Bay of Blood DVD

Body count basics

European horror is hot on DVD. A generation of film fans raised on Video Watchdog — knowing the full story of how the works of Bava, Argento, Fulci, et al have been mishandled and abused by American distributors — are eager to snap up the definitive, uncut editions of their horror favorites that were once served up only on limited edition laserdiscs or bleary bootleg tapes.

While most have been released with care (and plenty of extras) by labels run by horror fans, others still await release while the best film and sound elements are sought out and extras are assembled. Filling the gap, a number of frill-free labels have managed to make some hay while the experts toil. Last year, Joe D’Amato’s The Grim Reaper made its DVD debut in an inferior package culled from a 16mm television print. This spring, VCI released Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill! on a disc that fared better than their previous batting average would indicate. Now, Simitar serves up maestro Mario Bava’s trendsetting slayfest on a platter sure to disappoint the connoisseurs, while satisfying to the less discriminating. However, you may have trouble finding it. Simitar’s regular distributor, Image Entertainment, backed off on handling this title, in anticipation of their own deluxe release due later this year.

Released under many titles, including Ecology of a Crime, Carnage, Before the Fact, Last House on the Left Part 2, Bloodbath, Chain Reaction and my favorite, Twitch of the Death Nerve, this is Bava’s most violent feature. Usually cited as an inspiration for Friday the 13th and other slasher flicks, Bay of Blood is a more complex concoction, a murder mystery with a high body count, gratuitous gore, and an ecological subtext.

Composer Stelvio Cipriani’s score introduces the title character: the bay itself, a body of shimmering water surrounded by lush forest. Gazing out at the water while a storm gathers is the owner of most of the waterfront property, wheelchair-bound Countess Frederika (Isa Miranda). An unseen stranger sneaks up and hangs the old lady by a noose, and when her husband, Donati, finds the body he is immediately stabbed in the back with a jack knife and dragged away.

The bay’s prospective developer Ventura (Chris Avram), interrupts his affair with his secretary to make arrangements. The countess’ death is suspected to be ruled a suicide, but with her husband missing, Ventura must deal with whatever heirs show up.

Bug hunter Paulo argues with squid hunter Simon (Claudio Volonte) over whether the bay should be developed at all, introducing the film’s ecological theme. Meanwhile, Paulo’s fortuneteller wife Angela (Laura Betti) sees death in the cards, “Tears spread over the bay”.

Four fun-loving teens visit the bay in their dune buggy — two American sailors on leave who’ve picked up dates for the weekend. They find an abandoned resort — built during a previous attempt at development — that’s due for renovation. They are watched by angry eyes as they break into Ventura’s house while German Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay) takes a skinny dip. Her swim churns up a sunken body, but before she can tell anyone, the killer slashes her throat with a scythe.

To cover up any tracks, the remaining trespassing teens are stalked and slaughtered. One gets the scythe through his face, then the remaining pair is skewered by a spear while en flagrante — both later favorite “quality kills” of the Friday the 13th series.

Moving right along, two kids are left alone in a bayside trailer, while their parents, Donati’s daughter Renata (Claudine Auger, Thunderball‘s “Domino”) and her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli), go off to try to find out what happened to her father (disappeared since the Countess’ death). Paulo and his wife are more than willing to spill all sorts of dirt on the bay’s foremost landowners. It’s revealed that Simon the squid hunter is also a potential heir, and he soon makes himself more suspect by dragging ashore Donati’s fish bait body.

More bodies are discovered, and fear and suspicion increase the body count, along with the number of suspects. While everyone is busy stabbing, garroting, and decapitating each other, the film’s web of deceit and greed is unraveled, until only two characters remain alive.

Simitar presents the feature in a letterboxed transfer that varies in aperture throughout the feature, suggesting an insufficient matte. The image cuts off the main titles on the left side, and strong light sources often flare up above the matte. Stepping through the film reveals a poor ratio of one steady frame for every five jittery ones, and nearly every cut has been authored as a one frame dissolve. The film appears to be missing only some footage of gore, but clocks in at 79 minutes 55 seconds, over 2 minutes shorter than the listed US running time, and over 10 minutes shorter than the listed original running time of 90 minutes. This, along with the uneven soundtrack, suggests a time-compressed transfer from a PAL video master.

Further indicative of the disc’s inattention to detail, the “Film Facts” feature lists it as a USA production. This intense feature deserves a better presentation, so just be patient.

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