Director – Mario Bava
Cast – Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati, Chris Avram, Leopoldo Trieste, Laura Betti, Brigitte Skay, Isa Miranda
Release Year – 1971
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Famed yet under-appreciated Italian maestro director Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood, renamed Twitch of the Death Nerve, is often referred to as the film that started the slasher sub-genre, giving it the high cult-status it deserves. Years before its time, this film delivers heavily on the gore and shock-value, and contains many of the elements that would later be used to define the slasher sub-genre into one of horror’s greatest attributes.
A Bay of Blood centers on the murderous troubles caused by a wealthy inheritance. When a husband kills his wife and manipulates her death to be ruled a suicide, his anticipation of her wealth is short-lived when he himself is brutally murdered for the money and the family’s lake, which holds the potential to bring in millions of dollars in commercial development. When a group of teens visit’s the lake for a weekend of fun and other sleazy activities, the killer finds them to be potential witnesses to the crimes just commited, and as the list of heirs to the inheritance are murdered off, the death toll rises heavily in this gore-soaked iconic film.
Before Halloween, before Friday the 13th, there was A Bay of Blood, which unlike Psycho actually focused on the slasher element. Numerous comparisons can be made between A Bay of Blood and 1980’s Friday the 13th, which includes the fact that both films take place around a lake, as well as the fact that one of the kills in this film is sued scene-for-scene in Friday the 13th Part 2. Yup, you read correctly. While this flick is not as campy as Friday the 13th or as creepy as Halloween, it set the stage for the slasher carnage that would soon follow, and as you can tell…rip-off from the film as well.
Mario Bava’s direction is fantastic, with great sets, good visuals, and amazing camerawork which he was forced to do himself due to the film’s low budget not allowing them to employ a cinematographer. For a film with a shoe-string budget to come out this good and evolutionary it has to come with amazing direction, and Bava, as usual, gets the job done. The main selling point in this film is its kills and kill sequences, which for their time are incredibly satisfying and still satisfying to me in this day and age. Bava’s execution of these scenes was to shock, and shock he did thanks to the large amounts of gore and the nature in which the kills were delivered. His pacing is good, and while the film does come with a few slow sequences, all is made well by the feast he prepares for us gorehounds to enjoy.
The story of the film is great, but in all honesty I feel that it does drift away from the “slasher” label that this film has been given. While we get some great kills and a nice template for how a slasher does his/her work, the storyline does tend to change the film from its slasher feel to a film about greed and the horror that can be had from it. Basically, the first half of the film plays off like your normal slasher flick, but the second half kicks into a new element that focuses more on the greed behind what is going on. Because of this, we do not have some psycho killer hacking up people for vengeance or other reasons only known to him/her, but a killer who is just trying to cover their tracks, hardened by their thirst for the money at stake.
Despite this not being a devout slasher effort, the story comes with quite a few twists and turns and delivers both to those seeking a slasher experience and those looking to see a film showing the depravity and disregarding for human life at the hands of a desire for power and money. We are left guessing until the very end as to who the killer is, and to make matters even cooler…we are given a shocking climax that is never seen coming and delivers heavily on what Bava aimed to deliver…shock.
Overall, this is a fantastic and revolutionary horror film that opened the door to the numerous slasher films that adorned the late 70s and 80s. Numerous gory kills adorn the screen, and Bava’s direction sells every element of the film to the viewer with lots of shock value and a climax you never see coming.