Acclaimed Italian horror director Mario Bava, along with Dario Argento, is often credited with giving birth to the American slasher film. His 1971 giallo thriller, A Bay of Blood, alternately known as Twitch of the Death Nerve or Carnage, is frequently cited as directly influencing Friday the 13th. Boasting a total of 13 death scenes, A Bay of Blood divided critics at the time of its release with its explicit violence. With Friday the 13th just a day away, it’s a good time to take a look back at one of the films that set the blueprint for an American horror classic.
Wealthy Countess Frederica is murdered in her bayside mansion by her scheming husband, Filippo. Moments after forging a suicide note, Filippo himself is stabbed to death by unseen assailant. Their deaths set in motion a complex series of murders and schemes among family and friends to inherit the Countess’ estate. Matters are further complicated when four teenagers sneak onto the estate’s abandoned beach house to party.
The Style Over Substance of the Italian Giallo Film
The term ‘giallo’ is Italian for ‘yellow’ and refers to the cheap, pulp crime-thriller novels with yellow front covers. Briefly, the Italian Giallo film mixes elements of crime mystery novels with psychological thrillers and more overt horror themes. Among their characteristics, Giallo Films often employ extravagant colourful set designs with elaborately staged and extremely graphic death scenes. Narrative structure often takes a backseat to hyper-stylized violence with storylines feeling very convoluted.
A Bay of Blood is a classic example of the giallo style. The film’s storyline is packed with characters and nearly as many twists that will inevitably leave many viewers confused. As characters pop up, often with little background or introduction, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow who is doing what. The inclusion of the four teens trespassing on the Countess’ estate perfectly illustrates the often non-sensical plot structure of Giallo Films. They serve no purpose to the story other than to increase the film’s body count.
As Style Much Style as Blood
Style may take precedence over substance in A Bay of Blood but Bava is a master of style. It’s not hard to see why this film is cited as directly influencing Friday the 13th. In addition to mimicking Bava’s general approach to staging and framing his violence, the first Friday the 13th films lift two death scenes from A Bay of Blood almost frame for frame. In one of these scenes, two characters are impaled with a spear while having sex. In Friday the 13th Part II, the same scene was heavily edited by the Motional Picture Association of America (MPAA). Bava’s version is untouched and the effects are gruesome and shocking, even after over 40 years.
Style may take precedence over substance in A Bay of Blood but Bava is a master of style.
Each decapitation, stabbing, and throat-slicing murder is filmed with gloriously bright red blood and an unflinching camera. Bava stages his murders for maximum shock and, unlike many American horror films, editing techniques aren’t used to divert attention away from the carnage. Like Dario Argento and his giallo counterpart, Bava frames his murders to emphasize the destruction of the body.
Its Lasting Influence Elevate The Film Over Its Incoherent Plot
A Bay of Blood is not necessarily the best example of the Italian Giallo film. It never reaches the heights of Suspiria, Deep Red, or Blood and Black Lace. The plot is more convoluted than most Giallo Films and the dubbing is poor though not distracting. With its rotating roster of killers and schemers, A Bay of Blood often functions more like a murder and special effects highlight reel than a cohesive film. Nonetheless, Bava’s flair and style are undeniable and the film’s fingerprints are clearly all over Friday the 13th. The lasting influence of A Bay of Blood serve to elevate the film over its admittedly incoherent plot.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+