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
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.