Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Bay of Blood, or Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)

The slasher film began in earnest at the dawn of the 80s, having been spawned by classics such as Halloween and Black Christmas. The inspiration for the genre however came earlier, from the giallos of Italy, most notably Mario Bava's 1971 film Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, aka Ecology of Crime, aka Chain Reaction, aka Carnage, aka Last House on the Left 2, aka Deep Red 2, etc etc.

A calm bayside villa is rocked when the elderly Countess Donati is found dead, having seemingly committed suicide. Some have other suspicions though, and it's not long before a killer or killers unknown begin claiming new victims in their hunt for the old woman's fortune...

Bay of Blood begins with an arresting murder. It's already a pretty unique killing, but what makes it a surprise is that we see the killer's face...and his own violent end! From this point on you're kept on your toes. Anyone can die, and likewise anyone can be the killer. With that in mind the film never really concerns itself much with mystery, which could either harm or help the story, depending on how it's handled.

Where the movie falters is in its presentation. I had no idea what was going on for much of the story! There is a fairly small cast, everyone is important, and there's only one setting, so it seems like it'll be fairly easy to remember, but instead it's the opposite. Partly to blame is various characters looking the same, and another problem is that long periods will go by without seeing them, or they'll lack proper introductions.

The worst part is when four teenagers stop by the bay for some sun, sex, and skinny dipping, only to be butchered. This whole sequence feels completely random, and has nothing to do with the rest of the story. It makes even less sense when you find out who killed them. This grinds the story to a dead halt, and takes away screentime that could've been spent developing the rest of the cast.

Compared to Bava's other efforts, Bay of Blood has a lot less substance, feeling more like a show reel of murder sequences. This isn't necessarily a bad thing of course, and on purely entertaining merits it succeeds better than others, though it's a bit of a step down from his other more = efforts. One could read a little bit of = into the film though, = how one murder can create a domino effect, causing a seemingly endless cycle of death. The ending is also interesting in this regard. After all these people were murdering each-other one after the other, [the cycle was ended by two innocent kids who didn't know what they were doing. Innocence and purity ended the bloodshed.]

The tone of Bay of Blood is pretty serious for the most part, but never dourly so, and there's an air of slight humour throughout the production, namely in the showstopping ending. Some horror movies want you to leave contemplating heavy thoughts about the inhumanity of man. Others however want you to leave with a big ol' grin on your face.

The film's setting is perfect. It really feels reminiscent of later summer camp slashers, where   We get to see it in a few ways. At the height of daylight (where it still manages to feel creepy due to the effective atmosphere), during the orange of dusk/sunset, and the blue of oncoming night.

The death scenes in Bay of Blood are pretty spectacular. We get a few stranglings, some cool impalements, a machete to the face, and a hilarious decapitation, that had me rolling on the floor laughing. Carlo Rambaldi was always a tops effects designer, and this film is no exception.

Many slasher films would be inspired by this film, some more directly than others. A couple of Friday the 13th films are said by some to 'pay homage' to the deaths here. This is a polite and generous way of saying 'blatantly ripped off'. It's really brazen! Still, no hard feelings.

The characters are a fun bunch, from the sleazy lawyer and his girlfriend, to the murderous heir Renata and her henpecked husband ('Do I have to murder people?' is basically his outlook, before going 'Yes dear' and choking/stabbing people to death), the bickering entomologist and psychic, and the illegitimate heir Simon, a humble fisherman (and hypocrite, criticising the entomologist for killing animals for fun like a psycho, when he himself has the highest bodycount in the film!).

The actors in Bay of Blood are numerous, with some standouts being an icy Claudine Auger, to the creepy Tony Curtis lookalike Claudio Volonté.  Nicoletta Elmi also shows up, for a small but fun role alongside Renato Cestiè. It would have been nice to see more of them, but they at least get one memorable scene.

The direction is great here. Everything from conversations to the death scenes are filmed dynamically, and the shots of the bay really sell its natural beauty. Especially impressive when you hear how small this 'forest' actually was! There are a few point-of-view touches too, that feel suitably Hitchhockian.

Bay of Blood may not be Bava's best work, but it's certainly one of his most influential, and is still a highly enjoyable time for horror fans. It also never overstays its welcome at only 84 minutes long. It's definitely worth watching...


  1. Bava may have invented the giallo but I always felt that it wasn't really his forte. I'm a huge Bava fan but his giallos (or proto-giallos) leave me a bit underwhelmed.

  2. My personal favourite giallos have always been Argento's.

    Btw, thank you for all the comments. I'm replying to them all one by one, haha. I've been so busy writing that I hadn't checked my blog's comments in a while.