Bay of Blood (Reazione a Catena) (1971)

They came to play, they stayed to die.
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Bay of Blood (Reazione a Catena)

With the opening scene consisting of the hanging of a wheel-chaired coffin-dodger followed closely by the stabbing of the gentleman that set up the noose trap setting the scene for the longevity of most of the characters in this movie, it is a wonder that Mario Bava manages to develop any characters in Bay of Blood AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve AKA Reazione a Catena, but, being the master of horror that he is, he manages to build and destroy the players in the game quite masterfully. The wheelchair noose trap is quite a disturbing scene compounded by the inappropriate accompanying music and the drawn out suffocation of our leg-function-impaired pensioner making it reminiscent of something Argento would subject his audience to sometime in the future.

The overall vibe of the movie is that of a slasher but plays out more like celebrity big brother where all of the country's famous killers are forced to live in a bay with the survivor winning the ultimate prize of owning the bay and surrounding land. The character connections are impressed on the viewer quite quickly as they are introduced before their short life span expires. This is quite a directorial feat as there is almost instantly a rapport created with the characters. Their deaths mean something when most modern slasher movies find it difficult to make you give a fuck about the characters dying despite having been subjected to their past, present and current love interest.

A slight occultism is also intermingled with the typical badly groomed male teenagers and their promiscuous panty revealing female friends having a well earned retreat to indulge in some partying, sex and traditional hippy dancing. The insect collector and his Tarot card reading better half add an air of mysticism to the happenings giving a slightly new-age gothic feel to the proceedings.

Bay of Blood begins in the bay side mansion of the soon to be mansionless Countess Federica, where her husband, Filippo Donati, executes an intricate plan to support her legs without a wheelchair in sight. This execution plan's execution soon becomes more disappointing than constipation at a Weight Watchers weigh-in as he becomes the victim of a murder most horrid himself.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the bay, real estate tycoons are planning to own the bay by eliminating various property owners in the vicinity but little do they know their cunning plans are about to become scuppered by relatives previously inhabiting the metaphorical woodwork. To compound the plan's beautiful simplicity a group of hippie teenagers decide to break into an uninhabited property on the bay and have one of those hippie parties with their goddamn hippie music.

As the plot complicates the bodies pile up and new characters interfere all ending up in a situation that would leave Miss Marple clambering for her marbles and Jessica Fletcher twitching like Michael J. Fox with a machete through the cranium. It all adds up to an intricate yet reasonably easy to follow bloodbath with some Tarot thrown in for occult pleasures.

The gore factor is not excessive but the kills are violent and creative enough to make this more than a straight to TV Sunday afternoon sleuth soap. Bava creates a beautiful atmosphere and some picturesque violence to fuck with the heads of Columbo fans.

The inheritance feud, some creative and crow-barred in death scenes (including death by scissors), peculiar character relationships, all accompanied by a combination of bongos and cheeky seaside pornoesque music, makes Bay of Blood a very Italian feeling film. The dubbing is bad (but better than a lot of Italian movies) which also adds to its Italian quaintness. Overall the movie is an exuberant slasher but manages to eliminate all of the typical slasherness apparent in cookie-cut movies of the genre, it is never apparent who will survive and it is sometimes doubtful if anyone will. New characters are seamlessly introduced, sometimes creating the mood of a blood-soaked Agatha Christie feature rather than a hack and slash. It is this originality that makes Bay of Blood stand out from other movies in the genre despite adopting a number of stereotypes... and then it ends with a massive "what the fuck!" totally changing the mood and leaving you with mixed emotions about what has just been watched as the ultimate killers skip of into the distance to an inappropriate sound track.

This movie once again reinforces the theory that Italian children are evil.
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