In thinking of the influences on modern horror cinema things like the brooding shadows in The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari or the percussive editing and sexual subversion of Hitchcock’s Psycho are often sighted as some of the most influential things, and films, within the genre’s history. However, legendary cult icon Mario Bava has more than his fair share of influential pieces of work.
Foremost among his greatest of films? His 1971 slasher film A Bay Of Blood, a film that still holds great weight within horror cinema, and also one that is now finally available on Blu-ray through Kino Lorber and Kino Classics.
Ostensibly a blueprint for a film like Friday the 13th or any slasher films that would arise during that generation, the film follows the tale of a group of people hell bent on getting the rights to the property of the recently passed Countess Federica, who is offed in the film’s very opening sequence, a breathtaking piece of sound design, horror direction and set design. What follows is a brazenly simplistic tale of evil, manipulative opportunists getting their true comeuppance, and a film that is as beautiful, as violent and as wonderfully vital as anything Bava had ever made up to this point in his career, or would afterward.
Bava, as with most of his films, is the star here. While the performances are fine (turns from actors like Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli and Claudio Volonte all feel aggressively inconsequential), they don’t really quite make the film compelling narratively. The importance of this film’s premise with regards to horror as a genre shouldn’t be understated, as yes, as mentioned above it is very much a blueprint for many modern slasher pictures, but the drama here isn’t in the performances or the weight they give the story.
It’s entirely due to Bava’s assurance with his camera. Also the film’s cinematographer, the film holds within each and every frame an impossible beauty that feels as if it were the cinematic manifestation of every aesthetic trope Bava would ever touch upon. Neon-fueled photography adorns this wonderfully decorated and designed slasher film, with each and every kill becoming more and more inventive, particularly one involving the death of a couple seemingly in the middle of coitus.
That’s what makes this film feel so vital and palpable. Besides Bava’s brilliant direction and design, the film is refreshingly blunt about the violence. Brazen in its graphic violence for the time, the effects work here from Carlo Rambaldi (who would become best known for his award-worthy work on Alien just about a decade later) is utterly wondrous. As mentioned previously, the film opens with a superb opening set piece that is as telling a sequence as anything Bava has ever made, particularly when looking at it within the full body of Bava’s work. Brooding, brutally violent and oozing an atmosphere from the actual use of the camera to the Hammer-esque photography, this film is very much a definitive, possibly the definitive piece of direction from Mario Bava.
And, as with the also now-available-on-Blu-ray Five Dolls For An August Moon, the score here is top notch. Stelvio Cipriani scored the film, and while it doesn’t feel quite as upbeat as the Umiliani score for the aforementioned mystery picture, it does add greatly to the atmosphere of the film, and itself stands as a great piece of sonic art. A really superb addition to a film that was already an aesthetically astounding piece of work, Bava’s 1971 masterpiece is itself a weak bit of performance, but a Masters class in horror as a visual genre. Toss in a final sequence that will leave mouths wide open and jaws on the floor, and you have a film that is as great a piece of work as would ever come from Bava.
Kino’s new Blu-ray is admittedly light (like many of these releases, what can you expect, with as many as Kino has recently put out), but the transfer both audibly and visually are superb, and Tim Lucas’ commentary is again engaging and interesting. Rounded out with its own alternate cut and a series of trailers, and you have a film that is a must own for anyone with even a passing interest in horror cinema.