In the United Kingdom, A Bay of Blood was added to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list of 72 video nasties. A Bay of Blood was one of 39 films successfully prosecuted.
A Bay of Blood (Bahia de Sangre) (1971) (84 min)
Directed by Mario Bava.
aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood Bath, Carnage
Written by Franco Barberi, Mario Bava, Gene Luotto, Filippo Ottoni, Dardano Sacchetti and Giuseppe Zaccariello.
Starring Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli and Claudio Camaso.
Also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve, which I’m sure you will agree is a fantastic alternate title, A Bay of Blood is an Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava.
Originally released in 1971, A Bay of Blood was later refused certification from the BBFC in 1972, ensuring that the film could not be shown at any cinema within the United Kingdom. Fast forward to 1984, and the unmonitored home video market was beginning to find traction with consumers. Bava’s A Bay of Blood would finally find a UK audience upon it’s simultaneous release on VHS and Betamax (from Hokushin under the title Blood Bath) that same year.
Yet, no one could have anticipated the ferocity displayed in this trendsetting shock horror. Bava quickly dispenses of character development and replaces it with a series of grotesque murder set pieces, often at times punctuated with the blackest of humour. Humour that would escape the censors, whom ensured A Bay of Blood would be banned from distribution during the ‘Video Nasty’ media frenzy; not long after it’s pre-cert UK release.
Don’t worry about our little island, horror fiends… A Bay of Blood would return in 1994, albeit with 43 seconds cut from the film; at least until it’s uncut re-release in 2010, when common sense would prevail.
A Bay of Blood begins at Countess Federica’s (Isa Miranda) bayside property where, wheelchair-bound, she finds herself defenseless against an attack from her husband, Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti). Strangled to death, the countess’s corpse is left slumped in her own wheelchair, but Donati wouldn’t get away with her murder. In fact, he wouldn’t get very far at all! You see, Donati is viciously stabbed to death by an unknown assailant only moments later; his corpse dragged to the bay…
For the scheming personality of suave real estate agent Frank Ventura (Chris Avram) this presents the perfect opportunity. With the countess now dead (her death attributed to suicide) and her husband supposedly missing, possession of both the property and land was within his grasp. But there are others with a claim to the titular bay…prepared to kill if necessary for their inheritence.
What follows is a patchwork of narrative and violence, intricately woven together to form one of Mario Bava’s most graphically disturbing directional endevours; a procession of killing after killing, each death scene more imaginative and grotesque than the last. In this respect, A Bay of Blood could be considered a precursor to the slasher sub-genre popularised by John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978.
Yet, controversially A Bay of Blood was greeted with both disgust and disappointment upon it’s initial release; by various critics who had previously praised Bava’s earlier, more restrained gothic horror. Even the late Christopher Lee (Dracula, The Wicker Man), curious to see Bava’s latest film after working with him on 1963’s The Whip and the Body, was revolted by A Bay of Blood.
I must admit that I have a habit of reading reviews after I have watched a movie; not before. I don’t consider film critique to be a recommendation of a movie’s worth, as opinion is subjective. Instead I like to compare my own thoughts with others, and with A Bay of Blood this was no different.
In anticipation of writing my own review, I became particularity intrigued with the opinions of Jeffery Frentzen and Gary Johnson. Reviewing A Bay of Blood, under the title Twitch of the Death Nerve for Cinefantastique, Frentzen has this to say in 1974:
“Twitch of the Death Nerve is the director’s most complete failure to date. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter in Blood and Black Lace, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious details…”
Harsh. But Gary Johnson would be much more critical of the film in his 2006 analysis for Images:
“Twitch of the Death Nerve is made for people who derive pleasure from seeing other people killed…The resulting movie is guaranteed to make audiences squirm, but the violence is near pornographic. In the same way that pornographic movies reduce human interactions to the workings of genitals, Twitch of the Death Nerve reduces cinematic thrills to little more than knives slicing through flesh.”
Yes, A Bay of Blood is visceral. It stripped away at characterisation in favour of an increased catalogue of death sequences, and in doing so inspired a new generation of American filmmakers throughout the late 1970s and early 80s. Just watch 1981’s Friday the 13th Part II!
“I was interested in depicting a variety of approaches to murder, in presenting a definite catalogue of crime.” – Mario Bava
It is perhaps apt then that A Bay of Blood’s original Italian title, Reazione a catena, translates as ‘Chain Reaction’. Utilising his unique visual flair, Bava’s emphasis on murder set-pieces assisted in stoking the already volatile fires that were set by the media in 1980s Britain.
I imagine that the reactions of Frentzen and Johnson are not too dissimilar to those who championed the prosecution of ‘video nasties’ in 1984; with the obvious exception that Frentzen and Johnson had actually watched the movie they criticised. Johnson’s comparison of A Bay of Blood to porn mirrors similar sentiments made by David Edelstein when he dubbed the revived Splatter subgenre ‘Torture Porn’ in his analysis of Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). These reviews provide a better understanding as to why horror films, such as A Bay of Blood, elicit such disdain for trying, and in this case succeeding to horrify audiences through gruesome imaginary. As Rob Zombie said on the set of 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, “Art is not safe.”
With that said, Mario Bava’s film is perhaps the most stylish of all the prosecuted ‘video nasties’. Drenched in colour, Bava’s expressive use of lighting and shadow, and clever camera work, would have a profound impant on the horror genre. Carlo Rambaldi’s (Deep Red, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) special make-up effects would still haunt audiences 40+ years after A Bay of Blood’s theatrical debut, whilst Stelvio Cipriani’s score subtly moves between beautiful melodies to macabre pulsating rhythms.
No one can deny that A Bay of Blood is one of the most important and influential horror films released in the early 1970s. It became an early template for the 1980s slasher cycle, and pushed ‘Giallo’ into much darker territory. The structure of the narrative, although admittedly messy, was ambitious and a pleasure to watch, and the ending alone is enough for me to warrant A Bay of Blood’s recommendation. But I’m guessing you have already seen it?