Friday, January 7, 2011

BLU-RAY REVIEW: A Bay of Blood (1971)

A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) Blu-ray

LABEL: Arrow Video
RATING: Certificate18
GENRE: Slasher
DURATION: 84 minutes (English Version), 85 minutes (Italian Version)

REGION: Region Free
DIRECTOR: Mario Bava
CAST: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Leopoldo Trieste
TAGLINE: The waters ran red with the blood of young women.

PLOT: When a rich countess is murdered, it’s a race to see who’ll inherit her estate and you can bet that the body count is going to rise rapidly in the process as the plot twists spin wildly out of control. The pile of bloodied corpses is going to get higher and higher as one by one the mangled victims are hung, speared, stabbed and macheted.

FILM: The films of Mario Bava were not a part of my youth in the way that the Universal and Hammer films were in the late-70's and early 80's which were broadcast on television during the Sunday monster movie matinee double features. Even during the mid-80's when I was rabidly scouring the mom and pop VHS rental shops for horror treats his titles didn't jump off the racks at me they way the lurid cover-art of Romero, Argento, and Carpenter did. The Italian master's films were always there in the background throughout my 20's when I was discovering independent and arthouse film yet somehow he eluded me. It would remain this way until the early 2000's when I caught the television documentary MARIO BAVA: MAESTRO OF THE MACABRE  (2000). The clips in the film were tantalizing and I made a mental note to seek out the man's work. Even still it would not be 'till 2007 when Anchor Bay released two fantastic collections - THE BAVA BOX VOL. 1 and 2 - a smorgasbord of Bava's films that I would finally spend a an entire weekend pouring through its contents. I was taken by his mastery of macabre, the surreal atmosphere and optical trickery. Each film a visual feast owning to the fact that Mario Bava was a cinematographer by trade until the late-50's when he delved into the world of special effects and co-directed a few films (though uncredited) including LUST OF THE VAMPIRE (1956). A few years later made his mark directing the gothic horror classic BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and thus began wonderful legacy of genre filmmaking that included the iconic horror anthology BLACK SABBATH (1963), the sleazy giallo BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), the influential sci-fi horror PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) and the gothic nightmare KILL BABY, KILL (1966) - talk about a run of classic genre films, each entry a visual delight. His mark on cinema is clearly evident, particularly in the technicolor lighting of the films of Dario Argento and the surreallity of Lucio Fulci.

Of his filmography it's A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) that I most often return to. It may not be his most gorgeous or overly ambitious endeavor but it his most visceral and fun entry and a great Mario Bava introduction for the uninitiated and notably has one of the best alternate titles in film history in my opinion: TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE - that's an amazing title. Truly a classic of giallo and stalk and slash cinema that set the blueprint for countless slashers afterwards, this was trend setting stuff. Having grown-up on a steady diet of the FRIDAY THE 13th series I was slack jawed when  first discovered that several scenes from the film were emulated in great detail 10 years later, the Friday the 13th films were hugely influenced by A Bay of Blood. The story itself is labyrinthine maze of death, betrayal and greed in the grand giallo fashion but the characters aren't particularly well developed though their deaths are remarkable, stylish and memorable. The film begins in a country mansions as the when wheelchair-bound Countess Frederica is hanged in spectacular fashion by her husband Donati who himself is murdered mere moments later which sets in motion a chain of murderous events. There's a fun cast of character including the countess's illegitimate son Simon, daughter Renata and her husband Albert, a crooked real-estate agent named Frank and his seductive lady friend, an odd amateur entomologist Paolo and his fortune teller wife Anna plus four horny teenagers who arrive at the bay for some fun, cue the Friday the 13th inspiration here. The deaths are fantastic, we get the fantastic hanging, multiple stabbings, a gruesome beheading and the wonderful spearing of a couple in the act of coitus. The death tally is 13 kills in 85 minute - that's a pretty decent clip even by today's desensitized standards but rarely will you see deaths captured so gorgeously on film and the ending is one of the blackest of all time, a real WTF moment that probably inspired hundred of similar WTF moments throughout the 70's and 80's.

DVD: What makes Arrow's titles so attractive is not only the pristine video presentation but the deluxe packaging. Only Criterion's come close to matching 'em and not even then. So, it pains me to say that what I'm reviewing is a Blu-ray screener that contains none of that. The main feature is the a wonderful new transfer of  the English export version of the film is gorgeus 1080p presentation in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a DTS-HD Mono English language audio track. The film looks great, it's sharper and clearer than you've ever seen it. That said, the film seems to lack the color saturation seen on the Anchor Bay DVD. The audio is a good mono presentation but we still get some high end distortion and the dialogue is a bit low throughout but with more depth and less noise than previous editions. 

There's a wonderful assortment of bonus features including the original Italian language version with optional English subtitles which is not a new transfer nor as pristine as the main feature natch. An interview with director Joe Dante (THE 'BURBS) as he recounts his love of Bava, cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia recounts his experiences on the set of the film and there's a Tim Lucas commentary carried over from the Anchor Bay edition. There are two trailers with commentary from Edgar Wright and 2 radio spots. What the hell happened to radio spots for theatrical films, they were awesome. The old grindhouse and horror radio spots are great listens. My favorite bonus feature is an interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti reminiscing his time working with Italian masters of cinema Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. This is a just great stuff and I was hanging on every word (or subtitle, it's in Italian), it's full of personal insights and observations about the directors, good stuff. For fans of Italian cinema and giallo in particular this will be a true delight. All the features are presented in 1080p high definition.

- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned art work
- Double-sided fold-out poster- Original Italian Version of the film with optional English subtitles.
- Collector’s Booklet by Jay Slater, critic and author of Eaten Alive!
- Brand new high definition transfer of the English version of the film
- Italian cut of the film
- Original Mono Audio

- Argento! Bava! Fulci! The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti (33:00)
- Joe Dante on Mario Bava (12:23)
- Shooting a Spaghetti Splatter Classic: Cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia on A BAY OF BLOOD (21:15)
- Audio discussion with Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
- A BAY OF BLOOD trailers: CARNAGE (3:45) and TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE(1:17) with commentary by Edgar Wright, director of SHAUN OF THE DEAD
-  2 TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE Radio Spots (0:82)
VERDICT: If you love the slasher genre and haven't seen A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) check it out, it's a film that truly is the connective tissue between the Italian giallo and the American 80's slasher films. Is it worth a double-dip? Oh yeah. If I own a title on DVD it's gonna take something special for me to snag it on Blu-ray. Arrow Video makes it easy, their titles are loaded top to bottom with amazing packaging and bonus content. This is a high recommend from me. Keep in mind that Arrow Video's Blu's are region FREE and playable worldwide. ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)


FRIDAY THE 13TH PT. 2 (1981) - 10 years later.