Two versions of the film are housed on this disc, but despite its historical relevance and curiosity value, if you want the better experience you are advised to avoid the Italian cut because it looks terrible – very scratchy and unstable.
Both versions are presented at 1.85:1, via AVC, and are completely uncut. The print used for the English version has been newly transferred and the hi-def appearance offers a decent(ish) upgrade over previous SD incarnations, although it is still very soft and worn-looking.
Don't expect the colours to be natural because you won't get that in a Mario Bava film. But nor do we get the beautifully flamboyant aesthetic of Black Sabbath or Blood And Black Lace – wow, can you imagine how these will look if transferred properly to Blu-ray!! This said, the Eastmancolor depiction of blood is nice and vivid, which is great, of course. But skin tones and environmental hues are rather dirty. The titles, I should say, look great, with bold colouring and a nicely rendered backdrop, but the film, overall, has a grubby look to it. Bava seems to have favoured natural outdoor light and this means a very wan-looking sun painting the landscape. To me, the colours do not look boosted, although I have seen comments stating otherwise. To me, they just look old and slightly shabby.
You can't argue with the improvement in detail, though. The edges on the wounds, particularly the slicing of Skay's neck and the boat-hook thrust deep in Bobby's face look far more painfully etched and clear, but even when Anna becomes transfixed by the wound in Frank's leg, we can certainly see deeper into the ravaged material and flesh. Twigs and branches from those little moveable trees and shrubs that Bava populated his sparse location with also have more integrity, as do the little legs and wings of the insects that Paolo studies. Facial detail is also much more acute than I thought it would. Although actors are caked in the unsubtle makeup that the era dictated, there is still texture and detail on show. Background information is not exhaustive but, once again, this hi-def transfer proves rewarding with views out across the lake, tools and pictures on the wall, the rust on the boat-hook, the detail on the wooden slats on that rickety little jetty and images of vehicles and buildings seen from a distance. The picture holds its vitality very decently and offers a definite step-up from Anchor Bay's version found in their otherwise exemplary Bava Collection boxset. However, there are still the sharpened and hardened edges to be found from before, on the trees or the buildings, for example – nothing too distracting, but still a remnant from the previous transfer that could have been rectified.
Where the image most keenly comes undone is with poor black levels. They tend to look milky and washed-out, diluted of depth and strength, which is obviously a shame. With so much of the film taking place at night, or at least within the shadows, this can't help but lessen the atmospheric set-ups that Bava has sought to create. Actual shadows can still be quite effective, however, such as when Laura confronts Simon in the out-building, but lengthy scenes of darkness just seem to lose depth and come over as grey filtered. Print damage is not a problem with the English version, but there is still one sequence – the big expositional scene when Laura and Frank discuss familial problems in Anna and bug-boy Paolo's house - that features a lot of small juddering, and some occasional elements of screen intrusion by unwelcome hairs and dirt.
So, this is not great by anybody's standards, but you have to take in consideration what the source elements were like. I, personally, have never seen a version of this film that actually looked any good … but this certainly looks the best.
Arrow don't muck about with any surround remixes for Bava's Bay Of Blood. What we get is the original mono track in LPCM.
It doesn't matter that the sound is poor. It fits the film perfectly well, delivering that old seedy cinema, or low-rent clandestine VHS vibe that the paroled Video Nasty demands. Dialogue is of the bugaboo lip-out-of-synch variety that we know and love of the genre. There's nothing that we can't understand, or hear clearly enough, but the speech is alien to the mouths it emanates from and issued with that customary brittle bark. The score from Stelvio Cipriani actually sounds quite good, coming over with a bit of welcome presence. Effects are of the unsubtle thunnkk!!! and thwackkk!!! sort that normally accompanies bodily destruction, Italian style, and these violent sounds have the weight and vigour that fans expect. Nothing realistic of course, but fitting, just the same.
Damage to the track is still apparent, with hiss and crackle evident. There is nothing too detrimental though and I can't believe that anyone who knows the film, and understands this kind of material – it ain't Transformers, folks – will find anything to complain about with this presentation. It should be added that the Italian Cut of the movie sounds much worse again in LPCM 2.0, with a lot more damage and age-related issues that really take the shine off, even if the lousy image quality doesn't.
Tim Lucas, from Video Watchdog, provides a commentary track for the English version of the film. A massive fan of the genre, and of Bava, Lucas jams an enormous amount of trivia and detail into his chat. He discusses the writing and the filming of Bay Of Blood, its initial failure at the box office, its re-releases and its subsequent strife on home video, especially here in the UK under the reign of David Cameron's evil creator, Maggie Thatcher, and the auspices of the BBFC. He is unmistakably knowledgeable about the Italian scene during this period and he even offers plenty of opinion about what he thinks Bava was up to with certain shots and ideas. But, like some other overly-enthusiastic American critics who can be heard on classic Universal offerings for example, he has an annoying determination to list up actors' credits and bestow them with mini biographies. When it comes to certain performers, such as Claudio Volante who genuinely led a very mysterious and dangerous life, this is naturally very interesting, but for many of the cast who get hacked-up pretty quickly and never actually amounted to anything elsewhere, this is tedious showboating. But, nevertheless, this is a very worthwhile commentary that benefits from the speaker really loving the material in question and clearly enjoying watching the film beside us.
The Giallo Gems Of Dardano Sacchetti introduces us to the screenwriter of Bay Of Blood. Lasting for thirty-three minutes, this is a detailed and entertaining trip through the man's career, proving just how much input he had on the accepted classics from both Argento and Lucio Fulci. Peppered with lots of clips and bolstered by Sacchetti's likeable personality – he actually looks like Father Ted – this reveals the working procedures of the great Italian genre filmmakers and shows just who was the most professional of the lot. And the answer actually surprised me! Sadly, Sacchetti only got to work on two of Bava's films – a third was underway and only ended with the death of Bava – but he is still able to provide a lot of insight into the man and the style he made famous.
Shooting A Spaghetti Splatter Classic: Cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia on A Bay Of Blood is twenty-one minutes in the company of the guy, as he sits in what looks like Dario Argento's Deep Red prop-shop in Rome, beside a totally naff rubber monster, and discusses his career in the business. Paying most attention to his work with Mario Bava, he also throws in a mention or two for Argento and the other directors and stars he has worked with. He can't hide the fact that he is still miffed that Bava turned down a chance to work in LA when Dino De Laurentiis him and his crew a chance to do the effects on King Kong. Overall, this is a reasonable little featurette and shows how much time and effort Arrow put into tracking down personalities from these cult gems.
However, then there's a pretty pointless little piece from Joe Dante in which he attempts to discuss his love for Grindhouse Cinema and how he came to experience Bava, but no matter how short this is, or how much of a fan of Dante I am, I found this to be a terrible inclusion that tells us virtually nothing. A little bit of naff filler, I'm afraid.
Whilst I loved Arrow and High Rising's animated title sequences from their previous releases, the stylised clips from A Bay Of Blood, here, go on for much too long and give away far too much of the plot as well. But, credit where it is due, they are all in glorious hi-definition!
There are a couple of trailers for the film, too. One entitled Twitch Of The Death Nerve comes with a commentary from our own Edgar Wright. There are also a couple of radio spots for the film.
Arrow's release comes with its now customary reversible sleeve featuring original and commissioned artwork – I still love their special “big bottomed “ take on Inferno! And there is the little double-sided poster and a booklet that is more on the film's place in the genre's history than on the film itself, from Jay Slater, who also claims that Bay Of Blood has the most alternate titles of all. Hmmm … I'm not sure about that. I'm pretty certain that, ahem, “title” goes to Jorge Grau's awesome The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, myself.
Bay Of Blood is another terrific release from Arrow. Lavishly packaged and supplemented, Bava's bloodbath racks 'em up and cuts 'em down with gusto. The whodunnit angle is a hodgepodge of jumbled and ultimately redundant clues, but at the end of the day, nobody is really bothered who is committing the murders, or why, for that matter. This is a proto-gore classic that may be far from Bava's best, even he, himself, thought very highly of it indeed, but represents one of the turning points in a fabulous sub-genre that set up rules of engagement and then mischievously sends them up in waves of surreal illogicality and prime-time butchery.
Gialli may as well as equate to Brutality plus Style. In this genre, people are only required to die, but they must still do it in the most artistic of manners. Everyone seems to have taken on the slasher flick at some point in their careers, whether actor, writer, director or special makeup effects artist, and their offerings have hailed from almost every country on the planet, but the theme is still resolutely an Italian one, and even if the trend started long before Bay Of Blood splashed gore across the screen – actually dating back to Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase from 1945 - it is to Mario Bava that we must look to find the genre's most influential foundation stone. Without him, we wouldn't have had the ferocious class of Argento, the once genius of John Carpenter, or the advances made in inter-personal mayhem administered by Jason Voorhees, amongst a cavalcade of many other fiends.
Arrow's disc comes handsomely packaged and offers up a new hi-def print that won't exactly wow anyone, but certainly looks faithful enough to please the devoted. With a couple of great extras thrown in, this is yet another classic gore-flick that gets pardoned from Nasty Jail and re-enters society all spruced-up with new-found respectability.
Well recommended for those family members with an axe to grind!
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