Bay of Blood (1971)
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, Sergio Canevari, Dardano Sacchetti, and Franco Barberi
Starring: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Laura Betti, and Claudio Camaso

The Plot: Our film begins, as all great stories do, with an elderly woman being strangled with a noose by her husband. Although this may seem cliche, A Bay of Blood isn’t afraid to switch things up! So, we then watch as the deceased woman’s husband is killed by a faceless assailant immediately after he finishes the job. This new killer then drags the murdering son, Fillipo, out to the bay that their home sits upon, leaving the police to find a forged suicide note that tries to explain the elderly woman’s death. Meanwhile, Fillipo’s body is not found during the investigation. Our film then skips forward in time and we meet four young teens who are hoping to spend their weekend partying by the bay, unfortunately they are instead hunted down and murdered one by one. In a very violent sequence of events that are not foreshadowed in great detail, the movie dispatches all four of the teens as they become part of the bodycount building up around this bay. We then meet real estate agent Frank and his wife Laura who are interested in some property by the bay, and as the film unfurls, through them we will witness why all of this undue carnage has been taking place.

The Review
At this point in my experience with Italian horror cinema, I must confess that I seem terribly late to the party when it comes to celebrating the career of Mario Bava. While I have been quick to give him his due in the past, I have not fully explored his filmography. With as many films as he has made, approaching his library is no easy task. A Bay of Blood (or Bay of Blood, or Twitch of the Death Nerve), is a movie of his that I do have some familiarity with. In fact, it was probably one of the first Bava films that I had ever seen. Unfortunately, my initial viewing of the film was marred by a terrible print that blocked much of the atmosphere that might have been needed to properly give the film an honest review. So, some thirteen years after my initial viewing I am prepared to give Bay of Blood another look. As one might expect, my opinion has certainly elevated, but I must confess that I honestly do not have the affection for it that so many others have shown in the past. While the film is far from being considered terrible, I think that very few would consider it the best example of what he was capable of as a director.

The film, by the time it reaches the “four teenagers” section, seems entertaining enough due to its hints at nostalgia. This single film is often seen as the template for the slasher genre during the eighties, so this certainly seems rather expected. Unfortunately, the first half of the movie is so similar to the slasher genre that even its most negative attributes show up. For instance, the youthful angle is played early on, which rings true of the slasher genre but is quite different from what expect from the average giallo. Normally, one might expect the protagonist to be a grown man with an artistic background, but in our introduction we are saddled with these four youngsters who have none of the worldly experience that we might expect. Thus, the characters stand out as being arbitrary nuisances who offer the viewer very little. Being perfectly honest, they aren’t even very interesting in terms of the slasher genre. The female cast lacks a “final girl” who the audience, at least the ones who don’t see themselves as braindead nymphos, can identify with, and the males are comprised of one horny-idiot and one idiot-idiot. So, oddly enough, these kids are done away with very quickly. This is probably best for the film as a whole, but the obvious bait-and-switch move, so similar Psycho that it hurts, Bava doesn’t contribute any extra suspense to the story. There’s no shock to this, only relief that we may have characters who actually stand out.

For sure, the negative attributes of the slasher genre are found here, but so are the positives. For instance, the red herrings that define the giallo (and to a lesser degree show up in the slasher genre), are present and fully accounted for in Bay of Blood. I am always a fan of the misdirection used in these movies, and Bay of Blood does well in giving several would-be murderers for the audience to accuse within their mind. There’s the crazy bug-obsessed neighbor who had severe problems with his elderly neighbors, and of course he continually spouts off his motivation to anyone who will listen. Then there’s the absolutely bonkers character Simon who just happens to find Mr. Fillipo Donati dead in the bay, but refused to tell anyone about it. Then there’s Mr. Ventura, who when introduced to our main protagonists carries an axe and starts running after our them without daring to speak aloud any words that might prove his innocence. Of course, you never can tell who the actual killer is going to be, because the giallo format allows for a certain amount of dream logic. The twists and turns don’t always have to make sense, but they’re certainly impossible to predict. Unfortunately, there’s a bit too much of this sort of logic at work in Bay of Blood. As the twists begin towards the end, they come in quick secession. Then, when everything seems fine, further twists come, right up until the end of the movie. Unfortunately, nothing comes of this other than a lot of confusion and a lack of cohesion.

Conceived on the fly by Bava and actress Laura Betti, A Bay of Blood doesn’t seem as if it was ever destined to be as popular as it still remains today. It might be due to its high bodycount, making it a sort of proto-slasher, but the movie is still remembered very well today. That is more than what can be said for numerous other giallo films out there that have ultimately become lost in the ether. A Bay of Blood is interesting if only that it shows what Bava could do with a limited budget and a limited script. Unfortunately, when you watch the movie, it seems completely unlike his best films. With Mario Bava’s work, there is always an expectation of brilliant visuals. He is the man who showed us how outrageous and over-the-top Italian genre cinema could be in terms of its color palette. Surprisingly though, Bay of Blood is relatively toned down for this director. While there are moments of creativity, for much of the movie’s running time we are surrounded by the gritty outdoors and a total lack of any staged theatrics. This is likely due to the extremely low budget of the film. Shot mostly on location and without much in terms of resources, Bava was forced to do his own photography and the film is even well known for Bava having used a small wagon to produce many of the tracking shots shown in the film. Unfortunately, without Bava’s aesthetic eccentricities, and with a plot that seems to meander its way into a very deep mess, the movie lacks much of the punch that one expects from this filmmaker. While it is heralded as a classic in many areas, A Bay of Blood just doesn’t seem to have the entertainment value that so much of Bava’s other work seems to haveFriday the 13th Part 2, which obviously borrows heavily from it in terms of the onscreen kills, actually does. And for the few of you out there who don’t know, the “spear through the back of two lovers” sequence and the “machete to the face” bit from this movie were stolen shot-for-shot and re-used in the second Friday movie.

The Conclusion
Bay of Blood may just be one of those movies that will never sit well with me. These days I try to write out my reviews without putting myself into them, using words like “I”, “me”, and “personally,” it seems that this is a movie that I may always have issues with. Despite the rest of the world being in love with it, I am not likely to “come around” on this one. Still, for what its worth, I don’t consider Bay of Blood to be awful. At worst, it is a misfire. It’s easy to watch, but overall it passes by and I am left with very little recollection of the experience. Bava fans may want to slaughter me, but I’ll instead re-visit Blood and Black Lace a dozen times more before going back to Bay of Blood. It gets a three out of five.