A Bay of Blood, Blood Bath, Reazione a catena (1971)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Filippo Ottoni, Franco Barberi, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Mario Bava
Starring: Claudine Auger, Claudio Camaso, Luigi Pistilli
Director: Mario Bava
First released: 1983 (although made in 1971)
Current status: Passed 18 uncut in the UK
Shockingly MarioBava’s classic film was refused a certificate by the BBFC in 1972 for it’s first cinema release and had to wait over ten years to finally get a VHS release in February 1983 on the Hokushin label. The film was removed from the shelves in March 1984 as part of the Video Nasty madness and became a collectable from The List. The film was finally released by Redemption in 1994 as Bay of Blood and had 43 seconds of cuts. The BBFC eventually allowed the film to be released uncut for the 2010 Arrow DVD/Bluray release.
Being a bit of a newcomer to Bava I must say I was highly impressed with this dark and unsettling mystery and yet cannot for the life of me understand how the film failed to even get a cinema release all those years ago. Here, Bava has created a horror film of the highest quality in every sense of the word and to not then go and learn some history of the great man I feel is an insult to his legacy. After all, it is said that Bava is the man responsible for creating one of the finest genres in horror, the Giallo. Bava studied to become a painter, and yet after helping out on his Dad’s films (his Dad Eugenio Bava was a well respected film photographer) Mario decided to enter the world of films for himself. Mario made a few short films in the 1940’s and moved on to be a cinematographer until the 1960’s and got himself a bit of a reputation as a special effects genius. His artistic background meant he was able to use colours and lighting ti exceptional effect and he was so good at it he was asked to do the special effects on the 1976 colour version of King Kong. Bava refused. He was so proud of his paintings too, and even used them in some of his films. In 1956 Bava stepped in to finish directing I Vampiri after the original director had a fall out with the studios, the film was finished on time and also known as The Devil’s Commandment and went on to inspire a new wave of Italian Gothic horror. Bava went on to “save” two more films and eventually the studio Galatea offered Bava the chance to direct whatever he wanted and they would finance it.
Revenge of the Vampire (1960) was Bava’s first proper film and was in black and white. With films like Hercules in the Centre of the Earth (1961) and The Whip and the Flesh (1963) Bava really started to make full use of the colours and artistic skills he had as a painter, and Bava perfected his style with the following two films La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (1963) and Sie Donne per L’assassino (1964) and finally the Giallo was born. Bava went on to make all sorts of films like Westerns, action films and even softcore movies, but his home was horror films and Giallo mysteries. His son Lamberto Bava worked as an assistant on most of his films from 1965, and Lamberto eventually became a director himself in 1980. From 1975 Mario’s films and popularity went into decline until his son asked his out of retirement to direct Shock. Mario died of a heart attack on April 27th 1980 aged 65.
But Bava left a legacy behind him, not only did he single handedly start the Giallo genre, many say it was this film (Blood Bath) that started the slasher genre. Watching Blood Bath it is not hard to see why. The film is delivered with exceptional style and vicious violence. Bava used his skills like no other in creating one hell of an atmosphere in a simple location in a bay. Budget restraints meant that most of the shots inside houses were done using houses of the crew, or a favourite villa of Bava’s was used as the Countesses house. Bava was only able to film on a small private part of land, however his skills with camera trickery were put to great use to create a much larger landscape. Supposedly he used branches to cover his camera’s to give the effect of woods, which gave the crew much to laugh about during filming. The film itself is a simple tale of double crossing and murder but told in a way that it never becomes boring or slow, and even though the film barely gets past 80 minutes, it is constantly interesting, intriguing and exciting. Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) opens the main story by what looks like a suicide. It would seem that she has hung herself, and left a conveniant suicide note, however other members of her family feel she may have been murdered for either her money or her land. Her husband is also missing and doubt and mystery consume the bay as family and friends point fingers and try to solve the mystery. Everyone who was in the Countesses will are involved in working out the clues and blaming the other person. Pretty soon violent and nasty murders begin to take place, with the killer never being revealed but with each death more brutal than the next. To say much more about the plot would honestly spoil things as this is a good old fashioned mystery where the less you know about the story the better.
However, the inclusion of a group of friends who visit the bay for a weekend away will not spoil the plot. It almost feels like they were added to the film to give the killer a proper introduction, and allow Bava to include a few more deaths on screen. As soon as the friends arrive and settle in, they get murdered in specatcular fashion. In fact, the murders in this film are so influential, Friday the 13th Part 2 copied two of them scene for scene alike. A large meat clever is used in sickly fashion as it literally tears a chunk out of a poor girls neck, a spear is brilliantly used to stab through two lovers having sex and knives come out for multiple stabbings. Argento was supposedly in love with this film, and you can see it’s influences all over his brilliant work. Argento also stole a print of this film when it was first released in Italy. A friend of his worked as a projectionist, and Argento got him to steel the print, and instead the theatre played a different film while Argento kept his stolen print at home. Apparantly he still has it!
The music and style to Bava’s masterpiece is undoubtedly Italian, with strong European Jazz music used to create a dangerous tone, and every now and again the use of strong yellows and reds are used, much like Argento went on to make his trademark. But is it the incredibly forced use of dark and bright blues and serious blacks that Bava utilises best. Most of the film is either filmed at night, or as the sun is going down, and so there is little help from a bright, happy atmosphere. It is dark, moody and intense with all the actors giving surprisingly brilliant performances. Each character has his or her own personality and it would seem that Bava has left nothing to chance, making sure even the smallest characters get given the chance to made an impact. The guy who collects bugs is a great creation, a true oddball and Bava very very cleverly arouses suspicions on the whole cast before the final reveal. The film also has a very sexy mood, even though there is hardly any sex in it, the female characters are very seducing and feel almost porn-like. Whether this was intentional, or whether it was just Bava’s past soft-porn films shinning through I don’t know but the girls here are very attractive and pleasing on the eye.
Camera movements are put to great use here too, and tracking shots were created using a child toy, again due to budget restraints. Bava like’s to jolt the viewer into a sense of panic. His murders are quick, but horrific with the camera often panning into a sudden close-up to conjure up fear. One victim brilliantly lands on the camera after being strangled! Christopher Lee saw this film at the cinema and supposedly walked out in protest about the level of violence on offer, so that is testament to the films nature. Personally, i think the violence is carefully handled, is not too gratuitous as to be tha main draw of the film, and instead carries the film in the direction its creator wanted it to go. Considering when this film was made, it is well before it’s time and can sit nicely alongside horrors today. With more alternative titles than any other movie in history, Bava’s Blood Bath, or Bay of Blood as it is better known, is a tour de force in horror and one of THE most influential horrors of all time. For that reason alone, it demands respect. This was my first venture into Bava’s world and i must admit it is a truly unique and quite brilliant world that is timeless and clever. Horror directors clearly still learn from this movie alone, and even try to better it. Not many can.
Did this film deserve to be on the Video Nasty List: For its time, oh yes most definitely, the violence on offer here for all those years ago is quite shocking, although the quality of the actual films means that it is clearly not violence for violence sake and is instead a well crafted mystery that maybe the BBFC should have been a bit more leniant with