Most of what I know about Mario Bava comes from reading: the grandfather of Italian Horror, creator of the giallo genre and a prime influence on generations of filmmakers, among them Dario Argento, who would go on to refine and bring the genre to a legion of fans worldwide. But my practical film experience with Bava was limited to BLACK SUNDAY, admittedly a masterpiece of mood and a great movie to boot, but not really indicative of what I was about to see in BAY OF BLOOD, aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE.
A twisted version of an Agatha Christie mystery, BAY OF BLOOD starts out with the death of an insect, falling into the aforementioned bay. Within the next eight minutes the other two characters we meet, a wheelchair-bound old woman and a mysterious man are also killed with no explanation. The mysterious man throws a noose around the woman's next and kicks her wheelchair out from under her, leaving her to the die as her useless legs scrape against the floor. The man's victory is short-lived, as seconds later he's stabbed multiple times and slowly dragged away from the scene by someone unseen. These two murders set the scene for the rest of BAY OF BLOOD, as the rest of the characters introduced in short order either kill or die or do both as the mystery as to who the woman was and why she died comes to light.
A lot of BAY OF BLOOD may seem familiar to someone watching it for the first time: that's because large chunks of the film have been re-cycled over and over again in the slasher films we've all come to know and love, most notably FRIDAY THE 13th (reviewed here years ago), which utilizes the killer POV, the basic setting (trading a set of houses on the bay for a camp on the lake), right down to one of FRIDAY's more audacious kills (from the second film): the spearing of two kids making love:
But where BAY OF BLOOD outshines FRIDAY is in the glee it takes with its despicable cast of characters. No one is good - everyone is after something, and murder seems to be a small price to pay to get it. The only people seemingly innocent of the whole thing is the one piece of BAY OF BLOOD that falters - in the middle of everything that's happening a group of four kids our joyriding in a car that looks suspiciously like Speed Buggy wind up at the house where the old woman was murdered and decide to fool around and explore, and are of course promptly all killed within minutes. Later on their deaths are used to make a connection between two of the principle players later, but the whole sequence feels kind of wedged in, despite being a LOT of fun to watch.
Bava, who's also credited as one of the screenwriters as well as the DP, shows a great sense of lurid style, using bright colors juxtaposed with some of the dark surroundings, and a clever (if not always successful) use of going in and out of focus, particularly when coming up to a weapon. The film may not look very expensive, but it doesn't look cheap in any way, either. There a re plenty of great moments that are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, including a swimming scene where one of the girls gets her leg caught on a line that's holding down a dead body. When it rises to the surface, it makes its presence known by slowly floating toward her until its decayed hand prods her on the buttocks. The deaths are all flashy and use copious amounts of bright red, but the kicker has to be the ending, giving a big middle finger and a raspberry to everything that went on before it, all to a bright, sunny soundtrack.
As a history lesson BAY OF BLOOD shows exactly where so many of the tropes we've come to expect from our 80s slasher horror comes from, and also shows that it can be executed with a sense of style often missing from its larger budgeted descendants. Factor in the sweet ending and you have a great introduction to Bava's work as well as a film worthy for any midnight marathon.