Night #26: A Bay of Blood (1971)

Directed By: Mario Bava

They came to play, they stayed to die!” — Not a quote, but one of the taglines.

It’s always interesting when you see something that’s both new and yet familiar. You watch something like Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and you can see the influence that it’s had throughout the years. Images and ideas that were seen, processed and twisted into something else years later have those classic movies in their DNA. So watching them for the first time can sometimes mean you don’t appreciate it the same way you might’ve if you’d seen it on release. Instead there’s a nod of appreciation, and familiarity, but nothing more.

That was the case with The Bay of Blood which also went under the fantastic title Twitch of the Death Nerve. Actually it went under a whole slew of titles, with it being commonly held the movie has more alternate titles than any other movie in history. The initial US release even titled it The House on the Left Part II despite being made before Wes Craven’s seminal classic.

Though Bob Clark’s great Black Christmas was often cited as a large influence in slasher movie history, it’s likely a mix of elements of that movie and this one that found its way into Halloween and particularly Friday the 13th. It’s that movie that A Bay of Blood influenced the most, particularly one section in the middle in which both Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part II stole from directly. The latter for a couple of kills and the former steals some plot elements (As well as Mrs Vorhees sweater being identical to one that one of the killers where here). Not to cast dispersions on the people who made those Friday movies, but it’s quite easy to steal when you think that no one else will see the original.

What those movies didn’t ‘borrow’ was the totally convoluted plot. There’s 13 deaths in this movie, and there’s a whopping 7 killers. Legend has it that Mario Bava thought up the deaths first and then started shooting without a plot in place. It would certainly explain some things. The movie is poorly paced, with a middle section that drags out far too long as it has to introduce a new set of characters.

There’s a section, just before that, where some teenagers arrive (I think they’re teenagers anyway – it’s hard to tell with 70’s Italians) that’s proved most influential. Both the axe to the face and the shish kebabing of lovers during mid-cotius was stolen outright for the second Friday the 13th movie. Though it should be noted that everyone in the production denies being familiar with this A Bay of Blood, it’s clear that someone had to have seen it. One similar death I could excuse, but not multiple ones.

Sadly though, like I said things get way too convoluted, with a couple of plots going on at once. It’s not that it’s hard to follow as such, but it’s too complicated for its own good. Instead of drawing out who the killer is until the denouement, Bava instead introduces more…and then more again until you’re just watching murderers dispatching of murderers. However it ends on a hilarious note, complete with a cheerful Italian pop song to digest what you’ve just seen. It showcases Mario Bava’s gift at handling the macabre, particularly when you take into account who the last two killers are. It’s not Bava’s best movie by any stretch, it’s a little too loose and unpolished for that, but even when he’s not at his best Bava is better than most.

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