Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Bay of Blood (1971)

Going off of vague references to its reputation, and its cult status, I thought A Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve, and about a dozen other alternate titles), by Italian director Mario Bava, was going to be some kind of ultraviolent bloodbath. In reality, it's pretty much just a European version of Friday the 13th (with partying "youngsters" getting killed off, and it's even got a harbinger in the form of a Tarot-reading gypsy). Not a rip-off, mind you - this movie predated the slasher craze by about a decade, and was a very strong influence on Friday the 13th, with its bay-side location, and at least one or two kills copied shot-for-shot.

It's interesting to note the differences between this film and the typical brainless slasher. The European influence counts for a lot - there is at least some emphasis on creating an artistic presentation, in the filming of the shots and also the music used. And the plot is remarkably grounded (if you've suffered through decades of brainless slashers), where the kills are motivated by actually realistic reasons - like securing a wealthy Countess' inheritance. And later, the not-yet-trope of a soon-to-be-victim getting offed shortly after being startled by discovering a dead body actually makes some sense - the body is not nailed to a door frame (for example) for shock value, but is accidentally discovered by an innocent bystander who must then be killed to preserve the killer's secret.

All of that having been said, it's still a slasher movie, and so it has a tendency to drag on, with minimal exposition (despite the convoluted plot), and not very well-developed characters (so many of which have a motivation to kill), all as an excuse to feature lots of gratuitous violence (and a little bit of gratuitous nudity). But without an intriguing hook - like a cannibal who wields a chainsaw and wears the faces of his victims, or an unstoppable bogeyman, or a man with finger knives who haunts your dreams, it feels terribly...mundane. But what can you expect from a pioneer that was breaking new ground? Unfortunately, the starkness of its allegedly gruesome brutality does not stand the test of time, considering everything we've seen since 1971 (the '80s alone puts this movie to shame). Still, it's an interesting glimpse into the evolution of the classic murder mystery into the modern slasher thanks in no small part to the introduction of (and subsequent change of focus to the) explicit gore fx. Plus, it's got a wickedly chilling ending.

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