marvel at from not only a technical perspective, but also from the audacious nature of them. Bava was quite insistent that Carlo Rambaldi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965), FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973,) DUNE (1984)) handle the effects as he wanted an ultra realistic look to them. The hanging is a nifty and unique way of offing a victim and the horrific, graphic nature of the throat slice and machete to the head are amongst the most realistic I have seen on film. The “spear through the body while having sex” is certainly more visceral than the one in FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 and the beheading by axe is pretty intense as well.  In my favorite death scene, the impaling is quite impressive and I love how the character dangles from the wall. While the film was not the first gore film (thanks to Herschell Gordon Lewis starting that craze about 10 years earlier), it certainly brought gore more to the front of these types of films and would set a bar of realism and savagery that continues to dominate the landscape today…

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The film did not have a large budget, so Bava not only handled the directing, but he also handled the cinematography as well as sharing in the screenplay with Dardano Sacchetti (ZOMBIE (1979), THE BEYOND (1981), THE CHURCH (1989)). His son Lamberto Bava (A BLADE IN THE DARK (1983), DEMONS (1985), DEMONS 2 (1985)) served as assistant director and he had a great cast of actors and actresses that included Claudine Auger (THUNDERBALL (1965), THE BASTARD (1968), BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA  (1971)), Luigi Pistilli (THE GOOD< THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), COLD SWEAT (1970)), Chris Avram (ENTER THE DEVIL (1974), THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS (1974), STAR ODYSSEY (1979)), Laura Betti (SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), Paola Montenero (GUARDIANS OF HELL (1981)) and Leopoldo Trieste (CALIGULA (1979)).  In a film that seems to be random murders and nothing else, all of the actors and actresses manage to compliment one another very well, and any percieved “cheesy” acting can be seen as a frontrunner for what has become a trope of the genre…

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Since Bava passed away in 1980 before his films reached the cult-like status that they have today, there is very little to quote from him in regards to his films. However, many genre writers have been giving him his just dues as a filmmaker and a pioneer in the genre.  In his article Looking back at A Bay Of Blood (12/08/10 on Denofgeek.com), Ryan Lambie talks about how influencial Bava’s films were: “It was Bava, with his operatic direction filled with dramatic shadows and often drenched in colour, who established many of the trappings that would become familiar in giallo cinema. His heavily stylised camera work, expressive use of lighting and, above all, imaginatively brutal murders would have a profound, lasting impact on filmmaking, influencing such directors as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, who would go on to direct many classic gialli of their own.”*1He also states: “A Bay Of Blood was a pivotal movie in screen horror, perhaps as important, in its own way, as Hitchcock’s highly regarded Psycho. Bava’s film marked the moment where giallo cinema tipped over into slasher horror, with A Bay Of Blood’s murder mystery plotline taking a back seat to another, equally entertaining diversion: who was going to die next, and how gruesome would that death be?  The influence of Bava’s movie on US filmmakers is undeniable, and its status as one of Italian cinema’s horror classics is assured. Almost four decades on, A BAY OF BLOOD remains a hilarious, messy masterpiece.”*1

In his article The BAY OF BLOOD That Mario Bava Inspired: How the otherwise classy Mario Bava played a major part in creating horror’s least discerning sub-genre (10/25/15 on Birthdeathmovies.com), writer Bryan Collins talks about the cleverness of the murders and the the effect the gore had on people who saw it:  “But despite their different motives and lack of team orientation, the killers here all share a passion for creative murdering. You’d think that a real estate extortion scheme could be carried out with a few guns, but the film’s lone gunshot murder is… well, I’ll leave that surprise for those who haven’t seen it yet. Everything else, despite the fact that a number of the kills are merely to silence a witness (or a potential one), offers a sense of showmanship, with a variety of weapons to boot – a fisherman’s spear, a billhook, an axe, strangulation… even Jason would be impressed with the number of implements that are used over the film’s 84 minutes. Most of them are sufficiently gory as well, something that was probably unexpected (apparently Christopher Lee walked out of the film, disgusted with its otherwise unseen level of violence). While gore wasn’t new (Herschell Gordon Lewis had been at it for almost a decade at that point), Bava’s previous films were decidedly classier than anything ol’ HGL was up to, so I doubt Lee or anyone else expected to see something like THIS in a film from the director of BLACK SABBATH…”*2

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FUN FACT #1: Dario Argento loved the film so much he had a friend (who was a projectionist) steal him a print during its first run in Italy. The theater ended up showing BLOOD BRIDES (1970) to replace the stolen print for the remainder of the film’s run there (about a week and a half according to Argento). He possesses the print to this day.*3

FUN FACT #2: Federico Fellini once commented that he worked on writing a horror film for an acquaintance who gave him a script with numerous depictions of murders, but not one thread of story connecting them. Many believe it was Mario Bava he was referring to, in particular this movie. After a month of having all his ideas rejected, he told the filmmaker to shoot the script and figure out the story later. He stated this might have been the best advice he ever gave another filmmaker.*3

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*1 Looking back at A Bay Of Blood

*2:  The BAY OF BLOOD That Mario Bava Inspired: How the otherwise classy Mario Bava played a major part in creating horror’s least discerning sub-genre

*3: IMDB Page

A BAY OF BLOOD

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