If you want to begin your journey into the world of Italian Exploitation cinema, consider Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Last House on the Left Part II, and so, so many other alternate titles) your ground zero. Famously constructed around “13 characters, 13 murders” Bay of Blood also set the template for all slasher films that followed its trendsetting run thru Drive-ins in the early ‘70’s. Viewed today, it is still a potent experience, with considerable levels of gore and bloodletting. The genesis of the project was Bava and his screenwriters dreaming up murder sequences, and then constructing a plot to connect these set pieces. While this seems standard for horror films now, for its time this approach was revolutionary.
With a murder occurring every 5-8 minutes, Bay of Blood did more than any other film to set the temp for the modern slasher film.
Concerning the quest for various groups of nefarious characters trying to gain the inheritance of a desirable waterfront property (the titular Bay), no sympathetic characters emerge. Like an insane game of checkers, one group bumps off another after another, characters are introduced in smash cuts while bumping off already established characters. The victims are perpetrators and the perpetrators are victims. The real, true, villain is greed and man’s inhumanity to man.
Mario Bava was a master of economy. When the script required a forest to run through, and the location was barren, Bava glued branches to some stands and ran them in front of the camera to replicate a real forest. To accomplish long tracking shots and dollies, he used a child’s toy wagon that he personally stood in (he also doubled as the film’s director of photography in a further penny pinching move). To create the coveted waterfront Villa the characters are vying for, Bava personally painted a glass matte of one.
There are two blu-rays readily available for Bay of Blood: a domestic release from Kino Lorber and an import release from international genre label Arrow Video. For the purpose of this review, the Arrow release is the one sampled. It contains two crucial supplements to enhance your viewing experience. The first is the slightly longer Italian language version of the film. All scenes containing dialogue were shot two ways: the first was meant for the international dubbed releases of the film, and the second version was shot for the native Italian language release. Bay of Blood plays a bit better in its native language, dialogue is better, character details are more nuanced, and the dialogue exchanges feel less stilted.
For fans of the film, it is a fascinating alternative to the more common dub release (think the difference between watching a Kung Fu film dubbed vs. subtitled). The second crucial supplement is a commentary track featuring the foremost Bava biographer, Tim Lucas (who also runs the essential Video Watchdog magazine). Lucas does an encyclopedic job in tracking all the creative contributors to Bay of Blood, and their careers before and after this film. Lucas also clearly delineates the underlying themes and clarifies some at times confusing plotting.
Bay of Blood also has one of the most nihilistic, never repeated, final shots in film history. Once you’ve made your way through this one, you will know if the world of Italian exploitation is for you or not. The dividing line is drawn here.
Written by Michael Felix
“Is this movie in 3D?”
“No, but your face is!”
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