The roots of the modern slasher movie can generally be traced back to 1960 and the release of Psycho and Peeping Tom. Between then and the late seventies, when the golden age of the slasher began with the release of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, a handful of modest films kept the blood flowing, movies like Fright and Black Christmas. However, in 1971, the Italian giallo master Mario Bava made a film that seemed to lay down the blueprint for the modern slasher, a movie called A Bay of Blood.
A Bay of Blood begins with the murder of a wheelchair-bound Countess named Federica (The Night Porter’s Isa Miranda) by her husband, Filippo Donati (Giovanni Nuvoletti from Le belve). Donati sets the death up to look like a suicide, but he is killed by an unknown assailant before he can get away with it. These deaths set off a convoluted plot hatched by a real estate developer named Frank Ventura (Enter the Devil’s Chris Avram) who, along with his girlfriend, Laura (Anna M. Rosati from Silvia e l’amore), plan to take over the bayside property that belonged to the dead countess. Before Frank can pull off his scheme, a string of senseless murders occurs on the property. Frank tries desperately to figure out who is killing everyone while trying to keep from becoming a victim himself.
There’s not much of a plot to A Bay of Blood, considering there are a ton of writers listed in the credits; in addition to Bava, the script was written by Filippo Ottoni (Stray Days), Joseph McLee (a pseudonym for Giuseppe Zaccariello, who wrote Tough to Kill), Franco Barberi (Emergency Squad), and Dardano Sacchetti (Demons, The Beyond). There is even a rumor that the legendary Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8 ½) lent his hand to the screenplay when Bava was searching for a way to tie together all of the screen murders that he had dreamed up into a cohesive story. Indeed, the storyline of the film takes a backseat; the murders are clearly at the forefront of A Bay of Blood. In fact, the film revolted many of Bava’s hardcore fans at the time of its release due to its extreme depiction of gratuitous violence. Even by today’s standards, A Bay of Blood is a gruesome splatter flick.
Although bits of A Bay of Blood can be seen in just about every golden age slasher, Bava’s film’s influence is most notable in the Friday the 13th series of films. Camp Crystal Lake is a dead ringer for the bayside property in A Bay of Blood, complete with forest clearings, swimming holes, and boat docks. At one point in A Bay of Blood, a group of teenagers breaks into a house on the bay to do some partying, and they are all punished for their sins by the faceless murderer, just as the oversexed counselors are punished in Friday the 13th. Many of the killings in A Bay of Blood will look familiar to Friday the 13th fans, but one scene is lifted outright from Bava’s film; a two-for-one murder where the killer stabs a spear through a couple while they have sex is replicated exactly in Friday the 13th Part 2. All that’s missing from the sequence is Jason Voorhees. If Psycho and Peeping Tom introduced moviegoers to the screen murderer, then A Bay of Blood showed audiences how bloody and violent those murders could be, and the filmmakers behind the Friday the 13th franchise where taking copious notes.
Of course, a slasher movie is only as good as its makeup effects, and A Bay of Blood does not disappoint in that regard. The practical effects were done by Carlo Rambaldi (a splatter master who would go on to create the iconic creatures in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and they consist of everything from beheadings to spearings. A Bay of Blood has slit throats and split faces, and all of it is done with plenty of bright, bloody red gore. The latex-and-karo syrup effects of the eighties slasher movies owe a huge debt to Rambaldi and his work on A Bay of Blood.
Although there’s no official record, A Bay of Blood may be the movie with the most alternate titles. The film is actually better known in some circles by one of these alternate names – Twitch of the Death Nerve. During production, the film went by the shooting titles of The Odor of Flesh and Thus Do We Live to be Evil. In addition to A Bay of Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve, the film was released under the titles Before the Fact, Carnage, Blood Bath, Chain Reaction, Ecology of a Crime, and The Antecedent. The movie was even screened in America for a short time as The Last House on the Left Part II, even though it had nothing to do with Wes Craven’s original movie and was, in fact, made before it. And these are only the English translations – as an Italian film, there are even more European language names. For such an influential film by one of the most important filmmakers in Italian horror, A Bay of Blood has gone through one heck of an identity crisis.
The music in A Bay of Blood is not the typical horror movie fare. Instead of a traditional orchestral score or an electronically synthesized soundtrack, the musical numbers in the film are performed by a small jazz ensemble. The music, written by prolific Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani (Nightmare City, Baron Blood), is driving and percussive, full of horns and piano vamping on top of a funky beat. The groovy score compliments the film well, yet still stands on its own as a series of musical compositions. Cipriani leaves his mark on A Bay of Blood, helping to set it apart from other horror films from the seventies.
The golden age of the slasher is thought of as the “good old days” by many horror fans, but even those films had to draw their influences from somewhere. One watching of A Bay of Blood will enlighten audiences as to where many of the ideas from those eighties splatter films came.