AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve. AKA Bloodbath. AKA The film that kinda started it all. Well, if by “all” you mean “slasher movies”, which is a statement I kinda disagree with a little. Kinda. Don’t lynch me! I don’t debate that Bay of Blood laid the template many slasher films, especially Friday The 13th, would follow. But I’d argue that the concept of a slasher movie had existed for decade in Psycho, Peeping Tom and even Kind Hearts and Coronets. The idea of a serial killer taking out many, many, people wasn’t new. But Bay of Blood did, certainly, add a whole lot of gore and established a bunch of new tropes. Click the link below for me saying what I think of the film itself.
Bay of Blood gets a little tricky to follow if I were to describe the plot as a full synopsis. Let’s just say it nearly goes full Italian. By which, I mean, it takes a simple concept and then convolutes the hell out of it because that’s just how Italians like to do their horror. The crux of the premise is simple though. Someone is killing people. He starts by killing the husband of the owner of the lake and the land around it where the film is set. The husband has just killed his wife, in a manner to look like suicide, in order to claim the land for himself. The next 45 minutes is a series of scenes until the main plot shows up and then goes in directions that will probably surprise. Basically lots of people die. 13 in total actually. If the aim of this film was to confound and surprise with its direction director legend Mario Bava certainly reached that goal.
So, how shockingly violent is this film that was one of the highest profile films seized during the video nasties era? Actually, it’s pretty satisfyingly gory. There’s big old knives stuck in faces, slit throats, multiple impalements. Oh, by multiple impalements I mean both that they happen multiple times and that, on one occasion, they involve multiple people. Oh, and there’s your standard decapitation which is followed by one of the greatest associative edits ever made on film. And man, Mario Bava loves them associative edits. He sure loved his focus pulls and zooms too. The gory moments are, very much, outdated in their effects work. But they’re also still effective enough to still work within the context of the film’s period.
As this was released in 1971 Bay of Blood is one of those films that happened in that part of the 70s that was still pretty much the 60s. As such, the score has a 60s swing vibe to it on many occasions. There’s also a large amount of swinging 60s free love attitude coming through during the sequence involving a group of young adults meeting their grisly demise. This series of scenes really don’t serve a great purpose to what eventually becomes the plot, other than providing a nice scare when the bodies are discovered. It did, however, firmly establish the trope that promiscuous young adults must be murdered because how dare they enjoy sex and stuff. Hell, Friday the 13th Part 2 actually rips off 2 of the murders wholesale. Hell, that series largely revolves around murders at a lakeside resort.
When it comes to the technical aspects of the film’s production, Bay of Blood has managed to pull off a little miracle. Mario Bava didn’t have much in the way of resources. His script called for a forest, which he didn’t have. But, with the help of a few carefully placed branches, utilising obscuring of shots through leave to give an impression of depth, Mario managed to give the feel of an at least somewhat dense forest. It still looks cheap as hell, but for it’s time, and budget, it looks pretty decent. Not great… but decent. As convoluted as the story does get it is quite nice to see an attempt to make it about a little more than someone just wanting to kill people. Because, let’s face it, your average slasher movie very rarely has an actual plot and motivation for the killings beyond evil guy must kill.
It’s a hard job to fully recommend Bay of Blood as anything more than a historical piece, or a curio. The film’s narrative serves to unravel the simple premise, which is some feat really. The directionless nature and lack of defined protagonist through the first 40 minutes can cause some serious attention fatigue. When a character appearing to be a protagonist does finally fully enter the story, beyond their earlier brief appearance, we’re soon sent for a loop and in search of a new lead. I’m not one to say that all films should follow a formula, or that you need the main character to even be a protagonist. Plenty of great films focus on the antagonist, The Last Seduction springing to mind. What we need, though, is a character to follow. In some ways this is the same issue I had with Red State. Although that did, at least, have the decency to have a protagonist role that just switched characters as the film went on. This film just has no lead to hook yourself to.
I’m narrative focused so this may be why I struggle with certain parts of Bay of Blood. It’s also the reason you won’t see me recommend a horror film just because it’s gory or trashy. Cannot stand those sites that recommend ever horror film they come across just because they have a daft concept, loads of blood, or both. A film is the sum of its parts and some of Bay of Blood’s parts are rotten. It doesn’t have the bizarreness of, say, House by the Cemetery. It doesn’t have the cleverly structured plotting of the first Saw. And only the first Saw. Sorta, I quite liked the sixth one. What I’m saying is, Bay of Blood lacks that extra element. It is still an important piece of cinema though, and I would say it’s worth watching for the completionists and those that want to see how many of the slasher tropes really started.