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A Bay of Blood: A Look Back at One of the First Slashers

There’s a good case to be made that Italian director Mario Bava is one of the most underrated filmmakers in existence. His movies were pivotal in the creation of a new type of sub-genre in filmmaking, and paved the way for directors such as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. One of his most famous works, A Bay of Blood, introduced audiences to a more gripping and fascination type of movie, creating many imitators and ushering in a new era of more gritty and realistic depictions of gore and violence. Films like Halloween and Black Christmas carry a similar tone and style, firmly establishing its influence within film culture.

Bava began his career as a camera assistant for many Italian productions, ultimately finding himself at the helm of many directorial efforts in the ’60s that when on to gather a strong cult following and oftentimes commercial success. His films were part of an Italian sub-genre known as Giallo, a stylized detective story with macabre elements and mysterious characters.The genre differs from other sub-genres such a neo-noir or detective fiction through its distinct visuals and stylistic elements of aesthetic, on the top of being more violent. The genre is more interested in creating a daunting atmosphere that strikes fear and discomfort to the viewer through succinct depictions of violence than telling a complex narrative with many ins and outs (although that’s very much prevalent in the genre as well). Works like Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, and Blood and Black Lace were striking works of art that captivated both European and niche American markets.

A Bay of Blood is the culmination (or rather continuation, as Bava later made two other successful films under the same formula) of his methodical style, where all the elements came together in what amounted to one of the most visceral horror experience ever put to screen at the time, and easily deserving of its status as one of the best horror thrillers of the ’70s. While a conventional Giallo in its murder-mystery detective angle, it develops a unique blend of both Giallo and horror through its intricate sequences of discovery, such as innocent victims getting caught in the crossfires of the dispute by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The narrative is fairly simple, a murder takes place for monetary reasons and the killer is covering its tracks. While the formula is repetitive, as most of Bava’s filmography follows the same pattern, it finds originality in the creation of a sinister mood.

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The film’s true star, as is the case with almost every suspense thriller with horror elements, is the vaunted location where the action takes place, a summer retreat overlooking the titular bay. It is sprouting with trees, vegetation, and all sorts of wild animals. Bava uses impeccable cinematography to convey a state of total bliss, one where something always seems to be lurking at the other end. The natural surroundings match perfectly with the interior ones, creating a succinct symbiosis of moods. The comfy and cozy environment of the cabin adds a level of uncanniness to the setting because of its familiarity and otherwise normal atmosphere. To further enhance the experience, Bava used a bevy of camera techniques, from repetitive cuts of a character’s shock to wide shots that give an eerie scope to the setting and lenses that give a detached feel. All of these methods have a way of enhancing the viewing experience and showing Bava’s cinematic range. Coupled with what’s been mentioned, the film’s orchestral soundtrack completes a perfect ambient atmosphere of uneasy expectations.

The impeccable and downright beautiful setting is heavily contrasted to the gory and macabre actions that take place in it. Right off the bat, we are treated to a lengthy display of violence, which sets up the subsequent turn of events. The killings are brutal and personal, best exemplified by its lack of guns. We are treated with a barrage of methods, from slashing, beheadings, spears to the guts, etc. However, it is interesting to note how Bava appears to have a cynical humor towards his character’s demise, playing them with an over-the-top candor made even more apparent with his camera work. He seems to be operating under the same guise Tarantino uses for his violence in films, in that it’s fun and entertaining, especially when considering the public reaction. It is an act that (predictably) caused a lot of controversy when released, but made all the more memorable as time went by.

Related: Giallo: The Best of the Horror Movie Subgenre, Ranked

While certainly not introducing them to filmmaking itself, as there are many other previous movies that follow the same conventional tropes, which would ultimately come to be known as the slasher genre, A Bay of Blood no doubt contributed to its massive proliferation during the coming decades. Also, an argument could be made that no film before had used the amount of slasher tropes this one did. From the unsuspecting campers getting brutally murdered one by one, to the mysterious circumstances of such actions and its litany of other implications, such as characters behaving suspicious and getting caught up the rampage, there is no expense spared towards the developing genre. What’s interesting about it is how all of them seemed to be captured through lighting in a bottle, in that the filmmakers themselves had no idea they were setting the blueprint for subsequent representation of the same tropes. It didn’t treat its audience as fools and let us figure out what was going on. The narrative moves slowly and fast at an almost simultaneous pace, keeping us on the edge while taking the time to admire the scenery. It transports you to its environment through movie magic, and the action is made even more palpable by the gripping scenes which take place. Its influence on the rest of the genre can be clearly noted if one takes the time to appreciate its incredible craftsmanship, made even more apparent when you notice all the tropes that were subsequently used in all that followed.

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