Bay of Blood (IT - DVD R2)
Gabe takes a trip to the bay that built the Crystal Lake, and started a genre..
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A wealthy heiress and landowner dies under mysterious circumstances (her husband did it, but don't worry, he was done in too), and anyone with a minute claim to her property shows up to collect. The would-be heirs and heiresses start offing each other in increasingly creative and graphic ways, along with some dimwitted teenagers that stop by the bay looking for a party. Basically, it's Ten Little Indians on the bay.
I know you've been saying for some time now, "Gabe, what's with all the love for Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci? Aren't you forgetting someone?", and by God you're right. How could I go so long without spooning a bit of much needed love upon the real Godfather of Italian horror cinema, Mario Bava?
Bava, for those who don't know, is quite possibly the most influential filmmaker to ever come out of the spaghetti factory. More influential than Argento, more influential than Antonioni, more influential than Bertolucci, even more influential than Felinni. The only Italian director I can think of that may've had a larger effect on modern film is Sergio Leone, but it's a close call. Unfortunately for Bava, his influence has given rise to some of the worst horror film and thrillers available, but it's not as if he gets the credit anyway.
Some of Bava's biggest fans include Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Dario Argento (who worked with Bava and his son), Tim Burton, John Carpenter, and of course, Quentin Tarantino. Bava's influence is most obvious in three films – Black Sunday, Planet of the Vampires, and this one Bay of Blood (aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood Bath, and Reazione a Catena among others). Black Sunday is the quintessential film in Bava's cannon, and its unabashedly gothic atmosphere had an obvious effect on young filmmakers like Roger Corman in the 1960s. It became the director's signature look.
Vampires took this gothic look to the Sci-Fi realm, where Bava utilized atmospheric smoke to hide the production's low budget. This look had an obvious influence on Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi masterpiece Alien, though whether it was Scott or writer Dan O'Bannon that developed this influence is up for argument. Filmmakers were not as willing to reveal their inspirations during the pre-Tarantino it seems.
Bava brought the Giallo genre to the forefront of Italian cinema with films like The Evil Eye and Blood and Black Lace. Dario Argento would soon popularize the genre with his solo directorial début, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Though these Giallo films had an influence on the slasher genre (genre forerunner John Carpenter has admitted as such) it was Bay of Blood that would be specifically copied by the ne plus ultra of slasher film series, Friday the 13th. The first chapter of the popular camp crystal lake chronicles owes almost everything to Bava's film, right down to the style of sweater its killer wears (who if you'll remember was Mrs. Voorhees, not Jason). The first sequel even lifted Bay of Blood's most popular murder, the steak-through-a-couple bit.
Bay of Blood is not Bava's best film, but it's definitely in the top five, and a very easy place to start. The plot is swift, and in a way kind of pointless. There's nothing 'challenging' about the production, unlike some of Bava's more experimental and cerebral work (see Lisa and the Devil if that's more your thing, but be sure to avoid the American re-release version titled House of Exorcism). The only thing standing in the way of all out mainstream acceptance of the film is Bava's decision to pull focus between each scene, rather than wiping, cutting, or fading. The effect is a bit jarring, and doesn't quite work because the cuts can still be seen.
Bay of Blood is a great amalgamation of Bava's most popular film styles, his Giallo thrillers and his mod-chic comic book capers. Anyone who's had the utter pleasure of ever seeing Danger: Diabolik knows how far over-the-top Bava can go without ever faltering. I guarantee this is the most fun you'll ever have watching an "important" film. It's dated to be sure, but in a beautiful time-capsule way, and we wouldn't want it to look any different.
I use to own the region free Simtar budget release of Bay of Blood, and it was sad. The picture was way too dark, to the point that I couldn't tell what was going on half the time, and the non-anamorphic aspect ratio changed through-out the run time from 1.33:1, to 1.66:1, to about 1.77:1. I should've bought the Image release under the title Twitch of the Death Nerve (which sounds like a bitchin' heavy metal band) when I had the chance, but it's out of print now. Thankfully, Raro Video's Italian release is a fine substitution, and anamorphic to boot.
Every DVD version of the film has its problems, and this releases is its contrast levels, which are too high. The Image and German releases, from what I can tell from various comparisons about the net, are too dark overall, but are much softer. Bright spots are far too bright and detail is lacking as a result. There's also plenty of film grain and a whole bunch of film artefacts, but nothing too brutal. This disc is a step up from the Simtar release to be sure, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
I'm making a last minute addition here to say that I just watched part of the film on an IFC channel broadcast, and their transfer was head and heels above this or any other transfer I've seen. There must be a good print out there somewhere.
The one thing Argento has always had on Bava was the effort he put into his film's soundtracks, and the employment of the prog rock band Goblin was a very important aspect of his early work. As a former cinematographer, Bava has never seemed that concerned with audio, but usually his films don't suffer. Bava has opted for a kind of swinger's score on this particular film, and it usually works. The occasional thriller motifs are a bit lacking, and the film's overall silence is a little cheapening.
This Dolby Digital Mono track is serviceable, but a tad tinny. There were a few audio pops throughout, and sometimes dialogue is distorted. This is one of the few Italian genre pictures I've seen that was obviously recorded in its original language. Usually an Italian dub will still feature plenty of bad dubbing for the non-Italian crewmembers, but for the most part the lip-sync is right on. The disc's packaging lists an additional English track, but there is none.
The discs main special feature, aside from a trailer, is a featurette about the director himself. Running about 20 minutes, this mini doc features interviews with Bava's contemporaries, biographers, co-workers, and his family. Everyone seems to be in agreement that Bava was an underrated genius who was just about the nicest, least conceited man you'd ever meet. The doc isn't as encompassing as the hour-long American produced doc, Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre (which can be seen on the IFC channel on American cable every once and a while), but covers a lot of the same bases, and is a welcome addition to the disc.
If you consider yourself a fan of slasher flicks and want to get back to the genre's roots, or you simply want to take your first steps into the world of one of Italian cinema's real maestros, pick up a copy of Bay of Blood. It was part of the original Video Nasties list, but seems to have been removed recently, and is now available in the U.K.. This DVD features a fine little documentary that will assist new viewers in their impending Bava endeavor, but is lacking a bit in the video field.
Now if you excuse me, I've got some catching up to do on Bava myself. I'm going to rent The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Black Sabbath.
You can purchase this, and other Bava films from my friends at Xploitedcinema.com
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 26th February 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Italian Dolby Digital Mono
Extras: L'arte del Delitto Documentary, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonté, Anna Maria Rosati, Chris Avram
Length: 95 minutes
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