Kino Classics kickstarts Halloween with the first of several Blu-rays devoted to the horrific. In the case of A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve and about 30 other titles), we’re delving into the slasher route. A Bay of Blood is probably my favorite of the Bava films I’ve seen. (I’ve previously reviewed Kidnapped and Black Sabbath.) The gore is unrepentant and makes up for the incomprehensible plotline that I dare anyone to explain. A dash of macabre humor thrown in for good measure turns A Bay of Blood into the slasher movie from the 1970s you need to watch.
Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) is viciously murdered by her husband…who in turn is murdered by an unseen assailant. The countess’ death brings out a group of various merry murderers who hope to inherit their money, if they can kill the others. Soon, the blood is flowing but the original question remains: Who really killed the Countess?
A Bay of Blood is often called the grandfather of the slasher genre, and while Hitchcock’s Psycho commonly receives that title as well, there’s something to be said for Bava holding onto the award. A Bay of Blood follows the slasher handbook to the letter (and a few scenes were recreated, shot for shot, in Friday the 13th: Part II). You have the various murders perpetuated by an unseen entity; Hitchcock provided no real mystery since you were under the impression Norman was involved, somehow. When the Countess is killed and her husband comes out of the shadows, you believe you’re set for a game of cat and mouse with said husband evading justice. Nope, starting the trend of black humor that pervades the film, he’s quickly dispatched in equally gory fashion.
The murder notwithstanding, Bava creates a beautiful film where everything – including the requisite foamy red blood – is deliberately placed in a way that turns it away from gore. The death of the Countess is Gothic in its imagery with muted colors and taking place on a dark and stormy night; perfect weather for a little murder. All of this exquisite imagery is shattered by the brutal murders the audience watch in full. As a final artistic aside to the audience, Bava shoots the murder scene in a wide shot so we can take in the lush, velvet furnishings and lacy curtains fluttering in the breeze; never mind you see two dead bodies. Bava takes a painterly approach from there on out, with the lake – the titled “bay of blood” – and forest complimenting the dark horrors being committed.
After the opening murder, the blood flows copiously throughout the scant hour and 24 minutes of the movie. As the various characters all assembly it’s pointless to remember names and who is related to whom. Upon release, Bava took flack for the incomprehensible plot, and it is. You have various murderers vaguely related to Federica’s children; on top of that you have a couple of joyriders who stumble into things who possibly have connections. It doesn’t help matters that names aren’t put out there often, and the characters vaguely resemble each other (or are just really nondescript). I had to look up the plot – that I was paying attention to – on Wiki, and even then it reads terribly. Bava obviously felt inspired by the convoluted mysteries of Agatha Christie, and he succeeds in setting up a twisted web, but presents no way to untangle it. I have no issue with that because the bloodlust is what you’re watching for! And for my male readers, there is a fair bit of nudity, as there always is in a good slasher film. I mean, it wouldn’t be an Italian film without a buxom Italian girl in a dress/shirt running around nude, right?
The various death sequences are inspired, and increasingly gruesome, culminating in a decapitation juxtaposed with a broken face sculpture that’s as hilarious as it is disgusting; Bava certainly isn’t afraid of moving the camera from a close-up of a sliced head. The ending is another chuckle moment, ultimately leaving the movie to be one of futility that has to be seen to be believed.
Kino’s transfer is fantastic; the blood is bright red, which heightens the artifice of it and prevents the audience from becoming too disgusted. The score is a bit loud, particularly when people are talking. There is an audio commentary with Tim Lucas who wrote a book on Bava’s work. It’s an informative piece discussing Bava as a director, his various quirks, and the bright blood! There’s also an alternate European release unchanged from the American, except you have the option of watching the movie in Italian with English subtitles. This is a much appreciated feature that I wish was included in the poorly dubbed Black Sabbath or Kidnapped. Here, the movie is actually dubbed very well, almost to the point where I believed a few actors recorded dialogue live, so I didn’t feel the need to switch. There’s also trailers for other Bava films in the Kino collection and the theatrical trailer.
A Bay of Blood is an intent Italian horror film gushing blood out of every pore. The story lacks coherence, but the actors know how to scream and the slashing is on high alert. Kino turned me into a new movie for my Halloween festivities..
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Bay of Blood: Kino Classics Remastered Edition [Blu-ray]
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.