A group of young people (sometimes teens, sometimes college students) travel together to an isolated place (a summer camp, island, secluded beach, cabin deep in the woods) to have some fun. There’s drugs, booze, sex, dick jokes, and good times. At some point, either heralded by someone telling a story about it or totally without warning, some one or some thing starts killing off these young people, one at a time, typically in creative and particularly gruesome ways…
We Fellow Fans are all too familiar with this scenario; it’s the staple recipe for a slasher flick. Oh, some details may be shaken around, but the basic mixture is typically pretty damned close time and again. Some directors can fool you with the formula and take you in different directions, but they still have to rely on the formula to get us there. I’m sure a lot of you out there know the origins of this equation, but I felt compelled to pass on the knowledge to those who may not have had the pleasure…
…OK, fine; I really just wanted to watch Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, a.k.a. A Bay of Blood, Carnage, and several other titles, and this was a pretty good excuse. An early seventies effort on the part of the master to rejuvenate his career, he incorporated some giallo goodness with a plethora of modern murders in as many variable fashions as he could create.
We begin with an old, somehow crippled woman, wheeling around her obviously expensive manor located in a lovely natural bay area. Without warning, the old woman is strung up by an unseen assailant (with the trademark giallo black gloves), her wheelchair kicked away, leaving her pathetically strangling in her own doorway. The killer then leaves a “suicide note” next to the poor woman’s hanging corpse, but other unseen hands stab him to death and drag his body away. Cut to a swanky suare between a man we kinda think is an attorney and his secretary, where he receives a phone call telling him that a certain bay property is now, oddly, up for grabs. He sets out immediately to close the deal. Back at the bay, we meet a man fishing for squid (although they’re octopi), and a guy chasing insects with a net; later we meet bug-man’s weird, fortune-teller wife, and don’t wonder why he spends his days with crawlies. Throw into this mix a group of youngsters, tooling along in their dune buggy, wanting to dance, drink and screw. Breaking into one of the nicer homes, this quartet sets up a pretty rockin’ little party amongst themselves.
A bit later, we also meet a man and a woman, travelling in an RV with their two children, and their conversation tells us that she is the daughter of the man who was married to the old woman at the beginning, and she feels she has rights to the bay as well.
Even before all of the cast is intoduced, people start dying (not counting the double-murder at the very outset). Throats are cut, bush axes are applied to faces, a pornographic shish-kebab is created, decapitations, spearings, stranglings, shootings, stabbings; it’s all here. Now, it’s hard to figure out just who is killing who, and the plot is convoluted and hard to follow as all hell…of course, Bava knew that the plot didn’t really matter; it was the thoughtful and graphic means that these people met their ends that was going to grab the audience. You kind of get the general idea that everyone is trying to fuck over everyone else in the desperate land-grab for the bay, but it’s kept muddy and is all really just wrapping paper for the thirteen separate killings that Bava gives us as a present. The acting is nominal, and the dubbing is pretty sad; however, the scenery is lovely (Bava, true to himself, takes some time for us to absorb the scenery, imposing the carnage over the beauty of nature), and the special effects were truly inspired for their time. Granted, there are some shortcomings in some of the deaths (we are talking four-decade old makeup and effects, guys), but overall the blood and guts are pretty damned satisfying; no gorehound worth his salt should be able to say he hasn’t seen this one. And yes, there is a twist ending to the film, but I would be willing to bet you will not see it coming.
If you’re seeing this for the first time, you’re going to notice several situations that will remind you of the Friday the 13th series; this is no accident, and some of the kills in this oldie are duplicated almost shot-for-shot in those early ’80s classics. Looking across the entire slasher genre, it’s all but impossible not to see the influence of this film on virtually every one. It elevated the Italian giallo and it’s ilk to something new: the slasher film was born.
The argument can certainly be made that a certain motel owner in Arizona began the idea ten years earlier (although the same could be said of a certain British photographer around the same time period who was a poor date, who also kinda kicked off “found footage”), it was this effort by a legendary Italian director that gave us the guidebook for the hack ‘n’ slash that is still followed today.
I make no claim that this is a “good” flick; it has the iffy acting and almost impossible-to-make-sense-of plot that keep it from having that honor; as horror fans though, you know that this is a subjective thing, and as one of you, I have to recommend this one as a flick that, love it or hate it, you should still see.
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