The Werewolf Vs the Vampire Woman (a.k.a. La Noche De Walpurgis, 1971): Review

The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Woman poster
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Paul Naschy returns for his third outing as Waldemary Daninsky, the unfortunate aristocrat afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy. You have to give the old ghoul credit for trying so hard to squeeze a little more blood out of the rapidly shriveling corpse. THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (known as LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS [“Walpurgis Night”] in its native Spain) is on par with the other Daninsky films, which hardly acquired classic status but did manage to entertain with their enthusiastic blend of elements: plot motifs from Universal Pictures’ black-and-white WOLF MAN movies of the 1940s; colorful gore from the Hammer Films output of the 1960s; and a distinctly European dash of exploitation, including gratuitous nudity and lesbianism. It’s the kind of film you enjoy late at night, especially after a few drinks, but you don’t really respect it in the morning.
The screenplay (co-written by Naschy under his real name, Jacinto Molina) once again revives Daninsky by having a silver bullet removed from his heart, as in the previous year’s ASSIGNMENT TERROR (a.k.a., LOS MONSTRUOS DEL TERROR). This time, the revivification is accidental: the bullet is extracted during an autopsy, which takes place in what appears to be a tomb (at least the creaking gate outside the building and the wind rustling through the trees suggest a cemetery setting, which the bare-bones interior set does little to dispell).
The coroner is surprised to find that, for the first time in his career, he has a patient who survived the operation!
The coroner is surprised to find that, for the first time in his career, he has a patient who survived the operation!

Awakened form his near-death experience, Daninsky reverts to werewolf form and kills the two men performing the operation, then departs to the nearby woods, where he kills a random woman. The victims tend to live just long enough to roll over so that we can see their bloody wounds in close-up; the camera thoughtfully tilt’s down from the naked woman’s torn throat to reveal a rivulet of blood between her naked breasts. In case this carnage (all in the first five minutes!) is not enough to grab viewer attention, the credits that immediately follow play over a montage of horror highlights from later in the film.
Meanwhile, as part of a class project, a couple of female college grad students are seeking the tomb of Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy (known in real-life as the infamous Elizabeth Bathory, although that might or might not be clear in the subtitles or dubbing, depending on which version of the film you see). Their successful quest brings them in contact with Daninsky, who is seeking the Countess’s final resting place for a reason of his own: he hopes that the magical silver cross-dagger that ended Wandesa’s bloody reign will terminate his own interminable life and grant him eternal peace. (Daninsky has apparently given up on silver bullets – and who can blame him, after being shot twice, only to be resurrected both times!)
Daninsky needs the cross to end his own existence, but what about the vampire from whose corpse he removed it?
Daninsky needs the cross to end his own existence, but what about the vampire from whose corpse he removed it?

Right about now, a thought is probably occurring to you – one so obvious you wonder why the characters did not think of it: if Daninsky removes the dagger from the vampire’s heart, will that not bring her back to life? Sure enough, it does! Confusingly, the first living dead creature we see is a dessicated corpse, which we assume is the the resurrected countess; however, Daninsky quickly dispatches this zombie with a thrust of the magic dagger, killing it pretty quickly and leaving us to wonder: Is the movie over already? Well, it turns out that the wrinkly-crinkly walking-dead thing was not the Vampire Woman after all. So, the Countess is still out there, and it’s not long before she sets her eyes on a few nubile necks.
Barbara Capell as the newly vampirized Genevieve
Barbara Capell as the newly vampirized Genevieve

This being Euro-horror, the Vampire Woman is pretty much exclusively interested in female victims, the first of whom is Genevieve (Barbara Capell), who comes back as a vampire herself and sets her eyes on her former college colleague, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs). Fortunately for Elvira, there is no way that she going to die by a vampire’s fangs; the plot clearly has her slotted as the woman who will fall in love with Daninsky and do him the good service of putting him out of his eternal misery.
In case you hadn’t noticed, continuity has taken a back seat by this point, since the film’s focus shifted from Daninsky’s effort to end his immortal existence to the predations of the revived vampiress. Just to remind us of what’s at stake (no pun intended – seriously), Daninsky kills a victim or two, emphasizing that he really needs to get this werewolf thing under control – even if “under control” means plunging a silver crucifix-dagger into his chest.
The Vampire Woman prepares to sacrifice Elvira to the Devil. Will Daninsky wolf out in time to save her?
The Vampire Woman prepares to sacrifice Elvira to the Devil. Will Daninsky wolf out in time to save her?

I forgot to mention: there is a time-lock plot device involved in all of this. Apparently, on the titular Walpurgis Night, Countess de Nadasdy is going to offer a sacrifice to Satan, and then all hell will break loose – as if things have not been bad enough already!
Eventually, Elvira’s boyfriend, Inspector Marcel shows up – which is rather awkward, as Elvira is in the midst of her brief, tragic love affair with Daninsky, whom she will soon have to kill. Marcel plays such a minor role you almost wonder why he is in the movie at all. The answer to this question is that you see more of him in LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS, the subtitled European version, in which there are a couple of scenes of him investigating the murders committed by Daninsky. After viewing these scenes, you will find yourself still wondering why he was in the movie.
Finally, all the elements come together for the big conclusion; fortunately for the plot, Walpurgis Night falls during the full moon. Also fortuantely, Daninsky is a little bit like The Incredible Hulk, in the sense that, when he really needs to, he seems to be able to control his transformative rampages, attacking the villain instead of his lady love. This leads to a mano-a-mano brawl with the Countess, for which Naschy’s previous career as a professional wrestler probably stood him in good stead.
Waldemar Daninsky reverts to werewolf form - which is not good news for his Vampire Woman opponent!
Waldemar Daninsky reverts to werewolf form - which is not good news for his Vampire Woman opponent!

Not that the result is particularly thrilling. How excited can you get, watching a hairy man attack a whispy woman in a flimsy black diaphanous gown? (Don’t answer that!) The script seems completely unconcerned with the question of what happens when two supernatural beings, each with his or her own particular rules, come to grips: Wouldn’t the werewolf need to use a stake through the heart to kill the vampire woman? Wouldn’t the vampire woman need to use a silver bullet to kill the werewolf?
Apparently not. A simple bite shuffles off De Nadasdy’s mortal coil a second time, leaving the cross-dagger safely in Elvira’s hand, so that she can use it on Daninsky, thus not only granting him eternal peace but also resolving the love triangle, so that she can Marcel can get back together.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is confusing at times. How did Daninsky (who was recently dead and presumably not able to do much research) manage to learn the location of – and obtain a villa conveniently close to – the vampire’s tomb? Why doesn’t Daninsky plan for what will happen when he removes the silver dagger from the vampiress’s body? Who or what was the walking corpse that Daninsky dispatches with the dagger? (Sharp-eyed viewers seem to think it was the Countess’s long-dead servant, whom we see in a flashback.)
There is no direct continuity with the previous film in the series: the location seems to be different, and the coroner’s brief dialogue references to “rumors” that Daninsky was a murderous werewolf, do not align with the events of ASSIGNMENT TERROR. Even more confusing, Daninsky suddenly has a sister helping him – where the hell was she during the previous two films?
Daninsky has a late-night snack.
Daninsky has a late-night snack.

So why bother watching? Because the horror scenes are done right. There is atmosphere in abundance, thanks to the Leopoldo Villasenor’s location cinematography, and the exploitation elements (sex and violence) hit just the right note of disreputable fun. (Interesting to note that images which would have been deemed shockingly excessive back in 1971 seem rather tame today.)
There is a certain crude exuberance to Daninsky’s lycanthropic rampages (after dispatching one victim, the werewolf drops a big chunk of gory flesh from his jaws – yummy!). Naschy probably plays more scenes in werewolf makeup than Lon Chaney ever did (you can usually recognize him beneath the fur, which is nice), and he seems to enjoy the physicality of acting with his body. He also carries off the requisite sense of romantic tragedy in his human scenes. The werewolf makeup and transformations are old school and sometimes campy, but that’s part of the charm.
Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy
Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy

Daninsky’s opponent is a bit less memorable. The Vampire Woman’s over-sized head-dress -looking almost like a miniature tent – is comical. Presumably the intent was to put actress Patty Shepard in a costume that would disguise the switch to a stunt double during the tussle with the werewolf.
Fortunately, Leon Klimovsky films the vampire scenes in seductive slow-motion, enhanced by wafting fog (which, as often as not, is seen rolling along the floors of the villa – the absurdity of the imagery only increasing the surreal quality). Capell, as the newly vampirized Genevieve, displays a memorably alarming pair of eyes – both hypnotic and hungry, fueled by her new blood-lust, directed at her old friend. These sequences provide everything a fan could ask of a film like this – good, unpretentious horror that is not ashamed to embrace beloved cliches.
All of this does not add up to great film-making, but it is a good example of fulfilling the genre requirements with a certain gusto – enough to help us overlook, if not forget, the plot deficiencies.

ALTERNATE VERSIONS ON DVD AND THE INTERNET

click to purchase
click to purchase the Anchor Bay DVD

THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is currently available on DVD-R from Synergy Entertainment and on instant streaming from Amazon. You can find the film for free on public domain outlets, such as Creepster.tv. However, these English-dubbed prints are typically cropped, scratched, and faded – not to mention shorn of eight minutes. If you want better picture quality, a widescreen transfer, and the complete running time, your best bet is Anchor Bay’s 2002 DVD, which presents the film under one of its alternate titles, WEREWOLF SHADOW. This cut of the film is also available for free on YouTube (previously posted here), under the original Spanish title LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS. Unfortunately, on the YouTube version, the English subtitles are thirty seconds out of synch with the Spanish audio track.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN/LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS is one of those cases in which the edited version is in some ways superior. The deleted scenes of Inspector Marcel are hardly missed; their absence speeds up the pace and removes one distraction from a film that already seems to be losing sight of its main plot thread.
One eccentric element of the original cut (heard in other Daninsky films and, indeed, in other Euro-horror films of the period) is the intrusion of breezy lounge-style background music on the soundtrack, apparently to remind viewers that, despite the Gothic settings, the story has a contemporary setting. This takes place most noticeably during the opening credits, with an upbeat wordless female vocal distinctly at odds with the three brutal deaths (two gashed faces and one ripped throat) that we have just witnessed.
In the English-dubbed version, this music is replaced by a more sinister cue, lifted from elsewhere in the film, and played over a selection of scenes culled from the rest of the movie. (The shorter Spanish-language opening credits play over a freeze frame of the werewolf and a reprise of the dead woman’s blood-drenched chest.) The reprise of the pop theme over the closing credits (where it is hilariously ill-suited to follow the tragic events of the finale) has likewise been replaced in the English-dubbed version, with another sample of the film’s effective, almost ambient background score.
Don't expect to see the sheet drop in the English-dubbed version!
Don't expect to see the sheet drop in the English-dubbed version!

On the downside, the love scene between Daninsky and Elvira is truncated, removing a few seconds of nudity; the bloody breasts from the opening credits are also missing. And as mentioned above, the U.S. distributor saw fit to make some footage serve double-duty, giving away some of the better moments before they appear properly in the narrative.
Like Nashy’s other Daninsky films, THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN will probably appeal to a niche audience of fans, either of the actor in particular or of 1970s Euro-horror in general. It is far less convoluted and threadbare than ASSIGNMENT TERROR but not as much outrageous fun as Daninsky’s debut outing, FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR (more properly known by its Spanish title LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE-LOBO [“The Mark of the Wolf-Man”]). Naschy himself apparently liked the the idea enough to recycle it in NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981, a.k.a.: EL RETURNO DEL HOMBRE-LOBO). It’s not an idea I would have resurrected, but in its original form it is worth a good howl at the moon.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971, a.k.a.: LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS, WEREWOLF SHADOW). Directed by Leon Klimovsky. Written by Jacinto Molina, Hans Munkel. 82 minutes. Rated R. Cast: Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andress Resino, Yelena Samarina, Jose Marco, Barta Barri, Maria Luisa Tovar, Julio Pena, Patty Shepard.

ZPG (1971) on DVD

ZPG (or Zero Population Growth) arrived as part of a wave of eco-minded Sci-Fi thrillers that predicted dire circumstances for mankind’s not too distant future. Close in tone to Douglas Trumbull’s SILENT RUNNING (featuring Bruce Dern’s mutinous seizure of a massive spaceship containing some of Earth’s last bits of greenery) but featuring a future more along the lines of SOYLENT GREEN, ZPG is a nearly joyless effort – a dour lecture on the ills of over-population that is too bloated with self importance to even qualify as camp.
ZPG is set in a city permanently encased in a thick fog of pollution (we’re told neither where nor when the story takes place, done either to save money on production design or to make the viewer feel like this could happen Tomorrow and it could be Anywhere).  In a desperate move to counter over-population, the President decrees a 30-year ban on childbirth. Children born prior to the ban are imprinted with an infrared “BE” (Before Edict) on their forehead, whereas childbirth after the edict results in the offending family being encased in a suffocation dome, where they spend the last hours of their lives thinking about their “crime against humanity.”
At a museum of the 20th Century where lucky citizens (“I’ve waited 3 years to get in!”) get to see exhibits of extinct animals – cats, mostly – and synthetic fauna. Russ and Carol McNeil (Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin, respectively) work as actors in an exhibit of a typical 20th Century home featuring such decadences as eating and drinking real food instead of paste, and swapping partners with another couple, the Bordens (Steve McQueen pal Don Gordon and THE WICKER MAN’s Diane Cilento). Once Carol decides to break the law and have a baby, they must not only avoid the prying eyes of the Big Brother-like government, but also the growing jealously of their own friends, whose initial offer to help conceal the baby leads quickly to trouble.
Today, SOYLENT GREEN is typically the target of derision, with most reviewers unable to get past the out-sized Charlton Heston performance or the famous Rod Serling-style twist at the end. But director Richard Fleischer’s vision of a New York choked by pollution and overcrowded to the point where most people are forced to sleep in the stairwells of buildings is a far more convincing vision of the future than ZPG. A British production filmed in Denmark, the film is almost entirely set-bound featuring art direction designed to reflect a bleak, oppressive future. As a result, ZPG’s world feels like being lost in a parking garage for 90 minutes. We would normally applaud this commitment to reality, but the film’s other “future” details are sloppy: all the museum exhibits seem to date from exactly the same year as the picture was filmed (“See ___ from 1971!”), and the ridiculous medallions that everyone wears over their grey jumpsuits seem to exist only because some costume designer thought they were groovy. Imagine Andrei Tarkovsky directing a Dr. Who episode and you’re halfway home.
It will be interesting to see how recent “near future” films like MINORITY REPORT and THE ISLAND pan out in coming decades. It seems that films of ZPG’s vintage got knocked back two steps for each one taken in the direction of rendering mankind’s future on film. Is anything more quintessentially ’70s than the ‘digital’ font used for the numbers on the back of the jerseys in ROLLERBALL? Or the silly sundresses and jumpsuits of LOGAN’S RUN? Watching ZPG, I couldn’t help but think how much better the film would work as a Brechtian experiment, featuring chalk outlines on a studio floor. Where’s Lars Von Trier when you really need him?!?
The actors were clearly directed to their flat line readings and emotionless performances – an all too trite way of showing life under an oppressive regime. It’s always interesting to see Oliver Reed playing it straight; too often he was cast to reputation and would give the producers exactly what they asked for, but here he’s subdued to the point of catatonia. Chaplin, too, is always interesting to watch; she’s an unconventional beauty who always seems on the verge of crying. Unfortunately, not only do we never believe that the couple has a chance of raising a baby unnoticed by the government; we never believe that they believe it. If the audience thinks that it’s a death wish from the start, the movie isn’t working.
There are several moments that do manage to work, which makes it all the more frustrating when director Michael Campus fails to follow up on them. When we first meet the McNeils, they are waiting in a long line to receive the official replacement for a child, a creepy animatronic toddler that is programmed to react to the voice of the parents. Carol reacts in horror (quite rightly) and runs out of the building. The movie builds an interesting subplot around how psychiatrists, presumably under government order, counsels these new “mothers” and encourages them to accept their new plastic babies as real (“see how he needs you…”). It’s an interesting idea, and handled well – better in fact than Spielberg would with a similar issue in A.I. And it’s always nice to see Don Gordon get a gig where he’s not attached to McQueen’s hip, as in TOWERING INFERNO, BULLITt and PAPILLION. He’s an interesting actor.
ZPG is part of a large number of Paramount titles licensed to Legend Films (www.legendfilms.net) for DVD release. Paramount has long been on the naughty list for hanging on to catalogue titles and keeping them off the market, so this is a very welcome turn. The first batch contains a few near-classics, the Amicus production of THE SKULL (finally in its scope ratio!), and the little seen POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY, alongside several “not nearly as good as you remembered from mid ’80s HBO” titles like STUDENT BODIES and JEKYLL & HYDE TOGETHER AGAIN. This release saves ZPG from almost total obscurity; it’s only previous home video incarnation was as a budget VHS edition (recorded in the space-saving EP mode) that didn’t give the film a chance. The anamorphic image falls somewhere between 1:85 and 1.78, which looks right most of the time. Occasionally the frame seems a smidge tight, and it’s possible that it was originally shot, like many European films of the time, in the 1.66 ratio, but the difference is negligible. The colors are on the murky side (if I were really trying to sell this to you, I’d call it an “industrial color scheme”) but Legend was stuck with whatever film elements that Paramount handed them. But in general, the image is solid, and certainly reflects the intent of the filmmakers.
While ZPG may not have been the best lead-off title, it bodes well for a lineup of eclectic titles in the near future. It’s in this spirit that I mention that MANDINGO is currently available on their site. Keep ‘em coming, Legend!
ZPG (“Zero Populatino Growth,” 1971). Directed by Michael Campus. Written by Frank De Felitta and max Ehrlick. Cast: Russ McNeil, Geraldine Chaplin, Don Gordon, Diane Cilento, Eugene Blau.
CORRECTION: This article was originally posted with incorrect attribution. It now correctly reads “Posted by Drew Fitzpatrick.”
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Bay of Blood (1971): DVD Review

BAY OF BLOOD is one of the least reputable films from the late Italian cult figure Mario Bava, a genre specialist best known for the black-and-white horror classic BLACK SUNDAY (1960). There is a tendency to compare Bava’s later horror films – which utilized colorful photography and lurid subject matter – unfavorably to his early masterpiece; this is perhaps nowhere more evident than with 1971’s BAY OF BLOOD – a film that wallows in as much gore and violence as the worst piece of exploitation trash cinema. Jeffrey Frentzen, reviewing the film (under one of its many alternate titles “Twitch of the Death Nerve”) for the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique, wrote:

The latest Bava work available for American viewing is the director’s most complete failure to date, heaping graphic violence onto one of his more ridiculous scripts. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious eye for detail (faces split open in loving close-up, decapitation, and murder of the axe variety). The raw violence is only an excuse to propel a silly story reminiscent of an Edgar Wallace cloak-and-dagger mystery

It is easy to sympathize with Frentzen’s sentiments: BAY OF BLOOD does look garish and exploitative side-by-side with the moody BLACK SUNDAY, and in retrospect, the film is clearly the forerunner of “body count” movies like FRIDAY THE 13TH (there is even a group of dumb young guys and gals, two of whom are impaled while having sex, as in the later FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II).
However, Frentzen’s assessment puts the bath before the blood: the silly story is only an excuse to propel the violence. Bava, the consummate visual stylist, uses the scenario the way a virtuoso musician uses a simple chord progression as an accompaniment for an inspired solo: the script sets the overall structure and tempo, but within that structure, Bava can squeeze in as many notes as he likes, creating something worth watching. The complex harmonies that would come from a well-devised script are nowhere to be found, but the improvised melodies are more than enough to sustain interest.
To be fair, the contrived scenario is not completely without interest. Throwing away the traditional “rules” of the mystery genre, the script piles on improbably absurdities in a way that keep the story surprising, offering multiple murderers with differing agendas. The opening prologue perfectly sets the tone: a helpless old lady in a wheel-chair is strangled to death; less than a minute later, her murderer gets a knife in the back, dying before he ever had a chance to enjoy the titular bay that he hoped to inherit. The sick joke is that you need a scorecard to keep track of the motivations (the film offers a series of flashback at the end to clarify the plot points), but ultimately it doesn’t really matter because, with a very few exceptions, everyone is guilty or at least complicit.
Throughout the film, Bava cuts away to lovely location footage of sunsets, woods, and water, creating a visual contrast with the violence and depravity of humanity. People kill each other in horrible ways, but nature remains indifferent, beautiful (though not without death of its own sort, as illustrated by the fly that expires immediately after the opening credits, plopping into the bay like a pebble). The biggest threat that mankind represents is not to itself but to nature: the killings revolve around an attempt to aquire the bay and develop it, destroying the natural beauty in order to turn a profit. (The film’s Italian title Ecologia del Delitto translates as “Ecology of Murder”.) By the finale, you will find yourself cheering as the final murderers are abruptly terminated by an unexpected (and unintentional) avenger in what has to be absolutely the greatest surprise ending ever recorded on film – at once horrible and laugh-out-loud funny!
One other note: Bava was a cinematographer-turned-director. BAY OF BLOOD is the first film since 1962’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH for which he took credit in both capacities. Unfortunately, although the photography is brooding and atmospheric, it is not up to the visual qualities of his best work. Bava was most at home in the studio, where he had complete control. The location shooting here is good but a bit grainy; the use of available light, with little or no fill lighting, lends a slightly cheap look to the picture. Still, the interiors, especially during the long wordless opening sequence, show that he had not lost the ability to light a room with an atmospheric elegance that perfectly set the scene for murder.

DVD DETAILS

Image Entertainment released BAY OF BLOOD under the “Twitch of the Death Nerve” title in 2001. The disc featured a “Murder Menu” that would take you directly to the numerous atrocities; a psychedelic-looking trailer (using footage of the film that has been heavily re-processed), under another alternate title, “Carnage”; two radio spots, a Bava biography and filmography, and trailers for other Bava films. Unfortunately, although the video transfer was acceptable, the soundmix elicited screams of outrage from Bava fans, who complained that the audio was incompetently handled, with tinny sound that alternately dropped out and swelled up.
In October 2007, the title was re-issued as part of the Bava Box Set, Volume 2. This version retains the bonus features from the old DVD, improves the audio quality to satisfactory levels, and adds a commentary by Tim Lucas, author of the Bava biography All the Colours of the Dark. This is typically in-depth and informative, although not quite up to the standard the Lucas set with his commentaries for BLACK SUNDAY and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Unfortunately, this disc is not for sale separately, only as part of the box set (although some rental stores may make it availabe as a discrete title).
In the audio commentary, Lucas offers some insights that might escape typical American viewers (e.g., the first victim is played by an actress who was a well-known star in Italy at the time, making her abrupt death particularly shocking). Also, he gives a good run-down of how the film came to be made (it was a sort of response to CAT O’NINE TAILS, a horror-thriller from younger upstart director Dario Argento). We also learn that BAY OF BLOOD was not merely dubbed into English but actually was shot in two different versions: one in English, one in Italian. The non-dialogue scenes are identical in both; whenever characters speak, the two versions use different takes, with some differences in execution and performance.
What is missing from the commentary is an assessment of where BAY OF BLOOD ranks in Bava’s oeuvre. Lucas mentions that horror star Christopher Lee (who had worked with Bava on HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and THE WHIP AND THE BODY) was disgusted by the violence when he saw the film at a festival, and Lucas acknowledges that BAY OF BLOOD is a forerunner of the later slasher films. However, Lucas never quite makes a fully articulate argument for why BAY OF BLOOD deserves to be regarded more highly than its disreputable off-spring.
We do hear little hints as Lucas points out clever details and well done shots (like the close-up that resembles a full moon until a rack focus reveals it to be an eye). Obviously, Lucas does not believe the film is Bava’s “most complete failure,” but what does he believe? Is it a triumph of style over substance, or does he think the screenplay has some value beyond being a jumping off point for Bava to stage gruesome murders? Perhaps the closest we come to an answer is when he points out a cutaway shot to a Dune buggy after one of the many violent deaths: the grill and the headlights seem to form a smiling face, and as the shot serves no narrative purpose, Lucas suggests it is Bava’s way of telling us not to take the film too seriously.
I would tend to agree. BAY OF BLOOD may not be as refined as Bava’s greatest work, but it certainly is fun to see the maestro at work with his hair down, going for the grue with gusto. The film’s power to shock may have been blunted by the decades of graphic gore that followed, but it still shows that a little artistry can go a long way toward elevating subject matter of even the lowest common denominator.
RELATED REVIEW: Twitch of the Death Nerve

Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) – Horror Film Review

[Editor’s Note: This review, written by Jeffrey Frentzen, originally appeared in the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique (4:3).]

By Jeffrey Frentzen

Mario Bava’s ANTEFATTO (“Before the Fact”), produced in Italy in 1970, was picked up for domestic release by Hallmark in 1973, playing second-feature to other Hallmark bloodbaths like MARK OF THE DEVIL and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The latest Bava work available for American viewing is the director’s most complete failure to date, heaping graphic violence onto one of his more ridiculous scripts. If you were appalled by the gore and slaughter of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, this latest film contains twice the murders, each one accomplished with an obnoxious eye for detail (faces split open in loving close-up, decapitation, and murder of the axe variety). The raw violence is only an excuse to propel a silly story reminiscent of an Edgar Wallace cloak-and-dagger mystery.
Bava is a talent, despite the claustrophobic limitations of his plot. He has always had a fascination for beautifully decorated interiors and fog-shrouded, wispy exteriors, all filmed in prevalent hues of grey and blue. It is unfortunate that his fascination extends also to synopses filled with unabashed stupidity. His screenplay abounds with an execrable soap-opera quality that somehow overpowers even the excessive bloodshed. Bava shares the blame this time with Carlo Reali for developing the slight story idea, involving a group off heirs to a valuable land tract who are murdered one by one, supposedly by someone who wants the land for himself. Red herrings are ever-present, and serve as the only interest keeping the plot in motion, but nothing really redeems the dumb storyline. There is a cleverly calculated “surprise” ending that comes far too late to make any difference. Bava seems to make a point of confusing the viewer.
There are, of course, those shining moments which distinguish any Bava film: the opening scene, accompanied by a sumptuous, well-orchestrated score by Stelvio Cipriani (the only consistently good quality in the film), in which the dim figure of a woman in a wheelchair is stalked and strangled; the swimming sequence wherein a girl bumps into a floating corpse on the lake and is killed for her discovery. Bava is a creative talent despite his weaknesses. His photography is moody and effective, and his pacing is good in spite of a defective plot. Here is a director and expert cinematographer whose work is constantly being maimed by the unreasonably low standards set by his own lousy scripts.
Copyright 1975 by Jeffrey Frentzen. This review originally appeared in the Fall 1975 issue of Cinefantastique (4:3). As time permits, other articles from this issue will be archived under the heading for September 1975.
TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (released in Italy as Ecologia del delitto [“Ecology of Murder”], also known as “Bay of Blood,” Hallmark, 1973). In Color. 90 minutes. Produced by Guiseppe Zacciarello (Nuova Linea Cinemato¬graphica). Directed and photographed by Mario Bava. Screenplay by Bava and Carlo Reali. Cast: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Claudio Volonto, Laura Betti, Ana Maria Rosati, Brigitte Skay.
RELATED ARTICLES: Bay of Blood Review