‘Gee they’re good at playing dead, aren’t they?’
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Italy. We’re going to be spending a lot of time here over the course of our journey, a country seemingly filled with zombies, cannibals, sexually frustrated slashers and demented nazis. Lonely Planet this ain’t.
But first up on our European sojourn is Mario Bava’s Bloodbath, dragging us kicking and screaming firmly into the 1970s. And thank God for that. What we have here folks is a genuinely great film from a true master of the genre, and the first must-see film on the Nasties list.
Bloodbath, better known as A Bay of Blood, was part of the horror sub-genre known as the giallo, a series of violent whodunits based on old mystery novels. By 1971 the giallo film was in full swing, and Bava had done plenty to cement the tone and style of these films with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). Then in 1969 a young director named Dario Argento made his first film, a giallo called The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and upped the ante in terms of violence and sexuality. Hundreds more Italian thrillers appeared over the next few years, many good, many bad. But that’s a whole other blog, so let’s take a closer look at Bloodbath.
It begins with a dreamy scene of an old lady in a wheelchair looking out over the titular Bay, while Stelio Cipriani’s romantic score plays. Dreamy? Romantic? What’s going on here? This isn’t the Video Niceies we’re talking about. Fear not, for within seconds she is brutally murdered. And then moments later her murderer is murdered, and the playful tone is immediately set.
You see, Bloodbath scoffs at double crosses, and thumbs its nose at something as banal as a triple cross. We’re talking quadruple crosses here, guys. In this film, everyone is a suspect, because pretty much everyone seems to be guilty of murdering someone! Despite this, the tight script from giallo regular Dardano Sacchetti never gets too confusing, and even if it did there’s always Bava’s famous lush camerawork to keep you occupied.
The similarities to Friday the 13th parts 1 and 2 have been pointed out many times, but it bears repeating. About 30 minutes into the film, a carload of horny teens in impossibly short mini-skirts arrive for some sex and skinny-dipping, and Bloodbath suddenly becomes a proto-slasher many years before Halloween, or even its possible inspiration, Black Christmas.
Two of the murders, a hatchet in the face and a double impaling of two lovers on a bed, would later crop up in Friday the 13th Part 2. The impaling is especially similar, being practically shot for shot. One of the suspects even wears a thick woollen sweater like Mrs Voorhees in the first Friday, although that seems like more of a coincidence. OR IS IT?
Bloodbath is another one that seems an unlikely candidate for prosecution. The violence is gory but fleeting, and the sex is coy. Perhaps it was the cynical ending, which involves a pair of kids. You can practically hear everyone’s favourite moral crusader Mary Whitehouse screaming ‘Won’t somebody think of the children?’ from beyond the grave…