A Bay of Blood

A Bay of Blood (Italian: Ecologia del delitto,[lower-alpha 1] lit. "Ecology of Crime", later released as Reazione a catena [lit. "Chain Reaction"]), also known as Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood Bath, is a 1971 Italian giallo film directed by Mario Bava. Bava co-wrote the screenplay with Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, and Sergio Canevari, with story credit given to Dardano Sacchetti and Franco Barberi. The film stars Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli and Laura Betti. Carlo Rambaldi created the gruesome special make-up effects. The story details a string of mysterious murders that occur around the titular bay.

A Bay of Blood
Spanish film poster with English title
Directed byMario Bava
Produced byGiuseppe Zaccariello
Screenplay by
  • Mario Bava
  • Giuseppe Zaccariello
  • Filippo Ottoni
  • English Version:
  • Gene Luotto
Story by
Starring
Music byStelvio Cipriani
CinematographyMario Bava
Edited byCarlo Reali
Production
company
Nuova Linea Cinematografica
Distributed byNuova Linea Cinematografica
Release date
  • 8 September 1971 (1971-09-08) (Italy)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryItaly
Language
  • Italian
  • English

Widely considered Bava's most violent film,[2] its emphasis on graphically bloody murder set pieces was hugely influential on the slasher film subgenre that would follow a decade later.[3][4] In 2005, the magazine Total Film named A Bay of Blood one of the 50 greatest horror films of all time.[5]

Plot

At night in her bayside mansion, wheelchair-bound Countess Federica Donati is attacked and strangled to death by her husband Filippo Donati. Moments later, Filippo himself is stabbed to death by an assailant, and his corpse is then dragged to the bay. Upon investigation, the police find what they believe to be a suicide note written by the Countess, but Donati's murder goes undiscovered.

Real estate agent Frank Ventura and his lover Laura are plotting to take possession of the bay. After the Countess refused to sell her home and property to them, the couple hatched a scheme with Donati to murder his wife. To finalize their plan, Ventura needs Donati's signature on a set of legal documents. They have no idea, however, that Donati himself has been killed.

Their curiosity piqued by news of the murder, four local teenagers break into the seemingly deserted mansion and are murdered. The Countess's illegitimate son Simon is the killer. After killing Donati, he is now conspiring with Ventura, who offers Simon a large cash pay-off in exchange for signing the relevant legal documents. Their scheme is dealt a potentially ruinous blow when Countess Federica's estranged daughter Renata appears, determined to ensure that her mother's estate comes into her possession. A search for the Countess's will proves unsuccessful, and Ventura, who believes that Renata may be the rightful beneficiary, urges Simon to kill his half-sister.

Accompanied by her husband Albert, and leaving their young son and daughter in a caravan nearby, Renata visits the house of Paolo Fassati, an entomologist who lives on the grounds of Donati's estate. Fossati's wife Anna tells them that Donati was responsible for the Countess's death, and says that Simon will probably end up with the property. Renata, who had no idea she had a half-brother, makes plans with her husband to murder Simon.

After discovering Donati's mangled and rotting corpse on Simon's boat, Renata and Albert head to Ventura's house. Upon their arrival, Ventura attacks Renata, but Renata gains the upper hand and stabs Ventura with a butterfly knife. Paolo Fassati, who witnesses the assault, attempts to telephone the police but is confronted by Albert, who strangles him to death. To ensure there are no additional witnesses, Renata decapitates Anna with an axe.

Ventura's partner Laura arrives, planning to meet up with him. When Simon discovers that it was the pair who had plotted with Donati to kill his mother, he strangles Laura to death. No sooner has he exacted his revenge than Simon himself is murdered by Albert. The wounded Ventura reappears, but Albert kills him after a brief struggle.

Secure in the knowledge that there are now no other living heirs, Albert and Renata prepare to return home to await the announcement of their inheritance, when they are shot dead from the caravan by their son, who has mistaken their shotgun for a toy. Thinking that their parents are playing dead, the son and daughter rush off outside to play along the bay.

Cast

Production

The genesis of A Bay of Blood was when producer Dino De Laurentiis heard that Dardano Sacchetti, screenwriter of the popular The Cat o' Nine Tails, had fallen out with the film's director Dario Argento. He contacted Sacchetti and persuaded him to collaborate with director Mario Bava on a giallo film.[1] Sacchetti and Bava got along well, and together came up with a story in which two parents commit murder to secure a better future for their children. In this early version of the story, the parents are driven to commit one murder after another in a chain reaction, becoming so caught up in their plan that they abandon their children for several days. When they return home, the starving and terrified children kill them. The thirteen murders were conceived as isolated sequences, with no initial idea of how they would fit into the story; Sacchetti credits Bava with the idea of two people being killed with a spear while making love and himself with the idea of a woman being killed in her wheelchair.[1]

Sacchetti wrote the first draft of the script, titled Cosi imparano a fare i cattivi ("That Will Teach Them to Be Bad") after a line spoken by the children after killing their parents, with his writing partner Franco Barbieri.[1] However, spectacular arguments with Bava and the production team led to Barbieri being fired, and Sacchetti quit as an act of solidarity with his partner.[1] De Laurentiis, disenchanted when The Cat o' Nine Tails failed to recreate its domestic popularity when released abroad, also abandoned the project.[1]

Bava, owing a massive amount in back taxes, felt he needed to complete a film soon, and turned to Giuseppe Zaccariello (who had silently backed Bava's earlier films Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Five Dolls for an August Moon) to take over as producer. Zaccariello insisted that the shooting script be written by Filippo Ottoni, who was reluctant to take the job since he did not like exploitation films.[1] Numerous other writers, including Zaccariello himself, had their hands involved in devising the final screenplay.[6]

The cast included Laura Betti, who had got along well with Bava on Hatchet for the Honeymoon. At the time De Laurentiis approached Bava about working with Sacchetti, Bava and Betti had been toying with the idea of making a movie called "Odore di carne" ("stench of flesh") about cannibalism on Los Angeles colleges.[1]

The film began production in early 1971, still under the shooting title Cosi imparano a fare i cattivi,[6] which was soon changed to Reazione a catena ("chain reaction").[7] Yet another title used during shooting was La baia d'argento ("the bay of silver"), discarded for fear that the movie would be perceived as a parody of Dario Argento's works as a result. The final title of Ecologia del delitto was suggested by Zaccariello because the word "ecologia" was in vogue at the time.[1] The movie's budget was extremely low, and it had to be shot very quickly and cheaply. Due to the severe budgetary restrictions, Bava not only acted as his own cinematographer, but also utilized a simple child's wagon for the film's many tracking shots.[6]

The location shooting was mostly completed at Zaccariello's Sabaudia beach house and its outlying property. Bava had to resort to various camera tricks to convince the audience that an entire forest existed when in fact, only a few scattered trees were at the location. Betti recalled, "All of this had to occur in a forest. But where was it? Bava said, 'Don't worry. I will do the forest.' And he found a florist who was selling these little stupid branches with little bits of foliage on them, and he began to make them dance in front of the camera! We had to act the scenes strictly in front of those branches—if we moved even an inch either way, the 'woods' would disappear!"[6]

To ensure the utmost realism in depicting the thirteen different murders, Carlo Rambaldi was hired to provide the special make-up effects. To create the deaths of Anna, Brunhilda, and Denise, wax effigies of the actresses' throats and backs were constructed and rigged to expulse brightly colored blood when cut.[1] The illusion of Bobby being stabbed in the face with a billhook was achieved with a prop blade which was swiftly pulled out of frame to hide the fact that it was sculpted to conform exactly to actor Roberto Bonanni's profile.[1]

Release

In Italy, the film was announced as Antefatto ("Before the Fact"), but when finally released to theatres, the title had changed to Ecologia del delitto ("Ecology of Crime").[7] When the film did poorly on its initial release, it was pulled from Italian theaters and retitled Reazione a Catena ("Chain Reaction"),[1] and was later re-released as Bahia de Sangre ("Bay of Blood" in Spanish).

A Bay of Blood was acquired up for US distribution in 1972 by Steve Minasian's Hallmark Releasing, which specialized in exploitation films. Premiering the film under its original English title, Carnage, Hallmark copied their successful advertising campaign for Mark of the Devil by proclaiming that Bava's film was "The Second Film Rated 'V' for Violence!" (Devil having been the first). This campaign prompted a lawsuit from the Motion Picture Association of America on the grounds that it intruded on their exclusive right to rate motion pictures, and the film was withdrawn and re-released under the now common title Twitch of the Death Nerve with a R rating appearing in advertisements.[1] Thanks to Hallmark's distribution partnership with Bava's former employer American International Pictures, the film played for years under this title in drive-ins and grindhouses throughout the country as part of a double or triple bill with other Hallmark/AIP films, most notably Wes Craven's equally-influential The Last House on the Left and Fernando Di Leo's Slaughter Hotel,[1] but it has since been re-released theatrically and on home video under a variety of titles.[8] In the US alone, its later titles include A Bay of Blood, Last House on the Left Part II, Last House Part II and New House on the Left.[9]

Critical response

A Bay of Blood was greeted with disappointment and disgust by several critics, especially by those who were fans of the director's earlier, more restrained films. At the 1971 Avoriaz Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere, Christopher Lee attended a screening of the film, having expressed an interest in seeing the latest effort from the director of The Whip and the Body, which Lee had starred in eight years before. Lee was reportedly completely revolted by the movie.[6] The festival jurors awarded the film the Best Make-Up and Special Effects Award.[6] Rambaldi's effects work also earned the film a "Special Mention" Award at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in 1971.[10]

It remains Bava’s most controversial film and maintains a mixed critical reception. Jeffrey Frentzen, reviewing the film for Cinefantastique, called Twitch of the Death Nerve "the director's most complete failure to date. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter in Blood and Black Lace, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious detail... Red herrings are ever-present, and serve as the only interest keeping the plot in motion, but nothing really redeems the dumb storyline."[11] Gary Johnson, on his Images website, said that "Twitch of the Death Nerve is made for people who derive pleasure from seeing other people killed...The resulting movie is guaranteed to make audiences squirm, but the violence is near pornographic. In the same way that pornographic movies reduce human interactions to the workings of genitals, Twitch of the Death Nerve reduces cinematic thrills to little more than knives slicing through flesh."[12] Phil Hardy's The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, while noting that Bava was able to "achieve some striking images", opined "Zooms, no doubt programmed by the imperative to work quickly, spoil some scenes that cried out for Bava's particularly fluid use of camera movement which were so much in evidence in Operazione Paura (1966)."[13]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, A Bay of Blood holds an 83% approval rating based on 12 critic reviews, with an average rating of 6.97/10.[14] Joe Dante, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about the film, writing in The Film Bulletin (later reprinted in Video Watchdog) that it "features enough violence and gore to satisfy the most rabid mayhem fans and benefits from the inimitably stylish direction of horror specialist Mario Bava (Black Sunday). Assembled with a striking visual assurance that never ceases to amuse, this is typical Bava material, simply one ghastly murder after another---13 in all---surrounded by what must be one of the most preposterous and confusing plots ever put on film."[15] In Fangoria, Tim Lucas wrote thirteen years after the film's theatrical release that "Twitch unreels like a macabre, ironic joke, a movie built like an inescapable trap for its own anti-hero...Seen today, the violence in this movie remains as potent and explicit as anything glimpsed in contemporary "splatter" features..."[16]

Legacy

Several critics have noted that the film is probably the most influential of Bava's career, as it had a huge and profound impact on the slasher film genre.[12] Writing in 2000, Tim Lucas wrote that Bava's film is "the acknowledged smoking gun behind the 'body count' movie phenomenon of the 1980s, which continues to dominate the horror genre two decades later with such films as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and their respective sequels."[6] According to Gary Johnson, "Twitch of the Death Nerve is one of the most imitated movies of the past 30 years. It helped kick start the slasher genre… [Bava’s] influence still resonates today (although somewhat dully) in movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream and Urban Legend."[12] It was listed at #94 in IndieWire's The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All-Time, with its entry stating that the film, "remains a vital watch for horror fans, and a reminder of how Bava continued to push horror into new and interesting realms, the reverberations of which are still felt today."[17]

Several commentators have noted that two sequences in the 1981 film Friday the 13th Part 2 are strikingly similar to two of Bava's murder sequences: one character is slammed in the face with a panga machete, though Bava's film has a billhook and not a machete, and two teenage lovers are interrupted when a spear impales both of them.[18][19] Along with The Burning, Just Before Dawn (1981) and several other similarly-plotted slashers, Friday specifically "followed Bava's inspired cue, having young people stalked by violent death amid beautiful wooded settings."[6]

Notes

  1. Although known by several different Italian-language titles, the film's original theatrical release title in Italy was Ecologia del delitto.[1]

References

  1. Lucas, Tim (2007). Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Video Watchdog. pp. 847–869. ISBN 0-9633756-1-X.
  2. "Mario Bava Centennial". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  3. Thompson, Nathaniel. "Twitch of the Death Nerve". Mondo Digital. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
  4. Brown, K.H. "Bay of Blood". Kinocite. Archived from the original on 2006-12-22. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
  5. "Shock Horror! Total Film Proudly Hails The 50 Greatest Horror Movies Of All Time". Total Film. October 10, 2005. Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  6. Lucas, Tim. Twitch of the Death Nerve DVD, Image Entertainment, 2000, liner notes. ASIN: B000055ZCA
  7. Stevens, Brad. Video Watchdog Magazine, #32 (1996), pgs. 10-11, "A Bay of Blood" videotape review
  8. Lucas, Tim. "First Look: ABE's BAY OF BLOOD". Video Watchblog. Retrieved 2007-09-19.
  9. "Ecologia del delitto". The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television. Archived from the original on 2007-01-20. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  10. Normanton, Peter. "A Bay of Blood." The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies. Running Press. Philadelphia, PA. 2012.
  11. Frentzen, Jeffrey. Twitch of the Death Nerve Review, Cinefantastique, Volume 4 Number 3, 1974, pg. 36
  12. Johnson, Gary. "Twitch of the Death Nerve". Images. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
  13. Hardy, Phil (editor). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Aurum Press, 1986. Reprinted as The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Overlook Press, 1995, ISBN 0-87951-624-0
  14. "Reazione a catena (A Bay of Blood) (Twitch of the Death Nerve) (1972) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Flixter. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  15. Dante, Joe. Video Watchdog Magazine, #95, pgs. 24-25, "Joe Dante's Fleapit Flashbacks", review of Twitch of the Death Nerve.
  16. Lucas, Tim. Fangoria Magazine, #43, pg. 31, "Bava's Terrors, Part 2", article on Bava's career.
  17. Righetti, Jamie. "The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time". IndieWire.com. Jamie Righetti. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  18. Kerswell, Justin. "Blood Bath". Hysteria Lives!. Retrieved 2006-12-08.
  19. Parker, Jason (January 12, 2011). "Behind the Scenes: Part 2 accident and the Hospital". Friday the 13th: The Franchise. Archived from the original on October 18, 2018. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
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