11/21/08

The LBL Feature Presentation: The Films of Mario Bava

Heya, Moonies. Welcome to the end of the working week. It's been a long one for me folks, and it's about time I get to kick back with a fine film full of head choppin' goodness. If you work in the ruler of your own planet business like I do, there's just never enough time to do much head chopping yourself, and in this modern era, it's sadly frowned upon. That's why I watch movies though, and for some good old fashioned death it's always fun to take a little vacation on the...

Bay of Blood (Reazione a catena) (1971) starring Caludine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Laura Betti, and Chris Avram. Directed by Mario Bava.


The moonlight sparkles over the bay as Countess Donati in her wheelchair looks out the window. The house is dark and quiet, and as she leaves the room, a black gloved killer slips a noose around her neck and kicks her chair out from under her. The killer plants a suicide note and admires his work as she chokes and dies, but then he gets a knife in his back and his body is sunk into the bay. The police assume the suicide is on the level, but her husband has also disappeared.

So begins the struggle for ownership of the bay. Frank Ventura (Avram) is a real estate developer who can see potential for the bay to become a spot for tourists. Paulo,
an entomologist, and his wife, Anna (Betti), also live on the bay, and Paulo is dead set against nature being ruined for vacationers. Renata and Albert (Augar and Pistilli) are the Countess' daughter and son-in-law respectively, and they intend to see the old lady's wealth become their inheritance at all costs. Then there's Simon, part time groundskeeper, part time fisherman. He seems to just want to live off the bay, but his true identity could ruin everyone's plans.

When a group of teenagers show up for a fun time on the bay, all hell begins to break loose. The teens start to get picked off one by one with each death becoming more grisly than the last. As the sun sets it seems that no one is safe on the serene bay. This one night will decide the fate of all the residents and visitors, but will they see daylight before they are drowned in the secrets the water holds?

Film Facts
-- At the 1971 Avoriaz Film Festival where it premiered, Christopher Lee attend a screening of the film. He was so shocked by the level of violence that he left the theater in utter disgust.

-- The budget was so low on the film that the tracking shots were accomplished by putting the camera in a child's wagon.

-- Bay of Blood a.k.a Twitch of a Death Nerve, Last House on the Left II, Bloodbath, Bloodbath Bay of Death, Chain Reaction, Carnage, Before the Fact, Ecology of a Murder, Ecology of a Crime, New House on the Left. This film reportively has the most alternate titles of any film.

--This was Mario Bava's personal favorite of his films.

The Bug Speaks
Each week I've watched one of these films, and then kicked myself for not having seen them earlier. This week was no exception. Bay of Blood was a stunningly realized film which would go on to influence a whole generation of slasher movies. While there is no crazed and supernatural killer involved, the construction of the film around kill scenes surely lives on even
today. In fact two of the scenes from the this film (one where a couple is speared while getting it on and another where a guy takes a hatchet to the face) were basically plagiarized directly in Friday the 13th Part 2. I would say they were borrowed or inspired by, but in this case they seem lifted down to the angle of the shot and the lakeside setting.

I know I've said it every week, but my respect for Bava as a craftsman is growing with each film. This time out he was his own cinematographer out of budgetary constraints, but honestly I don't see who could have done a better job. This film did have a couple of rough edits (which could be from the transfer print I watched so I'll give him those) and some unnecessary zooming shots that felt a bit abrupt. However, the opening 10 minutes is such a gorgeously realized piece of film I can forgive basically any mistake this film makes. It's like the tracking shot in Goodfellas; once you see that you're just blown away by the film and surrender to the world. Unlike that film though, Bay begins with that level of film making, and it stays fairly steady throughout with Bava's use of light and shadow once again being one of his deftest tools.
The performances were all very strong in this film. (Except perhaps one or two of the teens. However they don't get to live long enough to be that bad.) Laura Betti shines at a pre-historic goth/Stevie Nicks fan as does Leopoldo Trieste as the genuinely creepy husband. Also I have to say as I always do that Luigi Pistilli can't be in enough movies. This time he plays against the despicable type that he usually got cast as and brings a special depth to his hen-pecked husband. I was in the need for a Luigi fix, and his performance really hit the spot.

The main detraction in the movie is the paper thin and highly confusing plot, but that's not what we're here for, we're here to see heads roll. And roll they do. Considering no one was really doing slasher fare at the time, the special effects by Carlo Rambaldi are executed so well that many do not come off so well in modern film. So the fact that the plot is convoluted and
murky doesn't really bother me with this one. If Bava could have brought the same level of storytelling that I have seen in his other pictures to this one then it would have been a solid gold classic. As it is, the flick is a bit tarnished around the edges.

This is one I highly recommend to any horror fan. Anyone who loves horror on any level needs to see this one to have a basis in the history of the modern slasher film. Bava took what he had learned from his giallos, added in a tweak of gore effects, and mixed them all up with incredible cinematics. What came out of it is a mix we still see in movies to this day. So check this one out, and come on back next week for the last week of Bava-fest where I will tackle his best known film, Black Sunday.
Bug Rating

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