Kino Lorber // 1971 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 11th, 2013
Gee, they're good at playing dead, aren't they?
Italian horror legend Mario Bava was not able to appreciate his 1970 mystery, Five Dolls for an August Moon. It wasn't his project and he thought the story, a shabby rewrite of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, was terrible and for the rest of his life, whenever he would be asked about the movie, would disparage it. Apparently, it gave him an idea, though, because the following year he released A Bay of Blood, his own (exceedingly more gruesome) version of the concept and the film that would have the strongest influence on modern horror of any other in his career.
A rich elderly socialite (Isa Miranda, The Night Porter) is murdered by her husband (Giovanni Nuvoletti) for some reason, who is then dispatched by someone else, a black-gloved killer who dumps him in the river. From that comes a vague story about the crooked sale of the dead couple's property in which each of the characters we meet gets murdered in order in various and bizarre fashions.
A Bay of Blood was known as Twitch of the Death Nerve on its previous DVD release many years ago and alternately called Bloodbath, Carnage, or Last House on the Left II depending on where you lived when it was shown. By whatever name, this may be the first horror movie that deliberately does not concern itself whatsoever with character or story, a movie whose only concern is its body count. Mario Bava used to quip that the movie was "thirteen characters and thirteen murders" and, though I can be a horror dork and say that there are actually fifteen characters, that's exactly the attitude the movie takes.
That attitude, subsequently, became the template for the slasher explosion that would come later in the decade. Creativity of the kills was suddenly more important than anything else and, for all the complaining about corny dialog and hackneyed plots, that formula became box office gangbusters for over a decade. Despite that, it was reviled in its day, though it's an absolutely unabashed work of violence, even for 1971.
While it's basically a giallo at heart, there's really no substance to the mystery. Nobody is on the screen for long enough for us to get to know them. At most, we get a few lines or a brief conversation to establish that they're bad people before being taken out. There's really nothing interesting to figure out; it's good enough to just take pleasure in watching these losers get dispatched. It didn't go over so well at the time, but that's the whole fun of the genre it inspired. That inspiration becomes eminently clear when fans see two of the thirteen murders here cribbed outright by Steve Miner for his Friday the 13th Part 2. I can't really fault him for doing it either; they are some pretty great kills.
And at one every seven minutes, it moves extremely quickly, but Bava's style suffers as a result. While its plot shares the "and then there were none" scheme with Five Dolls for an August Moon, it shares none of its over-the-top style. Instead, he replaces that style with ridiculous violence and completely abandons the restraint he showed in the previous film. This one and the last are like two sides of the same coin and, given that the two movies have been released at the same time, it's nice for comparison.
A Bay of Blood is a slasher fan's dream of a movie; virtually plotless, with no redeeming value aside from watching people die in various creative ways. More of them have been made than you can shake a bloody knife at, but this is the one that started it all, and started it off running. It's a slasher at its most pure that still stands as one of the best things to ever happen to the genre.
Like most of what Kino International has done with their Mario Bava Collection, A Bay of Blood fares extremely well on Blu-ray. The new 1.78:1/1080p high-definition transfer looks great, with a crisper and cleaner picture that it has ever had. Colors are nicely balanced, the grain structure is natural and nice looking, and black levels are consistently deep. There are a few lines and spots on the picture, but this print damage is never distracting and, comparatively, this looks phenomenal. The sound is improved, as well, but not quite as much. The dialog and music are both fairly clear, but there is a bit of hiss in the background.
Extras are a little higher than standard for the collection. First, we get the standard commentary from Bava expert Tim Lucas who, predictably, delivers a solid, information-packed talk that gets into the context surrounding the movie and the production itself. Interestingly, the disc also features the Italian version of the movie. The violence is all exactly the same and it has essentially the same running time, but the dialog is a little more coherent than the English version. It's not different enough to warrant a separate viewing, but it's interesting to watch in any case.
A Bay of Blood is neither Bava's most stylish film nor his most accomplished; it's not his scariest and, as for the acting and plot, it leaves a lot to be desired. It did, however, help to spawn the entire generation of horror that I grew up with, so for any faults that it might have, it may be his most important picture. Now, with this lovely new Blu-ray, fans have a chance to see it looking better than ever before on home video and this release comes highly recommended.
Everybody's guilty here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
* PCM 1.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Italian Cut