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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #79

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Also known as Twitch of The Death Nerve, Blood Bath
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: September 8, 1971
Sub-Genre: Slasher/Mystery
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Mario Bava
Producer: Giuseppe Zaccariello
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, Sergio Canevari
Story: Dardano Sacchetti, Franco Barberi
Special Effects: Carlo Rambaldi
Cinematography: Mario Bava
Score: Stelvio Cipriani
Editing: Carlo Reali
Distributor: Nuova Linea, Cinematografica (Italy), Hallmark Releasing Corporation (US)
Stars: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati, Chris Avram, Leopoldo Trieste, Laura Betti, Brigette Skay, Isa Miranda, Paola Montnero, Guido Boccaccini, Roberto Bonanni, Giovanni Nuvoletti

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Stelvio Cipriani Soundtrack Suite

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Everything has to start somewhere. Had Ridley Scott never brought us Blade Runner then we would surely never have had The Matrix and it takes certain visionaries to set in place the structure for any cinematic movement. Mario Bava was one such innovator. His influence is still evident today in so many works; Martin Scorsese is a self-confessed Bava nut and openly admits to being heavily inspired by the Italian maestro’s work. Thus, it is time to explore the film that truly motivated the eighties slasher craze, almost a decade before it eventually blossomed, stealing a few apples from Bava’s tree in the process. I imagine him sitting in his own sun-drenched recess somewhere above, looking down on over thirty years of slasher flicks that have emulated this incoherent ideology of splatter.

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1960 was the year that this extraordinary talent left his first footprint on the industry. Black Sunday is a landmark movie in a long and distinguished career and was duly followed by Black Sabbath three years later and the birth of a new sub-genre – the Giallo – with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace arriving soon afterwards. Indeed, Dan O’Bannon took influence from Bava’s 1965 film Planet of the Vampires when penning his script for Alien. In 1971 he inspired once more and single-handedly planted the primary seed for the highly successful eighties slasher craze. However, people weren’t ready for his vision quite yet. The film was critically crucified for its excessive blood-letting although I would imagine that many of Bava’s detractors have long since retracted their venomous words.

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His deep red rose wouldn’t open its petals fully until the next decade, ironically in the year of his death, when Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th utilized a similarly idyllic backwater locale for its carnage and shamelessly riffed one key scene from Bava’s movie for its crowd pleasing sequel a year later. Moreover, the cove in A Bay of Blood bears more than a passing resemblance to Camp Crystal Lake and finds itself the temporary vacation spot for a group of alcohol bingeing, pot smoking teens looking to engage in pre-marital coitus and skinny dipping pursuits as their hormones threaten to get the better of them. Needless to say, they are then put promptly to the sword, machete, billhook, axe, spear…you get the general idea.

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A Bay of Blood caused a massive stir upon its release and was refused a certificate in 1972, before finding itself on the DPP’s notorious video nasty list over a decade later after being deemed immoral. Widely regarded as Bava’s most violent film, even the great Christopher Lee was repulsed upon his primary introduction, despite being a fan of the Italian’s work up until that point. Whilst largely dismissed, it later found a new lease of life in drive-ins under one of its numerous alternative guises. Speaking of which, in the entire history of horror, no other name makes me squeal with ghoulish glee quite so much as its American title, Twitch of the Death Nerve.

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Thirteen Other Titles to Die For

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Gore-Met Zombie Chef from Hell
Three on a Meat Hook
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
Kids Go to The Woods…Kids Get Dead
Poultrygeist: Night of The Chicken Dead
Stuff Stephanie in The Incinerator
Violent Shit
Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things
The Gore Gore Girls
Slaughtered Vomit Dolls
C.H.U.D.: Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers
Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell!
I Drink Your Blood (Eat Your Skin/Spit on Your Grave both transferable)

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To begin with, Bava’s film seems like just another day at the office for the master of the macabre. The opening is typical giallo as a wealthy wheelchair-bound countess is snuffed out by her scheming spouse who is aiming to relinquish her of her vast fortune. In a cruel turn of events, killer becomes victim as said rogue is snuffed out by an unseen assailant before he can dispose of her corpse. We are then introduced to real estate agent Frank (Chris Avram) and his secretary Laura (Anna Maria Rosati), whose vagina also happens to be a wallet for his Johnson, as they rub their hands together at the prospect of landing the old girl’s nest egg now that she has croaked. Said nest egg is a picturesque bay in a secluded location and the calculating couple are just a single signature away from pocketing this lucrative investment.

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Providing any further synopsis would be robbing you of one of the most bat-shit crazy experiences in seventies cinema as A Bay of Blood introduces a number of characters, all of whom share two particular bonds. Greed and the potential to murder in cold blood. That’s right, it’s an absolute free-for-all. If you’re looking for a likeable protagonist, then you’ve come to the wrong bay as every last character is both aloof and not to be trusted. In a sense, it almost plays out like a jet-black comedy, as each revelation and double-cross is more mean-spirited than the last. However, let’s not forget that Bava’s film also inspired the Stateside slasher craze and, spiralling treachery aside, it even manages to shoe-horn in a little inconsequential stalk and slash to pad out its runtime.

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It is the introduction of four rowdy teenagers, Brunhilda (Brigette Skay), Denise (Paola Rubens), Duke (Guido Boccaccini), and Robert (Roberto Bonanni) that truly provides a glimpse of things to come as the care-free trespassers engage in the kind of extracurricular activities that will have become rife by the turn of the eighties. Sneaking into places they really shouldn’t, stealing liquor, getting high, getting laid, going swimming without a bathing suit, and of course, dying in gruesome manners and compromising positions. Just what the doctor ordered.

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The clue is in the tagline “13 Characters, 13 Murders”. Having always enjoyed Italian horror for its lack of narrative structure, I find it most refreshing that Bava’s film has little to no interest in logic or reason, a fact celebrated by its gloriously ironic and mean-spirited conclusion. You don’t sit in front of a plate of bolognese and marvel at how intricate each strand of spaghetti is. No, you guzzle it down because it tastes so darned delightful. And that’s ultimately what A Bay of Blood is Grueheads: a generous dollop of homemade Italian bolognese, like mama used to make. Bella bella!

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5 

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Carlo Rambaldi has a hoot here with a thirteen-strong body count that may be unlucky for some but certainly not he as it affords him ample opportunity to showcase that considerable talent for practical splatter. A Bay of Blood is what we’re promised and Bava’s film comes good on its oath. There is plentiful deep red relish and we are cordially invited to revel in every last ghastly hack and glaring slash. Another slasher mainstay is shameless full frontal nudity and our needs are catered for in that area too.

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Read Friday The 13th (1980) Appraisal

Read Friday The 13th Part 2 Appraisal

Read Stagefright (1987) Appraisal

Read Body Count Appraisal

 

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)

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