A Bay of Blood (1971)

a.k.a. - Reazione a catena (ITA), Twitch of the Death Nerve (USA)
Antefatto - Ecologia del delitto (ITA), Blood Bath (UK)

Claudine Auger and Luigi Pistilli star in a proto-slasher Giallo from director Mario Bava. ABUS R0 DVD

The Film

Countess Federica Donati is murdered by her husband Count Filippo, he makes the killing look like suicide but while sorting out the body he is stabbed to death by an unseen assailant. Later four young students on holiday travel into the Bay, but when Brunhilda takes a skinny-dip in the lake she stumbles across the body of Count Filippo - to hide the discovery, the killer chases and murders Brunhilda and her friends. Meanwhile, the Bay's curious residents are being observed by Albert (Luigi Pistilli) and Renata (Claudine Auger) who have a vested interest in discovering what people know about the Countess' death and as they delve deeper, the body count begins to rise...

Co-written by one of the most influencial writers of the Euro-cult era, Dardano Sacchetti (Lo squartatore di New York (1982)), Bay of Blood is a deliberately deceptive film - the first scene in particular plays on the already well established trait of the black leather gloves worn by Giallo killers and teases the audience by keeping the murderous Count's face hidden at first as though his identity is supposed to be a secret before unexpectedly revealing him only to see him stabbed to death a moment later. The main storyline however eschews the typical Giallo approach - there is no real search for the Count's murderer since no-one really knows that he has been killed and so none of the usual police proceedurals, instead a highly eccentric mix of characters around the bay get killed off for a whole variety of reasons which may or may not be connected to the initial murder. The script manages to build some effective mystery and tension around these killings as it unravels a highly convoluted plot that somehow avoids any plot holes as it builds to an effective climax with an inexplicable but rather fitting conclusion.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the storyline is a twenty minute sequence after the opening murder and before the main storyline kicks in, where four students explore the area and are killed off. Viewed in retrospect this seems to be a rather generic sequence borrowed from an American style slasher movie, but coming three years before the first accepted genre entry Black Christmas and almost a decade before the slasher boom, its precedence is certainly noteworthy, pre-empting a number of the genre clichés including the teenagers' penchant for skinny dipping and being killed while having sex. The sequence has no real connection to the main storyline and seems to exist to merely up the eventual body count, but it is well paced and fits well with the irreverant tone of the film as a whole.

Director Mario Bava's trio of unorthodox giallo projects (along with Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Five Dolls for an August Moon) in the eary 1970s moved away from his better known red and green lit gothic horror style, using a naturalistic setting with some elaborate camerawork, but Bay of Blood is probably the weakest of the three, with an incredible overuse of very slow 'out of focus' dissolves and the inclusion of numerous long shots of the bay that serve to slow the film down considerably. In keeping with the slasher movie stylings, Bava does amp up the exploitation here with probably his longest (and most utterly gratuitous) nude scene as one of the teens goes swimming as well as strongly emphasising the gory killings, although the Fulci-esque extreme close-ups on these do serve to highlight the special effects' shortcomings. Composer Stelvio Cipriani provides a neat title score which is modulated in many scenes, but the rest of the soundtrack is a light orchestral piano work (bringing to mind the often tiresome score of Black Sunday (1960)) which just seems completely out of place.

Top billed is actress Claudine Auger, best known for her role in the Bond film Thunderball (1965) but the most recognisable face is rugged Spaghetti Western regular Luigi Pistilli, both of whom give good performances. Acting is generally strong all round and a few familiar faces crop up, including German actress Brigitte Skay as the doomed skinny dipper who also appeared in Bava's sex comedy Quante volte... quella notte (1972).

If Sei donne per l'assassino (1963) is the prototype Giallo film, then Bay of Blood is the proto-slasher, forshadowing the themes and visual motifs of the American genre boom by almost a decade. Unfortunately this segment is the most effective in a film that although well written suffers from erratic pacing and hit-and-miss direction from Bava, not aided by a sub-par soundtrack. Certainly of interest to Bava fans but far from his best work.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Luigi Pistilli - Italian actor who appeared in Sergio Cobucci's The Great Silence (1969)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - the original maestro of Italian horror, behind such classics as Black Sunday (1960), Black Sabbath (1963) and Kill Baby Kill (1966)
Any gore or violence ? Several very gory murders.
Any sex or nudity? A quite long female skinning dipping sequence with full frontal nudity.
Who is it for? Of interest to Bava fans but not one of his best creations.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
Some light damage and quite a bit of grain but picture quality is generally good with plenty of detail.
Audio English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary from Bava expert Tim Lucas with his typically high level of detail.
  • Theatrical trailer - selling the film as Carnage, English text but no spoken audio.
  • Two US radio spots as Twitch of the Death Nerve, touting the film as requiring a "face to face" warning in the theater to emphasise the "intense terror".
  • Still and poster gallery - manually scrolling.
Availability Only available in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Numerous versions are available. Released by Arrow in the UK in DVD and Blu-ray versions with extensive extra features, including an interview with cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia and the slightly different Italian cut of the film.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the original English language export version. The Italian version includes some different editing in the dialogue scenes although the sex and murder scenes are unchanged. Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 4th April 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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