Sunday, 12 June 2011

Video Nasty #5 - Blood Bath

Far too stylish and intelligent to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mardi Gras Massacre and Don't Go In the Woods, Mario Bava's 1971 film, known under a bewildering array of alternative titles 1 is a genre-defining moment in European Cult Cinema and for better or for worse was a major influence on the next stage in the evolution of the Horror Film.


In the film a bunch of characters murder each other to win a lucrative piece of real estate, around a lush woodland bay. Getting on the property ladder can indeed be murder but Blood Bath serves up a bitter meditation on human sin. Greed, betrayal and murder are the order of the day, but judging by the final sequence of the film, Bava obviously didn't take any of this seriously - the DPP didn't agree and their decision to ban the film makes little sense. The gore effects by Carlo Rambaldi are memorably grisly - a machete to the face, a bloody decapitation; but hardly gratuitous - surely a few trims would have been sufficient to render the film suitable for viewing.


As good as it is, Blood Bath is not the Italian Maestro's finest hour - by the time the film went into production much of the proposed budget had dried up, and Bava had to double up as cinematographer, ironic considering this is one of Bava's darkest looking films - occasionally the director sneaks in some of his customary psychedelic lighting but for the most part the characters move in and out of shadowy pools of darkness. The plot of the film orchestrated for the characters to topple over like dominoes can sometimes be difficult to follow - a flashback late in the day helps to unravel the tangled relationships but it's awkwardly inserted in the film when it arrives.


Of course no word about Blood Bath can be complete without mentioning Friday the 13th. It's widely acknowledged that Bava's film was a considerable influence on Sean S. Cunningham's archetypal slasher - both films are set around a woodland lake/bay and feature characters that are constantly watched, and then stalked and killed in ever inventive ways - the speared lovers from Friday the 13th Part 2 are lifted straight from Bava's film. Cunningham was less than forthcoming about the influence of the film on Friday the 13th - interviewed for Peter Bracke's Crystal Lake Memories book, Cunningham said:
I never saw movies like Twitch of the Death Nerve or any of those other movies - the first time I heard the name Mario Bava was when I went to a film festival in 1986 or '87...
This is rather hard to believe considering Hallmark Releasing Corporation, a Boston based group of movie theatre owners who financed and distributed the Cunningham-produced Last House on the Left in 1972 had that same year aquired Blood Bath for US distribution under the title Carnage and later Twitch of the Death Nerve. Hallmark subsequently re-released the film under the title Last House Part II on the second half of a double-bill with Wes Craven's film.


Nowadays, Blood Bath is available in a wide variety of DVD releases, but the best edition remains Arrow's 2010 region-free Blu-Ray, this time trading under the title Bay of Blood. The transfer has sparked some debate over the color scheme, the Arrow disc generally looks less colorful than the Anchor Bay DVD, but in its favour the Arrow disc has much improved depth and image looks very sharp. The mono English language soundtrack which always sounded underwhelming is decent enough and Stelvio Cipriani's excellent, pulsating score has a bit more range than previous releases. Arrow have provided a number of interesting extras, including Tim Lucas' superb audio commentary from the Anchor Bay DVD, and best of all the Italian-language version of the film which features some alternative takes (the film was shot simultaneously in English and Italian). Sourced from the Raro DVD, this version of the film which now includes English subtitles, looks a shade weaker than the Anchor Bay DVD but it's a fascinating and worthwhile watch all the same. As with their other releases, the Arrow Blu comes with excellent reversible artwork panels.


A gruesome shot of a squid slithering over the face of a waterlogged corpse - the inspiration for the sleeve of the Hokushin VHS release

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Notes
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1. For the sake of this post, I've referred to Bava's film as Blood Bath, the title under which the film was distributed on VHS in Britain and Ireland. Of all the alternative titles the film appeared under, Blood Bath is one of the weaker ones and was possibly a riff on Hallmark's ad campaign of the film - when the film was distributed under the Carnage title, appearing on the accompanying poster was "Carnage - is a Blood Bath !" One of the Italian titles the film was released under, Reazione a Catena ("Chain Reaction") is perhaps the best, certainly better than the long established but otherwise fussy, Twitch of the Death Nerve. Personally I like the more lyrical Bay of Blood title the best.

8 comments:

  1. I didn't like this when I first saw it as a spotty oik, my appreciation door it didn't come until much later on. I really loved that Hokushin cover though and had a beta version of it, don't know what happened to that. I must pick up the blu ray.

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  2. Thanks Mart. I don't think it's a perfect Bava by any means - Black Sabbath and Planet of the Vampires are much better but I do like it... I didn't want to review the film - it's so well known there's little to say about it, but leaving it out would have left a hole in the series. I agree about the Hokushin sleeve, it's great and one of the few pre-certs I have left...

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  3. This is one of my fave Bava's, I'm very fond of it. I love the look of it and the kills and gore are great. And yeah, that's total bullshit that Cunningham didn't see this before making F13. Please.

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  4. I totally agree Aylmer, it's a great Bava film - the first one of his films I saw actually and it didn't disappoint. The kills are so great, the machete to the face gag still looks a stunner. Yeah, what about Sean Cunningham... someone on Friday the 13th must have seen the film !

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  5. Great review, Wes! I've enjoyed reading through your exploration of the Video Nasties. While this may not be Bava's best work, it still has some wonderfully atmospheric and gothic moments - and all those sun-dappled shots of the bay itself are beautiful. Tim Lucas recorded a fantastic commentary track for the Anchor Bay release of this (it was in a box set including Lisa and the Devil/House of Exorcism, Baron Blood, 5 Dolls for an August Moon, Kidnapped, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack and Four Times that Night). It is incredibly insightful and Lucas' love for the movie is infectious! My favourite alternative titles are Bay of Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve.

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  6. Many thanks James. In a moment of madness I actually bought Tim Lucas' Bava book but still haven't figured out how to read it, the book is a collossus. His commentaries are fantastic too, I had hoped that someone might have uploaded the commentary he recorded for the ultra-rare Dark Sky edition of Kill Baby Kill (which was pulled from distribution after a few weeks) but so far it has not surfaced...

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  7. I've seen this twice - once on VHS as Carnage and again sometime later as Bay of Blood - it's okay - actually a little slow for me. I might see it again one day and come around. And one wonders if the guys behind that distribution company - Hallmark - made Cunningham watch a print of it to show him what they wanted - as they were a big part of what ended up on screen in the first two of those movies?

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  8. Craig, your theory is both elegant and sound - I suspect Cunnigham wandered in to the Hallmark office and the guys said "Here's something we're excited about... you think you could crank one of these out"... maybe it wasn't quite as cigar-chomping as that but I think that was the general drift... I would consider this a major Bava, and ground zero for the slasher film, the nexus between Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and the American Slasher film.

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