Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (or Twitch of the Death Nerve, or Carnage, or any one of the eighteen titles it goes by – including the strangely misleading Last House on the Left, Part II) was not our first pick to begin this project. It was Gremlins. And I was really looking forward to watching Gremlins again, I’ll tell you, because I wanted to see if it was as annoyingly saccharin as I remember it. “Bright lights, bright lights,” and all that. Damn your eyes, Chris Columbus!
But the disc we rented was all scratched up and wouldn’t play past 39 minutes, so we had to come up with an alternative.
Scanning our shelves here at home, still in the mood for something that leaned in the general direction of horror (Gremlins fits that description, even though it’s more of a black comedy – either way, what it’s doing in the kids’ section at VideoEzy, I’ll never know), Nikki pointed out A Bay of Blood.
Mmmm. Bava. Good. We went with it.
I remember watching this something like fifteen years ago with my friend Doug. It was pretty much the first slasher film, he’d said, and that Friday the 13th, Halloween and their endless spate of sequels and rip-offs (see The Burning) all owe their existence to this movie. And I could see it – remote location, killer’s POV shots, post-coital teenage slaughter (there’s even a scene that’s replicated almost frame for frame in Friday the 13th Part 2) – but at the same time, I felt that those movies had totally missed the point. A Bay of Blood has a plot that can, at best, be called intricate, but when compared to that of the Friday the 13th or Halloween films (“demented madmen running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins”) it becomes downright Chandleresque.
Because I can’t do it justice, here’s the blurb from the back of the DVD packet: “Countess Federica, the elderly owner of a coveted piece of bay side [property], is brutally slain by her husband Flippo (sic) Donati - who is himself then killed by a mysterious third person at the murder scene! Who is the killer? Could it be real estate [developer] Frank Ventura? Or Paolo Fosatti, an entomologist neighbour who wants to preserve the natural insect life thriving around the bay? The Countess's illegitimate son, in a bid to claim [a name] for himself? Or could it be Albert, the weak-willed husband of Donati’s ambitious daughter, Renata? Brace yourself, because no one's a suspect for very long in Mario Bava's black comedy of human greed - which boasts 13 characters and 13 of the most shocking murders ever filmed!”
Like a synopsis for a Young and the Restless story arc, innit?
And the beauty of it is, there’s not just one killer. As soon as we meet someone, get to know them a little bit, they’re killed off. Then we get to know the killer, get familiar with their story; they’re killed off, and so it goes. It could have been played as straight comedy, but I don’t think it would have been quite as funny.
There were some lame elements. Bits of the soundtrack do not hold up, if they ever worked to begin with, and Bava had apparently just pioneered Zoom-O-Vision because he uses the hell out of it. But this, I argue, does not detract from the story, which, if I may say so, is way-cool.
A Bay of Blood is the Short Cuts of horror cinema, a Giallo Magnolia, if you will. Sure, there’s an overall story, but it’s just an excuse to get these people in the same general location. The movie is practically a series of vignettes strung together by the fact that some of the characters have dealings with some of the other characters. And then kill them.
I’m giving it 3 out of 5.
I, too, was really up for Gremlins. Much as I've been saving the new DVDs that come my way (The Kingdom, Lucky You) for this project, I loved the thought of beginning the new year with a flashback, with a classic. Gremlins with its holiday perversity seemed a key choice. Alas, it wasn't to be. Though we should take note -- we own Critters, we own Ghoulies, why do we not own a non-scratched, well-looked-after copy of Gremlins? Shame on us.
So, we went with A Bay of Blood. I'm not sure it set the tone for the project, as Steve desired. But it turned out rather an interesting choice, mainly because it was so out there. I liked the fact it wasn't a safe choice. Perhaps that's our tone, our point? To always be challenging ourselves? This one did that. Not that we don't love our slashers, but a new year, new project, Summer-evening film, this wasn't.
Also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve, A Bay of Blood is a plot-twisty thriller, which uses its 13 ultra-gruesome murders as a selling point. They win, too, because the murders are graphic, icky, and realistic. I had to swallow a revisit of my dinner right in the very first few minutes when the Countess gets it. Bava does this thing where he presents a problem-free environment with lazy, lingering shots and then just ruins it all with immediate grossness. The Countess, for instance, wheels around her home for about five full minutes before she falls victim to a Wile E. Coyote-type rope set up and winds up hanging in the air and choking to death. Same thing happens with the naked, bathing Brunhilda, the couple making love in bed (their names, who knows?), Bobby brooding by the fire place (was it Bobby?) ... serenity, peace and then DEATH. But you know it's coming, you just never really know when, and that's Bava's genius. I thought Brunhilda was going to get it Jaws-style in the water, but instead she winds up neck-sliced on land, running away from her attacker, who wasn't even anywhere much near the water. The suspense works.
I spent much of the following scenes thinking about the Italian directors and their love affairs with carnage. Why do I dislike the modern horror "director" who revels in torture, and cheer when Bava or Fulci or Dario plugs an unsuspecting, personality-less character with similar brutality? Why do they get away with little character development and structure, people introduced seemingly to top up the body count (the massacred teens served little purpose here, as far as the plot goes). I loathe it in modern films, love it here. I have to work that one out. It could be because Bava is Bava and can do what he likes. It could be the time period. These guys were experimenting, defining a genre, rebelling and reflecting as all good filmmakers do, while guys today are ... I don't know what. Making a quick buck? Riding the wave? No one who has seen a Bava picture like this one can argue today's violent, gross-out horror is pushing boundaries, as is so often suggested. The boundaries had well and truly been pushed by the Italians 30 years ago. And no one, but no one, does random torture like the Italians.
But then, I guess, the murders aren't the real key to this one's enjoyability. The famed "13 characters, 13 murders" thing kept me glued. Who's going when? Who is left alive? Well, no one if all 13 people die. Wait, let's recount, there's that guy, that girl, the real estate man, the entomologist ... those children? Where do they fit in? It was so much fun putting the pieces together, watching just how the whole thing works. And there was motive for each and every slaying, even the teens, which made things a bit less random. The end, though, while clever, was a bit anti-climactic for me. Steve mentioned it's lack of earlier set up, and I agree. It came about quite suddenly, in an Amazing Stories kind of a way (you thought it was this, but it was THIS!), and we chuckled and we loved Bava for his cheekiness, but it let the movie down a tad. Every murder had motive, let's just say, bar the final two. Still, heaps of fun, and some really horrendous yuckness, like the dead guy covered in squids! Oh man, why?!
I'm giving this one 2.5 out of 5. Here's to a great movie-watching year!