Bay of Blood is not a distinctive slasher movie because its gore effects are more bombastic than its bloodthirsty peers, because it has as high a number of killers as victims, because the final twist is more unexpected than Jason’s mom coming out of the bushes and scaring the bejeezus out of Adrienne King. Anyone can be creative with their bloodbaths and their bad guys and their jolts. Bay of Blood, by contrast, is such a distinctive horror movie because of Mario Bava, Mario Bava, and MARIO BAVA. He’s a cinematographer. A director. A writer. A visual stylist. A provocateur. We couldn’t care less about who lives and who dies. Bay of Blood is Bava’s show, its scrappiness unprecedented by any slasher flick in its category.
Consider its obstacles. The majoroty of Bava’s previous films, like Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, and Kill, Baby, Kill, were opulent horror movies sumptuous in their visual stylings, death-defying in their dread; box-office success was more or less unavoidable. But by the 1970s, Bava’s relentless artistic prowess had staled in favor of new mavens like Dario Argento. Decently high budgets withered away, and so did audiences. But Bava’s spirit never died, and despite setbacks from the lack of money pumping into each scene, Bay of Blood feels alive, opposite of the dead-on-arrival monotony of later splatter-fests of the Friday the 13th mindset. His enthusiasm shines through the shoestring chintz.
It follows the blitz that won’t seem to leave the bay of Countessa Federica Donati (Isa Miranda) alone, following her intricate murder. (Consider that her husband stages her death to look like a suicide, only to get knifed just a few seconds later by an unknown assailant.) With her demise leaving the sizable property ownerless, it sets the stage for a madcap race for its takeover, that race being soaked in blood, guts, and flesh. Participants (and/or victims) in the nasty competition are kept under the impression that their plan to claim ownership is foolproof; but with so many people keen to fill the shoes of the Countessa, self-confidence seems trivial.
Never mind the fact that the property isn’t even that nice and it’s a shock that so many people want it, that there’s no way that that many murderers would want the same prize, that the teenagers that break into the bay’s beachfront home early in the film die simply because stakes have to be raised for paranoia to seep. Bay of Blood is an exciting horror movie because it is helmed by a master of the genre, working his usual magic in ways updated to the time period.
In the 1960s, he rendered his films either in unsettlingly shadowy Technicolor or in eerie, Gothic black and white. He mostly working with the supernatural, but settling down for precursing Halloween every once in a while just for the thrill of it was a thing, too. As Bava aged, though, his carousel of colors toned down to fit the cynicism of the era, camera techniques relying less on pigmentation and more on long-tracking shots, quick cuts, and inventive zooms. The gritty, considerate photographic style exponentially increases the suspense; all the gore wouldn’t mean much if not for Bava’s optical splendor, his cinematographic patience.
It’s not hard to admit that Bay of Blood would be a subpar slasher movie if not for Bava’s directorial fervor — the story is rote, the acting even worse — but nothing is more electrifying than a filmmaker making something out of nothing, with originality, no less. If it had the same Technicolor heftiness of his ‘60s films, Bay of Blood would perhaps be a masterpiece. But for now, taking his earlier, more subtle works into consideration, it’ll have to do. B