Friday the 1st
“They came to play, they stayed to die…”
A.k.a. Reazione a Catena [Chain Reaction]; Twitch of the Death Nerve; Bloodbath; Bloodbath Bay of Death; Carnage; The Ecology of a Crime; Last House on the Left Part II (!); New House on the Left (!!)
Director/Writer: Mario Bava / Writers: Joseph McLee, Filippo Otoni, Dardano Sacchetti, Franco Barberi / Cast: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonte, Chris Avram, Anna M. Rosati, Leopoldo Trieste, Laura Betti, Isa Miranda, Giovanni Nuvoletti, Brigitte Skay, Paola Rubens, Guido Boccaccini, Roberto Bonanni.
Body Count: 13
Laughter Lines: “Can’t you sense the rattled breathing of death?”
Before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre… before Halloween… before Friday the 13th… but way after Psycho came this seldom appreciated (outside the horror community) massively influential unsung classic, that contains scenes that could be easily switched out with various Jason sequels and not raise suspicion.
Countess Donati is rolling around her fat ass mansion in her wheelchair when, totally out of the blue, a noose is flung around her neck and her chair kicked out from beneath her… The camera surprises us (those of us who’d seen other slasher films before this one anyway) by panning up and showing us the killer’s face. As he plants a suicide note and begins to tidy the scene, HE is knifed in the back by a different killer!
The “suicide” of the Countess and the disappearance of her husband (the first killer) attracts several interested parties to the bay; a developer, relatives, some bouncy teenage daytrippers – actually they happen by randomly – and the carnage soon begins. Everyone wants the bay, the house, the inheritance, whatever… and it seems that everyone is quite content to kill for it.
Undoubtedly the film peaks in terms of both fun and its proto-slasher sensibilities with the scene concerning the quartet of youths who come to the bay for a grand day out; two guys and their respective French and German dates. They find an old dance hall, lark about, then make themselves at home in a nearby house while one of them, the fabulous Brunhilda in her green dress and ribbons, opts to go skinny dipping. She happens upon the dumped corpse of the missing fellow and is murdered before she can alert the others.
Here, a scene that clearly inspired the infamous – and still unseen for 32 years – bunk-double-impaling from Friday the 13th Part 2 occurs. While the spare guy has his face split by a blade, the other couple are going for it in the bedroom next door. The killer picks up a spear and, from his POV, floats in and skewers the two of them. The Jason film recreated this moment almost shot for shot ten years later.
More people die, including innocent witnesses to the crimes. Suspects are narrowed to cranky fisherman Simon, son of the Countess, money-grabbing couple Renata and Albert, Frank Ventura the lawyer/developer/man-with-plans dude… But Bava is toying with our expectations. As per the original Italian title, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and by the time 81 minutes have clocked up, 13 people are dead and the bay is under new ownership.
Despite the never ending spectre of death haunting everyone who is unfortunate enough to be there, there’s a decent wad of humour present and the almost laughable lack of humanity on show from the cast. It’s gory, but not ridiculously, typical in its visual cues with plenty of bright colours, dark shadows, and focus pulling.
Shockingly, it’s yet to be remade and modern audiences probably won’t be able to appreciate the influence carried, but Bay of Blood is essential viewing regardless and worth seeing more than once, evidenced by the fact that I upped it by a whole star on my second foray (about a decade after the first).
I have only seen this once. What did it for you the second time?
It just seemed more cohesive this time, far more enjoyable.
That was a bit of the issue I had with it the first time. That & living up to the hype.
Maybe another viewing in a few years will heighten my appreciation for this film, but despite its obvious importance, I just couldn’t get into it. Bava is one of those guys whose work I just don’t care for. His films are indicative of everything I dislike in this era of Italian horror. Goofy, unfocused, low, sloppy, dull as all hell, and full of unlikeable idiot characters and laughable cheesy dialogue and acting. The ending was a hoot, though.
Whereas influential films like this are often touted by detractors as a reason to like other films less, I had the opposite reaction. This sort of film only makes me appreciate the slasher genre more, because the best in the genre takes what does work in this sort of film (i.e. the outrageous kills) and pairs them with much improved atmosphere and execution. And characters that I can actually bother caring about (at least until the late 80s and the “everyone is horrid and unlikable” era). Friday the 13th part 2 may have copied some of these set pieces, but it’s a superior film in absolutely every conceivable way. And not by a slim margin.
I often think that Argento is the only Italian master whose films still stand up today, and even a lot of his stuff is a bit cheesy when viewed in the modern age. Maybe I’m just biased against this era/genre.
Friday 2 is effortlessly superior, but I like the clunky nature of this film, it’s almost stumbling over the genre tropes without realising.