When Stacie Ponder first announced her Friday the 13th blog-a-thon I didn’t sign-up right away since here at Cinebeats I try and keep the focus on sixties and seventies era films, and the first Friday the 13th movie was released in 1980. Then I remembered the obvious.
Long before Jason put on a hockey mask and started terrorizing camp counselors at Crystal Lake, Italian horror maestro Mario Bava took audiences on a trip to the Bay Of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve, Reazione a catena; 1971). I decided to revisit the Bay of Blood and examine just how much influence it had on the Friday the 13th films following its 1971 release.
Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood takes place in a quiet bayside Italian resort area where lots of holiday homes seem to lay dormant and empty waiting for their owners to return. Some of the homes are more luxurious than others, but they were all built close together and in some ways they resemble a sort of “summer camp.” For better or worse, the neighbors also seem to know one another and the bay itself actually looks like a lake. Naturally the homes all have their own weather beaten boat docks and the area is heavily forested, which comes in handy since a lot of the action takes place in the local woods.
The film opens with the crude murder of a poor wheelchair bound woman who’s killed inside her luxurious villa. Her smug murderer is shockingly disposed of as well by another unseen killer lurking in the shadows. This stunning double murder sets the stage for the rest of Bava’s bloody film.
Soon afterward a group of four sex starved young people arrive at the bay looking for some summer fun. They break into empty homes, drink lots of booze and dance like crazy until the mysterious killer decides to murder them all in quick order. Much like Jason in Friday the 13th, the killer uses a machete on his victims and brutally hacks them up in what are easily some of the goriest scenes put on screen in the early seventies. One girl has her throat cut while her boyfriend gets a machete in his head. The other couple is murdered brutally when the killer decides to use a spear on them while they’re busy having sex. These now classic murders were copied to the letter for the Friday the 13th films.
The killers in Bay of Blood don’t wear hockey masks, but at some point one of the murder victims puts on a tribal mask and tries to scare his friends before they’re all killed. Surely the makers of Friday the 13th must have jumped a little when they watched that memorable scene.
Other murders soon follow and the corpses continue to pile up in the Bay of Blood until it’s dark comedic end arrives with a bang. But the moments that have always remained with me the most in the film are the pointless and brutal deaths suffered by the four innocent young people who were just out for a good time.
The young people in Bay of Blood have become the prototype victims for countless slasher films that followed it’s lead. They were all complete innocents who just found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their only crimes were being party crazy and sex starved, which made them easy targets. For the past 35 years similar victims have been getting hacked, slashed, strangled and mangled in movie after movie.
Forget everything you’ve read about Halloween, Black Christmas and so on. It’s impossible to watch the four young people get murdered in Bay of Blood without realizing that you’re watching the birth of the slasher film. Bava had conjured up plenty of murder and mayhem in his previous films such as Blood and Black Lace and 5 Dolls For an August Moon which were both groundbreaking gialli, but those films were a bit more restrained and the victims were rarely as innocent or as young. Bava goes for broke in Bay of Blood and seems unwilling to hold anything back. His camera lingers longer on each gruesome murder and the award winning special effects and makeup he used was incredibly realistic for 1971.
As in other slasher films like Friday the 13th, a lot of the action in Bay of Blood is shot from the killer’s perspective and Bava even uses a shaky camera effect to make us feel like we’re the killer at times. What separates Bava’s film from every other slasher film that followed is his amazing photography and great editing. Bay of Blood makes other similar efforts look childish in comparison. Almost no one shoots interiors as masterfully as Bava, and he brings lots of his signature gothic styling to this bayside thriller.
The Bay of Blood features a terrific international cast including many genre favorites such as Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Camaso, Anna Maria Rosati, Laura Betti, Isa Miranda, Claudio Camaso, Brigitte Skay and young Nicoletta Elmi. The movie also contains one of composer Stelvio Cipriani’s best film scores.
I enjoyed the first two Friday the 13th films. I could have lived without the third one, but the fourth one wasn’t half bad. With that being said, all the Friday the 13th films combined can’t hold a candle to Bay of Blood in my opinion. If you watch one slasher film this summer, make it Bava’s blood-soaked visit to an Italian bay. You’ll have fun spotting all the film’s influential scenes.
You can find more screen shots at my Bay of Blood Flickr Gallery which I put together just for the blog-a-thon.
More info about Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve) and it’s influence on the Friday the 13th films can be found at the films’ page on Wikipedia.
Also take a moment to check out this week’s Horror Roundtable where we all discuss our favorite murders from the Friday the 13th films!