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A Bay of Blood

a/k/a Reazione a catena a/k/a Carnage

a/k/a Twitch of the Death Nerve

a/k/a Bloodbath a/k/a Chain Reaction 

a/k/a Last House on the Left II

Part Four of Bad Blood Month

     "I never really thought you had that in you."

-- A summation of the casts' homicidal tendencies     




Gonzoid Cinema




You'll never guess whose finger is on the trigger.

Then again, maybe you can since there's nobody else alive.


Sights &
A Bay
of Blood
  Mario Bava
  Mario Bava
  Filippo Ottoni
  Giuseppe Zaccariello
  Franco Barberi
  Dardano Sacchetti
  Giuseppe Zaccariello
 Nuova Linea
 Cinematografica &
 Hallmark Releasing

Newspaper Ads

Other Points 

of Interest:

Super Mario:
The Cinematic
Genius of 
Mario Bava.

Caltiki: The Immortal Monster

Black Sunday

Hercules in the Haunted World

The Girl Who Knew too Much

Planet of the Vampires

Kill Baby, Kill


Five Dolls for an August Moon

Hatchet for a Honeymoon

Bay of Blood

Baron Blood

Rabid Dogs


Our film opens, serenely enough, with a scenic tour of our titular bay (-- that isn't very bloody ... yet.) Our tour then continues through several dilapidated buildings until we come to the main house, that of Countess Donati (Isa Miranda). The mansion, itself, is in pretty good shape, but as the old girl makes her way through it, by way of her wheelchair, you get an overwhelming sense of melancholy from her as she moves from empty room to empty room, object to object. And her mood isn't going to get any better, either, as she enters another room and spies a noose hanging in the doorway! Then, as the noose is thrown around her neck, the unseen assailant then kicks the wheelchair out from under her and the Countess falls and strangles under her own weight.

With the dastardly deed done, the camera pans to the killer's feet before panning up to reveal the customary black leather gloves that all killers in these Italian gialli are required to wear. But then the movie throws us the first of many curveballs as it keeps on panning up, revealing the killer's face (-- What? Already?). The revealed killer is the Count Donati (Giovanni Nivolletti), the Countess' much younger, gold-digging husband, who moves to her desk and drops a note on it; the note is in Italian, but considering her earlier mood, it's not too hard to decipher that this will serve as a [fake] suicide note. So, the Count, for some reason yet to be revealed, has murdered his wife and is making it look like a suicide. Will he get away with it?

Well, the answer to that is an abrupt and brutal "No!" as another killer lunges out of the darkness and stabs the Count, repeatedly, with a knife. So, who killed the Count? And why did the Count kill his wife? We don't know, yet; but eleven more people will meet their gruesome demise for those vary reasons before the end credits roll...

Mario Bava, a movie icon if there ever was one, broke into the movie business as a visual-effects artist, cinematographer, and production designer. And if not for several instances of directors quitting on projects he was assigned to, where he was pressed into service to finish them -- and in some cases, these directors would quit on purpose just to get the reluctant and reclusive Bava into the director's chair -- the world might have been denied his amazing -- nay, brilliant talents.

Over the years, like most of his Italian contemporaries, Bava had a hand in all kinds of genres; off the wall spy-flicks [Diabolik]; westerns [Roy Colt and Winchester Jack]; crime dramas [Rabid Dogs]; sword and sandal [Hercules, Hercules Unchained and the fantastic Hercules in the Haunted World]; Teutonic Viking epics [Knives of the Avenger]; science fiction [Planet of the Vampires] -- hell, he even made a giant monster movie once [Caltiki: The Immortal Monster -- Italy's only giant monster movie I might add -- unless you count Tentacles, but why would you want to?]. Studios and producers loved him for his fast shooting pace, and his ability to camouflage and maximize their miniscule budgets with his camera tricks and Bava's uncanny knack for making every pinched penny shown on screen look like a $1000. With all that success Bava's only real failure was at comedy, where he bombed and bottomed out with Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Bombs. This misfire cost him a contract with American International, meaning no more American distribution until this film, and one wonders if this disaster was by design to free him up to do other things? I doubt it. As it would be almost two years before Bava would direct again.

Now, Bava might be best remembered on this side of the Atlantic for those gothic horror shows that AIP imported -- and drastically toned down, with the likes of Black Sunday and Black Sabbath (-- that a lot of folks wrongfully assume are the same film; the first one is with Barbara Steele, and the second featured Boris Karloff in one of his last film roles --); that is, he would be best remembered for them if it weren't for this particular film we're reviewing today. Before Bikini Bombs tanked, Bava was putting his own personal stamp on a new genre that would come to be known as the gialli; violent whodunits that were short on mystery but long on the body counts, with very lurid titles that would fit perfectly on the cover of the pulp novels and 'zines that inspired them. Historically, in cinema, murder was usually a crime of heated passion, cold revenge, or an act of greed, but a new source was edging its way in -- usually of a repressed sexual or psychological dysfunction, meaning motives were no longer relevant, and, more importantly, everyone's a suspect. They seldom made a lot of sense until -- like in any old Agatha Christie novel, where what few clues you were given don't make any sense and prove basically irrelevant -- the twelfth hour revelation links it all together and explains things, for the most part, satisfactorily. (Usually reserved for the last chapter or reel to make sure you'll stick around for the whole thing.) So, with most gialli, patience is a virtue -- that can often be stretched past the point of critical credulity! 

For more on this phenomenon, check out my review of Guilio Questi's Death Laid an Egg.

Though the seeds of Bava's visual and dinstinctive style were planted in The Girl Who Knew Too Much they didn't reach full bloom until Blood and Black Lace -- upon whose viewing this particular critic had the first realization that he was watching cinema, not just a movie. His new breed of continental thrillers were both visually stunning and financially successful, which, of course, bred a rash of imitators. However, Bava continued to make them, and make them better, but after Five Dolls for an August Moon he was growing tired of the formula, and his own hype, and was ready to try something different. Or maybe, just maybe, he wanted to show all those young Turks like Argento, Lenzi and Martino that the Old Man was still the king.

A Bay of Blood began as an idea co-conspired by Bava and actress Laura Betti while making Hatchet for a Honeymoon. Securing limited financing from producer Giuseppe Zaccariello, the script went through several stages and four collaborators before the cameras rolled; which is amazing as it seems that Bava's only real desire, here, is to focus on the murders themselves. For, the plot that strings them together is totally convoluted, extremely confusing, and makes Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep read like shampoo instructions.

Don't believe me? Read on...

Now we, as the audience, know Count Donati has been murdered but his body has mysteriously disappeared. (However, that mysterious splashing we heard during those scenic shots of the bay gives us a pretty good clue where he is.) Meanwhile, when the other body is discovered, the police find the note and are satisfied that the Countess committed suicide. And the fact that the Count is nowhere to be found only reinforces these assumptions. Seems the Count liked to cat around and, figuring he has run off again with some floozy -- like so many times before -- the authorities conclude that the cumulative effect of these dalliances finally pushed his estranged wife over the edge. But that wasn't the only cantankerous point of contention between them. Apparently, the Count wanted to develop the prime piece of real estate around the bay into a tourist resort. But after an abortive first effort, the Countess pulled the plug and was content to keep the bay unmolested by outside forces. (This failed effort explains all the abandoned buildings around the mansion.) We learn most of this via some handy plot exposition provided by the Fosattis, Paola (Leopoldo Triesta) and Anna (Betti), who rent one of the cabins, and Simon (Claudio Volante), the groundskeeper, who lives in a shack down by the docks (-- and has a thing for munching on raw octopus.) The twitchy Paola is an entomologist who spends his days collecting insects and sticking needles in them. He's glad that the Countess decided against changing things, keeping it all natural for him and his creepy-crawlies, but worries what will happen now that she's dead. Simon, who is one surly S.O.B., isn't sure if it was a suicide at all and believes the Count might have killed her and run off, then continues to chew on his octopus. Anna, meanwhile, is mostly concerned with her next drink and spends most of her time reading her tarot cards, forecasting doom and damnation, and listening in on conversations that really don't concern her. Through her gift of gab and gossip, though, she also knows who Simon really is. And if you were paying attention earlier, so will you.

Anyways, the plot then thickens some more with the entrance of two more players: Frank Ventura (Cristea Avram), who is either some kind of lawyer or a real estate agent, and Laura (Anna Rosati), his girlfriend/secretary, who are just finishing up with the horizontal bop. After they dress, Ventura talks about heading to the bay to secure an all important signature as part of his master plan. Whose signature does he need? We don't know, and he's not saying. And fair warning: the movie is only beginning to be coy with us. Wanting to go with him, Laura is told to stay put and promised it shouldn't take long ... Meanwhile, the Donati estate receives a few more visitors, when Reneta (Claudia Auger) and Albert (Luigi Pistili), and their two young children, arrive in an RV. Seems Reneta is the Count's daughter from a previous marriage, and, suspicious of his sudden disappearance, they've come to try and find him. Thusly, after putting the children to bed, they venture out into the gloom to see if they can find any clues to his whereabouts. Then, things get even more crowded, and the plot starts to curdle a little, when two local teenagers, Duke and Robert (Guido Boccaccini and Roberto Bannani), decide to take their new girlfriends, Brunhillda and Denise (Brigitte Skay and Paola Rubens), to the scenic bay, figuring the old abandoned resort will be a great spot to score a little nookie. (Yeah, you're right. They're not going to last very long.) Oh, and before I forget, Laura decides to come anyway, on her own, making it an even "Ten Little Indians" for our mad killer to dispose of. And after all of these potential victims are drawn into the web of murder, greed and family intrigue, after a slow and confusing build-up, the killings comes fast and furious!

At first, we're not sure who the killer is; but as the evening progresses, and the bodies start piling up, it's revealed that a deadly conspiracy is behind it all to take control of the Donati estate and cash in on the land. But, for the record, there is more than one killer running amok, as there are two separate factions killing for the land, eliminating heirs and witnesses. And just like in Chandler's aforementioned novel, we're still not sure who killed who in some instances. But it is kind of neat how the whole thing unravels and plays out. I hesitate to spoil it, so I'll give you this option: With a helpful assist from the Parker Brothers, you can click on the link below to see who got killed, how, and whodunit. If you don't want to know, just skip it and read on. However, there are still a few spoilers ahead in the text but they shouldn't ruin the experience for you. Choose wisely.

The Bay of Blood Index O' Death

Welcome back.

Are you still with me? Good. 

So, in the end, everybody's dead. 

"That's not a spoiler?!" you cry incredulously. 

No, not really. Like I said earlier, I like the way the ending unravels, how the conspiracy is revealed, and the film's first two climaxes. The third climax, however, when the movie should have been over but the killers are mysteriously killed is, forgive me Mr. Bava, monumentally silly -- and verging on stupid. There's a ton of evidence that all the carnage we've just witnessed is one long, and morbid joke; the kamikaze fly who bites it in the drink; cutaways to "smiling" cars; and victims finishing off an orgasm before they expire ... You just get the sense that the director is winking at you the whole time. True, the eccentric Bava had a wickedly perverse sense of humor, and I'm sure it was amusing at the time, but after that much of an audience investment it comes off a little too trite for me -- like a joke or running gag that has overstayed it's welcome and moved beyond droll, and is barreling toward full-blown annoyance.

I think most of my frustrations, aside from that ending, with A Bay of Blood can be blamed on the atrocious audio track on Image Entertainment's DVD; sold as Twitch of the Death Nerve -- part of the Mario Bava Collection. In this instance the plot is muddled and hard to follow because the plot is hard to hear. The mix is out of whack, and it's hard enough to keep track of what's going on without the dialogue being drowned out by the ambient soundtrack. I spent half the movie under the wrong assumption that all the characters were related, making them heirs to be eliminated, but it turns out most of them weren't; just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or witnesses that need to be eliminated. I think a lot of this could be cleared up with either a re-dub or, better still, use the original Italian track and just give me some subtitles. (Honestly, I don't mind reading while watching.) Is anything like this available? Are there any better versions out there? My search came up bupkus.

Update: Our prayers have been answered with a remastered soundtrack in the version available in Anchor Bay's Mario Bava Box set.

However, as I said before, the plot of who covets the bay the most is a convenience, or contrivance, to just string the murders together making the point moot. But are these thirteen murders enough to carry the film, then? Yeah, they are. They may seem routine today but you've got to have some perspective, here, as this one came first. Making a conscious decision to not turn away when the killer catches up to his/her victim, Bava lets the camera's eye, and the audience, linger until the violence is done. If you've ever wondered what a Sam Peckinpah horror movie would look like? Here you go. Some of the deaths are shocking, like Robert's machete facial; others are oddly comical, like when the coupling couple are pinned together with the spear and apparently reach orgasm before they both expire; while others, like Simon's death, are an odd combination of both; and if you've seen the film, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Almost 40 years later Carlos Rambaldi's gore-effects hold up remarkably well. And though Rambaldi went on to do the special make-up effects for Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Dracula, and built the aliens for Alien and E.T., he will always be remembered, by me anyways, for his colossal failure to deliver the promised robotic goods in Big Dino D's remake of King Kong. But he's on top of his game, here. And I especially like the scene when the killer pulls the cleaver back out of Robert's face -- and Robert is still alive and blinking!!!

Despite the shoestring budget and no-frills shoot, Bava was proud of the finished film. But his voyeuristic and grisly approach was so vastly different than his established style the film was a critical disaster. The domestic box office gross, however, went through the roof ... It was Steve Minasian and his Boston based Hallmark Releasing that imported Reazione a catera (-- translated it means "chain reaction"), as it was known in Italy, to the States. Renaming it Carnage, Minasian ballyhooed it with an all day free preview and lured them in with a full page newspaper ad that warned the film was "The real thing -- the first movie that dares to show hardcore violence." HRC even slapped a self-imposed rating of "V -- for Violence" to really get everyone's attention, and teased the potential audience more by insisting each ticket holder be required to receive a face to face warning about what they were about to experience before being admitted into the theater. This type of promotion had worked well before on the earlier imported Mark of the Devil, so Minasian did it again, bringing the [morbidly] curious public in in droves. But the film ran into some legal hassles with the MPAA over the fake rating and was quickly withdrawn -- only to be reborn again, under a different title and ad campaign as Twitch of the Death Nerve. The lurid title, the delivered goods, and positive word of mouth made it a drive-in hit. A hit so big that Hallmark kept it in circulation, and kept squeezing dollars out of it, by changing the title a whopping twelve times before it made its last tour as Last House on the Left II in 1977.

Minasian still wasn't done bilking Reazione a catera, though. You see, HRC was also in the business of financing a few domestic pictures of its own. One in particular was a film by a couple of unknowns by the name of Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham. Their picture, obviously, was the original Last House on the Left, and Minasian would back Cunningham's next project, A Long Night at Camp Blood, too. But you probably know that one better as Friday the 13th. To say Cunningham borrowed some ideas from Bava's film is an insult, but this kind of thing has been going on since filmmaking began; there's a fine line between paying homage and ripping off and, frankly, I've as yet to determine the difference -- so I usually try to let this kind of stuff slide. Carpenter's Halloween started the blood flowing, so to speak, but it wasn't until after Friday the 13th that this type of slasher film became a full blown epidemic. Spawning hundreds of its own imitators, the horror film, as a genre, has been hemorrhaging out (-- to keep the blood references coming --) and suffering the consequences ever since. Don't get me wrong; I love these types of movies, but for a span of about fifteen years that's the only kind of horror movie that got made. And even after that, the genre was still having problems recovering from their hangover and couldn't seem to establish any kind of identity beyond them. 

Gialli, Canuxploitation -- Canada produce a ton of these things in the early '80s, and probably the ones you remember most like Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine -- stalk and slash, slasher, or body count movies, call them what you will, didn't involve a lot of original thinking. There were rules and standards and practices that were followed to achieve the producer's goal. And, no. Not some artistic statement -- profits. Even the Weinstein's built their Miramax empire with the humble beginnings of The Burning. I'm sure at the time of its production Bava had no clue that A Bay of Blood would set the template for such things, but set them it did. Here are a few scenes and traits that soon became standard:

Slasher 101.

  • All is well. No worries. Arrrgghh! ... There are a lot of misleading musical cues to the lull the audience into a false sense of security; and then, whammo!, someone gets skewered by something sharp.

  • Watch out for the local kooks, spooks, and red herrings. And ignore their warnings or prophecies of doom ... There's usually some local weirdoes or perverts hanging around. The twitchy Paolo Fosatti and his penchant for skewering bugs has red herring written all over him. And while his wife tries to warn everyone that death is lurking about, no one listens. She doesn't listen, either, and fails to make it to the end.

  • Cannon fodder ... Don't have enough people in your cast to have a big enough body count? No problem. Just have a group of unlikable teens that are irrelevant to your "plot" wander onto your set on the wrong day and at the wrong time and they'll never know what hit them.

  • Culling the herd. Stalk before the slash ... One at a time, people. Divide and conquer. Separate, then slaughter. Remember: you don't have to do anything, as your victims will usually do it for you. String it out as long as you can, too. And can you keep losing your top and tripping while trying to run away from me? Thanks. Let's see. Nothing around this corner. Nothing around that corner. There's probably nothing around here either ... *thwack*.

  • Get naked and die ... Or have sex and die. Wander off by yourself and die. Be greedy and die. Wear the wrong color of socks and die.

  • The Bloody Money Shot... It pays to have a good F/X team on your project. Since your plot stinks, and your characters are cardboard cutouts, this is your bread and butter and the reason why people come to see the movie -- so you'd best make it count. Each film has multiple murders, but there is always one or two spectacularly gruesome sequences that everyone will still be talking about come tomorrow. Whether somebody gets their head lopped off, complete with a fountain of blood coming out of the stump, or someone taking a meat-cleaver to the face, the gorier the merrier.

  • The body pile ... How they get them moved so fast is beyond me. And how they hide the smell is an even bigger mystery, but pray you don't find it -- unless you're the final girl -- or you'll soon be on top of it.

  • I'm not quite dead ... Characters that you think are dead keep popping back up. This super-power would eventually transfer to the killer, or be bestowed upon a character the audience likes who would miraculously recover from mortal wounds after the climax (Think Deputy Dewey in Scream.)

  • Motive? We don't need no stinkin' motive ... I've touched on this already: all you need is the barest of threads to string the murders together as it became less and less about whodunit but how they "dunit", how many they "dunit" to, and with what sharp object they "dunit" with.

  • The twist in the plot -- or -- "Oh, it's just you ... Wait. You! You're the killer"... Here we have the origin of the final girl. Yes, I know, Laura doesn't make it but her confrontation with Simon in the cabin is stolen, almost verbatim, for Friday the 13th when Alice realizes that Mrs. Voorhees isn't quite right in the head. Hell, she and Simon are even wearing almost the exact same sweaters! This of course leads to...

  • Yes, I did it -- and now I'm going to tell you why ... Once Simon goes all schizo on Laura and spews venom at her, fingering her as one of his mother's murderers, we know we'll be seeing a lot of family skeletons coming out of the closet and psychoses spewed forth to try and rationalize and justify all the carnage we've just witnessed over the last hour and half for years to come.

  • Oh, and one more thing before you go ... Ah, the shock ending out of left field. Affectionately known as the cheese-dick ending around these parts. This would eventually morph into the killer isn't really dead, to rise one more time for a scare, or he's still on the loose when the credits roll -- because we need 'em for the sequel.

Thirty years after the fact, Bava's initial vision has been so distilled and watered down that they've become laughable clichés. Sure, they may have copied his murders and his formula, but they can't touch his distinctive style. Hands down, this guy is my favorite director of all time. His films are not meant to be watched, but experienced. (And even his colossal misfires are beautiful to look at.) And I'll argue with anyone that nobody has had a bigger influence on horror films than this guy. I think he saved the genre once with Black Sunday, but also, regrettably, and it's not really his fault, he went on to devastate the genre, as a whole, no matter how much you enjoy them, like I do (-- and I can't stress that enough), with A Bay of Blood and its bastard progeny.

Want More Bad Blood? Click Here!
Originally Posted: 08/29/04 :: Rehashed: 06/15/2010

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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