A Bay of Blood begins with two murders, the first an inventive and twisted hanging in which a woman in a wheelchair (the Countess) has a noose tied around her neck and her wheelchair pushed out from under her. The perpetrator of this murder is then stabbed by an unseen second murderer. This little comic twist in the opening is a taste of the film that unfolds which is filled with scenes involving Bava injecting black comedy into the dark and lurid plot. The film then cuts to pastoral music and shots of the lake that is the film’s setting and main location. The camera then settles on a fly that dies, dropping into the lake. Everyone and anything in the bay will die.
The plot of the film centers on the struggles by the various characters to seize ownership of the lake area which is up for grabs following the death of the Countess. The characters are all willing to commit acts of violence in order to get the area for themselves and deaths begin to start stacking up early on. The plot is actually somewhat complex and with a lot of the characters given limited screen time it is sometimes hard to keep track of their motivations and keep up with the plot’s twists and turns. There is a definite Shakespearian influence to the story, particularly evidenced in the Lady Macbeth figure of Renata and an allusion to the play in Albert’s blood stained hands.
That said it is not the story that grabs one’s attention when watching A Bay of Blood and it is also not its strongest point. Alongside the visuals it is the violence, gore and proto-slasher elements that make A Bay of Blood such an entertaining watch. It is quite surprising when watching A Bay of Blood quite the impact that it clearly had and it’s huge influence on the Friday the 13th series in particular. The setting of course is very similar in both and there is even a reference made in the diary entry in A Bay of Blood to the date of Friday the 13th. There are also 13 murders in this film, two of which are noticeably similar to murders in Friday the 13th Part II; the scene where one of the characters has a machete embedded in his face and also in the sequence where a couple having sex in bed are impaled with a spear that goes through them both and out through the bottom of the bed. There are many other small similarities between the films, the most amusing probably being the use of the same knitted jumper worn by a killer in A Bay of Blood and Mrs Vorhees in the first Friday the 13th.
A Bay of Blood is perhaps the first true slasher film and without doubt a hugely influential one. It is not merely a historical reference point though, it is an exceptional horror film in its own right. The visuals that Bava creates, he was credited as both cinematographer and director, are absolutely stunning. In particular it his expert use of colour and composition that renders each frame with beauty that transcends the grimy subject matter.
One criticism of the Itallian Giallo masters has always been an accusation of style over substance and although the film does touch on ideas surrounding greed and man’s impact on the environment these are admittedly not well developed and add little to the film. There is substance but it is perhaps overshadowed by the masterful direction and stylistic choices, the style is simply greater than the substance. The blackly comic tone and thrilling pace ensure that the film is, in addition to being stunning to look at, also incredibly enjoyable, if a little lightweight. A Bay of Blood is a pleasure to watch though and the ending alone is enough to warrant checking the film out, with a dark sequence that would not look out of place in the films of Todd Solondz.
The new Blu-ray from Arrow video offer two options to watch the film, both the English version in 1080p and the Italian version in a much lower resolution. This is unfortunate but allegedly down to the availability of source materials. The English version has a wonderful transfer with the rich colours of Bava’s cinematograhy restored to all their glory but the sound on this version really lets it down. The sound mix, although of a high quality, is very uneven and the English dialogue is often far down in the mix. The Italian version by contrast is low quality in all areas but the definition of the dialogue in the mix is much clearer and despite the quality issues actually much more satisfying. Clearly constricted by poor source materials though Arrow have put together an excellent Blu-ray which despite these gripes is definitely worth purchasing.
Extra features are extremely plentiful with an informative commentary from Bava expert Tim Lucas (which also appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD) being the main highlight. There is also an interview with Joe Dante that goes into some detail about the way the picture was released including information on the various title changes.
The Blu-ray also includes the two Trailers From Hell videos on A Bay of Blood which feature Edgar Wright discussing the film. You can also watch these embedded at the bottom of this post.
The full details on what is included in the Blu-ray release are as follows.
– Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned art work
– Double-sided fold-out poster
– Collector’s Booklet by Jay Slater, critic and author of Eaten Alive!
– Brand new high definition transfer of the English version of the film (1080p)
– Italian cut of the film
– Original Mono Audio
– Argento! Bava! Fulci! The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti (1080p)
– Joe Dante on Mario Bava (1080p)
– Shooting a Spaghetti Splatter Classic: Cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia on A Bay of Blood (1080p)
– Audio discussion with Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
– A Bay of Blood Trailers: ‘Carnage’ and ‘Twitch of the Death Nerve’ with commentary by Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead
– Twitch of the Death Nerve Radio Spots
A Bay of Blood is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Arrow Video on the 20th of December.
Portions of this review were originally published on BandiniBlog.