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Bay of Blood

The wheelchair-bound owner of a piece of prime real estate is murdered by her husband, who sets her demise up to look like a suicide. His triumph is short lived as he is then dispatched by an unseen assailant who disposes of his body in the bay.

On hearing of the old woman's demise the interested parties converge on the bay for a weekend of murder and betrayal.

Released in the US under the cash-in title Last House on the Left II, Mario Bava's brutal multiple murder mystery has long been acknowledged as a major influence on the slasher film.

And certainly some slasherisms are obvious: The use of subjective camera, the imaginative and well executed (groan) murder scenes and the group of dumb kids whose function is to party down, get naked and die.

But in other respects Bay of Blood has more in common with old school gialli like the director's own Blood and Black Lace. The murderers' motives tend towards the most banal: greed. And, despite a scene where two of the dumb kids are speared mid-coitus (a double penetration repeated in Friday the 13th Part II) the film is mercifully free of the oddly puritanical moralism and "final girls" of its American offspring.

Bava's direction is hit-and-miss.

On the plus side he handles the assorted stalkngs and slayings well. This said, the tension generated is undercut somewhat by the fact that the extreme cynicism in evidence doesn't give you much reason to really care about any of the characters one way or the other.

There's also some nice use of colour and lighting – long a Bava trademark, with the director's long parallel career as a cinematographer/lighting cameraman paying dividends here – and some characteristically arresting images, most notably a grotesque shot of a decomposing corpse half-concealed by writhing squid.

On the downside the obvious economy of the production means Bava also breaks out the zoom lens even more than usual…

Casting is a plus point, with strong performances from Claudine Auger and Luigi Pistilli as the MacBeth like couple, Claudio Volonte as a moody mama's boy and Pasolini favourite Laura Betti as a tarot-card reading oddball.

So too is Stelvio Cipriani's score, alternating between tension-raising percussivness and Chopin meets Daniel White romantic schmaltz.

While not Bava's best by any means, don't be put off by Bay of Blood's reputation as the Ür-slasher film. There's a wit and deftness of touch here that's all too often entirely absent from it's more literal minded spawn.

Picture quality on this Region One DVD from Image is so-so. The colours are bright and the picture solid, but there is also a lot of damage and grain at times.

Sound is frankly poor. Dialogue and music are muffled, the former also having a tendency to drop out.

This said a similar problems plagued Simitar's release of the film as Bay of Blood, so it's possible that this is unavoidable.

The extras are fair. You get an assortment of Bava trailers; photo and poster gallery; a Bava biography and filmography, and excellent liner notes from Tim Lucas. Unfortunately, however, much of this material will likely already be familiar to the disc's likely audience from Image's other Bava Collection discs.

Copyright © K H Brown 2002-2005

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