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).