While I wouldn't necessarily rank 'A Bay of Blood' (a.k.a, 'Twitch of the Death Nerve') as one of Mario Bava's finest efforts — I still enjoy it, warts and all — its influence and impact on horror cinema can still be felt today. Even if it's not directly acknowledged by many of today's filmmakers thinking they're heralding the next great thing in the genre, which only demonstrates their limited familiarity with it, they owe a great deal to what Bava did in this 1971 classic of Italian horror. In spite of all its faults and imperfections, this little picture permanently infected the genre to its unconscious core by paving the way for graphic violence and realistic gore, and originating the blueprint for a very familiar horror trope.
The "slasher" subgenre of the early 80s, in particular, most clearly takes advantage of the standard first introduced by Bava. While Bob Clark's 'Black Christmas' is rightfully credited for sparking the idea of immersing plots with a holiday theme, 'A Bay of Blood' ushered in the era of young people caught in some naughty behavior. What's more, the four friends (Robert Bonnani, Brigitte Skay, Guido Boccaccini, and Paola Rubens) who are simply out for a good time, are slaughtered while exploring an abandoned building near a secluded, heavily wooded area. POV shots are often from the killer's perspective, as each one is killed in some gruesome manner or another, mostly via a razor-sharp billhook. Two of the kids are found naked in bed, and a long spear is thrust through them both — a very familiar sight for 'Friday the 13th' fans.
The special effects work, all done by the wonderful Carlo Rambaldi ('E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,' 'Alien,' 'Dune'), is detailed and realistic, which would have been incredibly shocking to audiences at that time. The effects still hold up quite well today, yet there is something amusingly quaint in their execution. One of the most memorable sequences is the unexpected beheading of a somewhat important character. It's a beautifully done, 180° tracking shot that's slow and methodical with two rapid edit cuts showing the head cut off and a porcelain figure smashing on the ground. Bava ups the ick and yuck factor with scenes of dead bodies floating across the bay towards a skinny-dipping swimmer and small octopi squirming slimily on the faces of corpses. All of this marks the beginning of a style and technique that would soon become the staple of the genre.
As much fun as talking (or writing) about those things may be, the real focus of the story, which somehow required an assemblage of writers to complete, is a battle over the inheritance of a property surrounding the bay. Uninviting and unkempt as the place is, the estate is apparently worth killing for, though the actual motives, along with the identity, of the killer, remain uncertain until closer to the end. The best part of this murder mystery is the fact that everyone is a suspect, each with their own passionate reason for killing, including the groundskeeper Simon (Claudio Volonté). The daughter of the previous owner, Renata (Claudine Auger), and her husband, Albert (Luigi Pistilli), have the most to lose and are quite capable of resorting to the extremes in order to protect what's theirs. Oily real estate agent Ventura (Chris Avram) and his lover (Anna Maria Rosati) can make a pretty penny by selling the property. And finally, entomologist Paolo (Leopoldo Trieste) abhors the thought of seeing the area destroyed by business developers while his amateur Tarot-reading wife (Laura Betti) hates living in the area so far from the comforts of the city.
Added to that, the plot contains a rather curious underscoring theme where the women are treated the equals of the men. Back to the misbehaving kids at the beginning, Brunhilda is just as wanton as Duke while Bobby is so timid we could easily imagine him as the virgin of the group. Renata is a conniving, manipulative woman who continuously threatens her husband's masculinity. Complementing her is Ventura's scheming driven by greed. It adds a bit of flavor and appeal to a narrative that slightly falls on the dull side, but it's also these smaller touches which have made 'A Bay of Blood' a surprisingly influential horror thriller.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'A Bay of Blood' to Blu-ray as part of the distributor's "The Mario Bava Collection" line. Housed inside a regular blue keepcase, the Region A locked, BD50 disc goes straight to a static main menu with music playing in the background.
Mario Bava's early "slasher" horror finds its way to Blu-ray with a rather excellent-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The 1.85:1 image displays sharp, distinct details in the surrounding foliage, and facial complexions are quite revealing, especially during close-ups. It's surprising, actually, to see something this good from Kino, as it seems as the 35mm negative used for this presentation has been nicely cleaned up and remastered without any significant damage. A thin layer of natural film grain is always present, and contrast is spot-on, allowing for perfect visibility in the far distance. Black levels are strong with great delineation within the darkest shadows. Colors are also bold and accurate, with primaries looking particularly vivid. Overall, the high-def transfer is free of the usual dirt and scratches you'd expected from Kino, making it one of the company's best and strongest releases.
'A Bay of Blood' also arrives with a strong and admirable uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack although it still comes off a bit flat and lacking in several areas. The mid-range is not very dynamic or extensive, exhibiting little movement into the upper frequencies. This makes for a somewhat narrow and limited presentation even though imaging does appear a little wider than would be expected. This fault could be inherent to the print used or the original sound design, but in either case, the lossless mix falls on the dull side. Some mild low bass provides a tad of depth and weight, but not much. Overlooking the obvious ADR work, dialogue reproduction is clear and intelligible in the center.
'A Bay of Blood' wouldn't necessarily be called a classic in the Mario Bava cannon, but it's recognized as an influential motion picture in the cinema of horror, paving the way for story devices that would soon become staples of the genre. With an interesting murder mystery plot at its center, the movie entertains and has grown into a favorite among cult horror enthusiasts. The Blu-ray arrives with a surprisingly excellent video quality but an average lossless audio presentation. Although the alternate European cut of the film is provided, bonus features feel somewhat weak; however, cult enthusiasts and collectors will be happy with the purchase.