If you missed Part 1 you can read it here!
ALL THE COLOURS OF CREATION: PART 2
In 1971, as Italian contemporaries adopted and adapted Mario Bava’s Giallo template to raise the fledgling genre to its headiest heights, Italian genre cinema’s original auteur returned to finish a job he started in 1964, and help to create a second new genre within horror. While the likes of Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci developed Bava’s coda to create a rich body of work within Giallo, Bava himself was still very much a genre-hopper. He bounced between horror, comedy, thriller and sci-fi, and by 1971 his Giallo efforts were morphing into something else entirely.
Outside of Italy, one of the most enduring and durable additions to the horror pantheon that the 1970s heralded was the rise of the slasher - a high concept horror subgenre with a simple template that almost guaranteed success: a marriage of the whodunit murder mystery, confined or remote setting, a crazed and charismatic antagonist and a high kill count (including increasingly inventive murder set pieces) were popcorn fodder in the making.
The 1970s produced a series of films that confirmed the genius of this new subgenre, and the film industry took notice. Moving into the 1980s the slasher was clearly cemented, and a string of slasher hits followed in a short space of time from several territories, and did big business at the box office.
There is a popular school of thought amongst horror fans and writers alike that the slasher movement was born from two films – Bob Clark and A. Roy Moore’s sorority house stalker Black Christmas (1974) and, latterly, John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s seminal Halloween (1978).
Black Christmas was a holiday-themed film – itself a component that would be adopted by a number of slasher movies – that set up a number of murders (body count) in a sorority house (confined setting). This smart Canadian thriller was successful partly because of its accomplished cast (Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Giallo star John Saxon), partly because it dealt with smart and complex subject matter (both abortion and alcoholism were explored through the narrative) but mostly because it set up a high concept and played it out with a rich amount of tension and suspense.
Carpenter’s Halloween took the burgeoning template and added to it. The action was limited to few locations (confined setting) due to budgetary constraints, and featured a terrifying masked killer in Michael Myers. What Carpenter introduced to the slasher template included certain technical elements (the memorable, repetitive score, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots where the killer stands, out of focus, in the background of the picture, a series of gory, inventive kills) and embellished the concept of the Final Girl – a virginal Jamie Lee Curtis, who survived long enough to defeat the killer where her promiscuous friends had not been so lucky. Halloween was a rampant success and essentially set the template that seemingly every horror filmmaker followed for the next eight years.
Many of the recognised slasher tropes (the high concept; the whodunit murder mystery; the crazed and charismatic antagonist; the high kill count and inventive murder set pieces) had actually been around for some time. The Giallo movement of Italy was proving more influential than expected…
Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (co-created by screenwriter and regular collaborator Dardano Sacchetti) was ostensibly a Giallo film, but it also contained a number of elements that distanced it from the yellow genre – while gialli were typically (though not exclusively) urban, Bava’s latest movie had a rural, isolated setting; it eschewed the traditional whodunit with the introduction of multiple killers (from the very first scene); it had a clear dedication to its rising body count and inventive murder set pieces. There would be no sleuth – the characters are there simply to be dispatched in interesting ways. As Lowenstein (2016) so eloquently states: “an all-encompassing frenzy of violence subsumes questions of motive and mystery”.
A Bay of Blood predates both Halloween (1978) and Black Christmas (1974). Often cited as the primary influence for Friday the 13th, the film features a maniac killer dispatching members of a warring family as they fight over a bequeathed estate, and boasts a number of imaginative kills including a billhook machete to the face and the original double-impalement coitus interruptus.
Nastasi (2015) suggests:
“His plot about a familial inheritance drama exists only to propel us to the next kill. A Bay of Blood is often categorized as a giallo film, and it bears a few hallmarks of the genre (red herrings and a glimpsed black-gloved killer), but what Bava has created here is an early prototype for the slasher film”.
Indeed, those two most cherished murder scenes (the spear plunged through a couple during sex; the hatchet to the face) were virtually copied shot for shot in Sean S Cunningham’s first two Friday The 13th movies. If you hold any doubts as to A Bay of Blood’s conscious influence upon Friday the 13th, let this dispel them:
A Bay of Blood shared many Grindhouse double billings with Last House on the Left (1972, dir Wes Craven), a film produced by Cunningham. At some of these showings, A Bay of Blood was marketed as “Last House part 2”.
Martin Kitrosser, script supervisor on Friday the 13th and its sequels, was a huge Italian horror fan, who named his son ‘Mario Bava Kitrosser’.
Kitrosser loaned Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Millor his own personal print of A Bay Of Blood, for them to study as they developed Friday the 13th.
But looking back at Bava’s earlier gialli, we can clearly see elements that feed into the slasher subgenre.
In Blood and Black Lace (1964) Bava solidified the template for the Giallo subgenre and, unwittingly, also its bastard son. Blood and Black Lace codified the elements that made Giallo great – the murders (often elaborate); beautiful women (as victims); lurid colour; a sense of irony – but it also contributed much to what we now know about the slasher genre.
Most notably, the idea of murder as punishment for sexual activity (a major feature of the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises that would later become an established ‘rule’ of the genre in Wes Craven’s post-modern slasher Scream) stems largely from Bava’s canon.
The women in Blood and Black Lace are stunning models, often scantily dressed with prominent curves, but their sexual potency is eventually nullified by their deaths. Coined as “the ruination of beauty” at the time, this was a by-product of the ailing influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy. In Bava’s movies, these independent sexually liberated women were far removed from what was traditionally permissive in society at the time. The films were of course reflective of the period, and the women’s deaths served as a representation of the guilt impressed upon modern women by the more traditional elements of 60s Italian society.
The influence of Blood and Black Lace goes further still. The killer dons a black fedora and has a misshapen face – not a million miles away from the look of Wes Craven’s antagonist in the hugely popular A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. Look deeper, and we see Blood and Black Lace’s killer is head to toe in black – the hat, trenchcoat and trousers seem to blend into one flowing garment, create a wraith with a white masked face, almost supernatural in appearance. The “Ghostface” killer of Wes Craven’s later, seminal Scream franchise could very well be a bastardized version. There are also plot similarities, as a key twist in both Blood and Black Lace and Scream reveals that multiple killers don the same black garb to carry out their wicked plans.
Bava by no means single-handedly created the slasher. There are clear influences on the subgenre in movies such as Dementia 13 (1963, dir Francis Ford Coppola); Psycho (1960, dir Alfred Hitchcock) and even as far back as the 1933 film Night of Terror (dir Benjamin Stoloff). However, the influence of the Italian on the future direction of the horror movie is clear.
If there are a pair of movies that can truly pinpoint the extent of Bava’s influence on the horror of the last fifty years, they are very likely to be Blood and Black Lace, and A Bay of Blood. As evidenced here, they set the template for not one new genre but two, and firmly establish Mario Bava as the Maestro of the Macabre.
NEXT TUESDAY: We take a look at the Giallo movement during the 1970s, and provide a list of must see movies from the genre.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
Bell, J Albert, Belofsky, Rachel and Bohusz, Michael Derek (2006) Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film [movie]
Greene, Wes (2013) A Bay of Blood
Kenny, Glenn (2015) The Politics of Murdered (and murderous) Women, Part 1: Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace”
Lambie, Ryan (2010) Looking back at A Bay Of Blood
Lowenstein, Adam (2016) The Giallo/Slasher Landscape: Ecologia Del Delitto, Friday the 13th and subtractive spectatorship
(taken from Italian Horror Cinema, edited by Stefano Baschiera and Russ Hunter; Edinburgh University Press)
Nastasi, Alison (2015) The Beyond: Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/news/374057-beyond-mario-bavas-bay-blood/
Have you listened to the latest Beyond The Void Horror Podcast? This week we talk about two movies about demons. The Church & The Keep. It's a fun episode. Listen here or subscribe/listen on iTunes HERE!