10/31/2018 – Grand Finale: A Bay of Blood (1971)
Directed by Mario Bava
Well it’s finally that time of the year, Halloween. I’ve been celebrating with horror movies all month, but it’s finally time to treat myself for all the writing and lack of sleep I’ve put myself through this month. This is the second year I’ve ended on a Mario Bava movie and his second featured movie of the year. I didn’t originally intend to end with this movie, but my original choice just didn’t feel appropriately horror enough to go out on. A Bay of Blood (which has also gone under the names Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood Bath) has been on my list for a long, long time as well, but I’ve put it off because of its inherent Italianness.
That’s not a prejudicial thing, it’s related to something I’ve referred to before in the way that so many of their classic horror films were filmed without sound and dubbed in post. Even still, I prefer to watch them in Italian since I think of it as the truer to intention experience and the dubbing experience generally seems less bad. I’m making an exception here despite having access to the Kino Lorber Blu-ray with the European cut (though I intend to rewatch it at a later date in that version) which has Italian dialogue since by most accounts, the video seems to have been taken from a lesser quality print and it wasn’t actually remastered. Considering how great Bava’s visuals have been in the past, I decided pretty beats “authenticity”. It was a decision I agonized over far more than probably necessary, but isn’t that just my way?
A Bay of Blood came towards the end of Bava’s career and at the time it would have fallen under the giallo genre with its stylish Italian mystery elements. However, there would be a genre it would fit far better with and with which it would prove to be highly influential to later on. It would be one the earliest slashers (if predated by such films as Psycho and Peeping Tom), but more than those films which were (even if they were condemned at the time) largely rooted in more artistic and highbrow filmmaking, A Bay of Blood is more indicative of the kind of film that the genre would become. That’s not to say that it doesn’t also artistically rise above many of those films because this is still Bava we are talking about, but the fingerprints from this movie are all over future titles.
A woman in a wheelchair is attacked by a mysterious figure in gloves and hanged by a rope, the camera then slowly revealing the man. He leaves a note to fake her suicide, but while he’s doing so, he’s bloodily stabbed in the back by the knife which is shot as the light hits off of it just so. The shots of her wheeling along leaning up and the cuts as she’s attacked as so perfectly shot and the whole opening sequence is just a patient and wonderful scene that the rest of the film can’t live up to , not that it tires. The plot is a mess of contention (both in film and in writing) over the bay and its development SPOILERS1. Some wishing to preserve the bay while others wanted to build up around it.
You can draw a direct line to the type of kills in the Friday the 13th series. While that film was clearly looking over Halloween‘s shoulder, it’s similarities to this film where four teens (allegedly, they looked older than that, but you know how films are) partying it up in a mostly empty, deserted mansion are then picked off one by one in bloody manners. SPOILERS2 and though they are all well shot, the film struggles to justify their connection to the main plot. Then again, this side bit makes for the one straightforward section of the whole film so I’m not going to complain much. Like any Bava color title, the colors pop with all the reds especially.
I had far greater hopes for the film considering its reputation though. The intro was phenomenal and the kills SPOILERS3 are great, but it’s held back by its plot. It also suffers from its status as being so heavily copied as much of its appeal rests in how it stands out from the rest of the films that were being made at the time. In retrospect, that leaves it as just a particularly well shot slasher film worth seeing for those interested in the historical value and in slashers as a whole.
Bonus Episode #47 – A – 1940s: Spooks Run Wild (1941)
Directed by Phil Rosen
For our fourth drop in on a long running comedy series after the Ritz Brothers’ The Gorilla, Wheeler and Woolsey’s Mummy’s Boys, and Carry On Screaming!, we next drop in on the East Side Kids. The first two were pretty awful while the final wore out its welcome by the end, but I have slightly higher (though not high hopes) for this entry. The East Side Kids had their roots in the Dead End Kids, a group of kids who were featured in the Broadway play Dead End. It would be made into an Oscar nominated and quality crime-drama by William Wyler in 1937 also starring Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart. They’d appear in seven films including the solid Crime School and They Made Me a Criminal as well as the highly acclaimed Angels with Dirty Faces.
After moving from Warner Bros to Universal Studios, the group’s lineup would be slightly changed, and they’d be renamed the Little Tough Guys and make twelve films and three serials. The tone of the films, which had earlier been more consistently series, wavered between comedies and dramas with a constantly shifting lineup. By the end, with a number of Dead End Kids returning the series started to make another shift. Parallel to that, Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures established the group the East Side Kids which would pick up characters from the Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys including notable names Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall.
This comedic horror entry was written by Carl Foreman who would go on to write the Oscar nominated Champion, The Men, High Noon, The Guns of Navarone, and Young Winstone, as well as winning for The Bridge on the River Kwai (while blacklisted). Unlike later Bowery Boys entries (we’ll get to that in a bit) there’s a bit more of a horror atmosphere. The humor isn’t exactly sharp either and that’s not getting into a Scared Black Man who may not be the worst example of the trope, but he ain’t great.
The plot is a simple one, the East Side Kids are set to spend two weeks together at a summer camp. On the way they hear of a monster killer who has left three bodies behind. Bela Lugosi plays a man in cape with a dwarf assistant heading up to the Billings estate while a man named Dr. Von Grosch appears to be in pursuit of him. The former act kind but have a natural suspicious appearance that led them to be shot at while visiting a grave (disappearing into thin air before being shot) and suspected constantly by the boys who are forced to stay in the stereotypical spooky house with them.
The print looks super faded and in black and white which makes things really hard to see at times. It also robs it of any sense of atmosphere and lacking that or much in the way of successful humor, there isn’t much left. It’s an inoffensive title, but not one worth checking out. The group would later grow into The Bowery Boys who would make 48 films for Monogram between 1946 and 1958 that all leaned heavily into the comedy aspect. These included horror titles Spook Busters, Master Minds, Ghost Chasers, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (a surprisingly decent installment), and Spook Chasers (a tired one). I hoped to get to the other three titles this month, but they fell casualties to time restrictions (though I will likely have seen at least one by the time this thread actually goes up).
Bonus Episode #48 – A – 1980s: Student Bodies (1981)
Directed by Mickey Rose, Michael Ritchie (uncredited)
I’ve repeated many times my fondness for slasher films and Student Bodies was a film I’d been familiar with for its status as a slasher parody. While that’s hardly an original thing in a world where Scream has four installments, a TV show, its own parody movie in Scary Movie, as well as countless imitators of it. The date is the crucial part as it’s an especially early example.
The villain is The Breather, voiced by Richard Belzer (better known as John Munch from Homicide: Life on the Street and the Law and Order franchise). He’s characterized by his heavy breathing, so heavily in fact that he drools through the phone when he does the When a Stranger Calls schtick with it broken up when he does his various quips. Screen prompts flash up pointing out certain stupid things the characters do (like a door left unlocked or a window left open), a body count total, and various clues. It’s certainly unique, but not one that’s ever funny.
The jokes tend to the incredibly lame, but it can get surreal with a father who bizarrely rubber bands chicken back together that he finds his daughter having dropped on the floor in surprise and the film having a person is murdered by a horse head bookend then cutting to a woodshop teacher obsessed with them (repeating the phrase to near insanity) and also modern indecency. The kills are incredibly tame to the point where the film makes a joke about it and how it needed to drop an F-bomb to get the coveted R-rating (oh what a different time). Having a person killed by being stabbed in the paperclips is at least amusingly weird as is the aforementioned bookends, but too often the film just resorts to just wrapping up people in trash bags and doing so mostly off-screen (and not to increase tension
The mystery is filled with do many obvious fake leads that the film keeps hyping up for the mystery. The prime one centered around a virginal student who wears buttons advertising her status and who tries to warn people not to do anything immoral. The movie doesn’t work as a comedy or as horror, but it tries desperately towards the end to try to claim some legitimacy in that area to little affect. I will give the film credit for the one dumb line that made me laugh, “There’s been enough senseless killing, let’s have a murder that makes sense”.
Bonus Episode #49 – A – 2010s: The Endless (2017)
Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
I said I’d likely be getting to this film and here we are. A sequel to Resolution, the film opens on a Lovecraft quote which sets a certain expectation of tone this time out. I’ll just go right ahead and say that you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t seen Resolution (or if you don’t care about spoilers). It’s probably possible to see this film without seeing the earlier film and I’ll suspect most will considering the hype this has gotten compared to its more obscure predecessor (which languished in my own queue for years), but it’s not possible for me to judge it on those terms.
A man receives a package with a tape on it a woman talks about the Ascension, a round trip of sorts. Of course, this was quite similar to the tape that Mike received last time to kick off the plot and sure enough, no one will have sent it this time. The two people on the receiving end are brothers (Aaron and Justin) who escaped from a UFO death cult ten years earlier. Aaron is clearly unhappy with his new living situation, not remembering too much of his life in the cult and hating having to live a life of poverty and eating ramen. Justin is exhausted by having to constantly look after his well-being and hoping that it can get his brother the closure he needs, he agrees to return with him as an adult.
The UFO cult is the one we saw last time in one of the brief vignettes who seemed like nice nutters. Here, immediate doubt is cast on the “death cult” portion by the whole “why is Justin heading back if they are so dangerous and if ten years on they are still in deprogramming?”. Among the claims Justin makes are that they practice castration and that they are twenty years older than they look. That last one seems to have the most merit right off the bat with one person talking suspiciously of how it actually takes one million hours (close to a lifetime) to achieve mastery and that is the goal of the people there.
Also, like Resolution, strange occurrences fill the movie including a rope that seems to extend into the night sky that the group is able to have a tug of war with, SPOILERS4. The cult people claim to not really know any of these things mean and instead encourage the characters to draw their own meaning. SPOILERS5
What works less well is the ties to Resolution and how much it winds up repeating itself and the themes from that movie. SPOILERS6 It paradoxically both benefits and is hurt by being seen after that film as I feel new audiences would be delighted by something that just delighted me days ago and yet I can’t imagine them not being lost despite the attempts to try fill the relevant details. SPOILERS7
It’s a film that’s improved in my mind more as I’ve thought about it while its predecessor left me satisfied pretty much immediately. It’s a far more refined and bigger film, that’s nowhere near as slowly paced and one that would likely have benefitted with more than a three day separation between watching them. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who also acted as well as directed this time out prove themselves able at both tasks (though the latter is clearly their future) and have crafted a thoughtful Lovecraftian horror film that may not feel as fresh now but is still going to be like nothing you see from any other directors.
Bonus Episode #50 – A – 1970s: In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Here is the film that was originally set to be the featured movie. It’s a movie I’ve been wanting to get to for a long time, a film largely known for is controversial sexual content, but also one that is highly acclaimed and with a title that I just find inherently appealing. It was also one that became a pain to get a hold of as despite being available for months with no problem, the day it was set to ship from Netflix, it was booted to short wait (as well as Mandy which got kicked to the saved section, but that film can wait until it comes to streaming shortly).
In a rush to replace it, I looked elsewhere, and do you know who does have the movie? FilmStruck… who is not taking new members for obvious reasons. It’s also available through Kanopy, but my local library isn’t set up with Kanopy (nor does the nearby library that is set up with Kanopy have the film available presumably for content related reasons). I got wary from renting it from Amazon when it listed the audio as English and wound up picking up the Blu-ray because it is a film I wanted to see in its visual splendor. Ultimately, I decided it didn’t have quite the horror content to go out on at least as my star attraction.
In the Realm of the Senses dealt with significant issues almost immediately both in its home country and abroad. It had to be considered a French (where all the film had to be developed) and not Japanese production due to the censorship laws in the country. In Japan, it hasn’t been shown in full to this day with certain bits censored or mosaicked over. It’s been banned in the US, Germany, the UK, and Canada for various lengths of times though by the ’90s those restrictions started to fade.
It largely falls to the films heavily sexually explicit content (with plenty of male and female full frontal nudity) and unsimulated sexual activity. It’s endured numerous calls of pornography over the years and while it’s easy to understand where those people are coming from (not that such a thing should make a film any more bannable), it’s a misguided one. The film is based on the notorious Sada Abe incident which took place in 1936 Japan.
An ex-prostitute (Sada Abe played by Eiko Matsuda) who now works in a hotel, is recognized by a former customer though she denies it publicly at first. She’s still the subject of remarks for it which she gets violent about. She’s since gotten married and her husband’s business failed which has forced her into this job. While working, she is sexually abused by her master and despite the ickiness of this from a modern (or any perspective) this soon develops into an affair. It’s an affair filled with constant sex whether they are in front of people or not, including having someone playing for them, delighting in the presence of others. The man, Kichizō Ishida, frequently takes advantage of other women as there is absolutely no respect for personal boundaries.
Their constant love making comes at the expense of everything else and she is forced to return to being a prostitute, his life becoming an almost single minded pursuit of sexual pleasure, with pleasure being used in the loosest terms. Their relationship becomes more sadomasochistic, but she becomes the dominant one, slapping him, latter, strangling him. The film has a way of desensitizing you as it goes along to where it feels almost rote. Which of course is the point. Pornography is meant to tantalize and get the audience off while In the Realm of the Senses is shot with a detached coldness. It carries the same kind of artistic horror label as Salò but it is nowhere near as visually shocking. SPOILERS8
The sex scenes here are simple and unglamorized, giving them a sense of realism and in the sense of the not infrequent assaults, a sense of added horror. Not in an exploitive way, it just feels like a part of this world where a man like Ishida can take what he wants and in general a sense that the powerful exert whatever control they want over those who aren’t. The central relationship in a messed up one, and yet it is one where Sada Abe is able to reclaim power and she reacts angerly to those who shame her for her past, their constant sex, or her kinks. It’s filmed in gorgeous colors with lots of reds. The militarization Japan of the period (the Second Sino-Japanese War would begin the following year) is kept to the background but hangs over the story and thematically ties into the central sexual theme. It’s not a traditional horror work, but it’s a compelling piece of erotic fiction that’s stunningly filmed and thematically rich.
Bonus Episode #51 – A – 1980s: Lady in White (1988)
Directed by Frank LaLoggia
I’ve been saving this one for Halloween for nostalgic reasons (not for me, but for the person I watched it with) for a while now. Starring Lukas Haas (who after appearing prominently in Witness as a kid would later become a character actor as an adult, perhaps most noticeably in Brick). Horror writer Frankie relates the story of his youth in Willowpoint Falls (outside New York City) starting Halloween, 1962. He has a hilariously Italian family (Moonstruck was less Italian) including a father played by Alex Rocco (Moe Greene) actually getting to be a good guy. He’s picked on by two other boys (who he thinks are his friends) who lock him in the school’s coatroom (the school naturally being is right next to a cemetery.
While trapped in there, he dreams of his dead mom and meets a ghost girl, witnessing her final moments as she was murdered by something and carried out. He then witnesses someone sneak in and accesses something under a grate. SPOILERS9 He also meets the girl herself, Melissa. SPOILERS10 a man who had killed and molested eleven others including Melissa. She continues to haunt Frankie and the two start to become friends as time moves on. The case has been going on for ten years with no killer found. The titular lady in white is SPOILERS11
Too often the film relies too heavily on the narration which leaves the movie feeling like a book report. “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened”. It’s possibly owing to the films already lengthy, near two hour runtime which forced the director’s hand out of necessity. Then again, they also shoehorn in a racial subplot involving a black janitor who is framed for the murders that feels added entirely because it was set in the ’60s. It’s poorly integrated and about as deep as you’d expect. They never even tie back in the whole future part and they could have done in all the narration with little to no noticeable effect on the plot.
The mystery is a fine if not exactly complex one. Likewise, the horror elements are tame, but reasonably well done. It’s a family movie with that occasional ’80s quality of going “damn, that seems unnecessarily intense for the kiddies” including a bloody splinter to the foot which while not anywhere near as bad, started to give me some Revenge flashbacks. It also gives us a chance to see the SPOILERS12 played by Katherine Helmond of Soap. It’s the kind of film they don’t make anymore. The horror film for families that doesn’t feel the need to also be a goofy comedy. It’s a solid film, but one that I think would be great to help introduce a youngster to the genre who doesn’t want to watch something in black and white.
Bonus Episode #52 – A – 1960s: Destroy All Monsters! (1968)
Directed by Ishirô Honda
Our fourth and final Godzilla film after Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla Raids Again, and Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters! has been the one I’ve been wanting to see the most for one obvious reason. Just look at that picture above. Taking influence from the big Universal monster rallies, the film brought in countless monsters from the series (and a few who hadn’t appeared yet in the series) for one big, fun film. The ninth film in the series and the follow up to Son of Godzilla, the action starts in 1999 on Monsterland, a research island devoted to studying the monsters with a containment system setup to keep them in. Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, Mothra (still in larva form), and Gorosaurus (Minilla is also there) are all there just chilling and being there best selves.
In a Jurassic Park worthy moment, the scientists lose contact with Monsterland due to sabotage and the monsters escape and attack various cities around the world with Rodan in Moscow, Mothra in Beijing, Manda in London, Gorosaurus in Paris, and Godzilla attacking New York years before Matthew Broderick had to deal with any pathetic replicas. Astronauts in space detect a UFO and female appearing aliens from Kilaak appear intending to take over the Earth. It’s a big goofy sci-fi plot with mind control devices all over the world to control the monsters, SPOILERS13, and more. That’s not what we’re really here for as the monster destruction is awesome complete with all of them being sent to go decimate Tokyo. The climactic battle SPOILERS14
This is my version of watching wrestling and it’s just a ton of fun. It’s hard to call it a very intelligent movie as the crowded monster cast and the big sci-fi battles has pushed out just about everything else, but that’s not why I wanted to watch this. Unlike Son of Godzilla which failed on the monster fights and denied us any destruction potential, Godzilla veteran Ishirô Honda (having directed five of them including the original by this point) gives us everything we could have hoped for and a bigger budget culmination of everything that had come before.
Bonus Episode #53 – A – 1970s: Tourist Trap (1979)
Directed by David Schmoeller
Time for our final film. After a couple’s car gets a flat, the guy goes searching for gas. He enters a building where he is menaced by creepy mannequins which shake and cackle at him as the room launches objects at him until a pipe launches through his stomach. Meanwhile, his friends drive out and stop off at a pool at the foot of a waterfall that has been closed to the public (a sign they missed) after their car has broken down too. A man, Mr. Slausen, comes out and warns them about the place and tells them that it’s been mostly abandoned since the new highway was built. Unable to get their car started either, he helps them back to his Slausen Museum, a closed tourist trap which is largely just filled with a bunch of useless garbage as well as creepy waxworks and mannequin figures.
Despite warning them to not go outside, one of them does so almost immediately basically out of spite. In general, they are terrible guests insulting his place, rifling through his shit and through all his pictures, and asking constant intrusive questions. The kills in this movie are pretty great as SPOILERS15 The killer, SPOILERS16, wears an awesome doll-like mask and a wig, wielding supernatural powers. The movie manages to be funny both from how weird it is and manage moments of genuine humor from the mad killer who’s given a personality (and unlike Student Bodies one that can amuse and intimidate as opposed to that one which could do neither).
It’s a nutso film that becomes more so as it heads on SPOILERS17 The mannequins have such an eerie quality to them with jaws that unhinge and cackle as they shake with SPOILERS18 There’s a distinct low budget feel as the film keeps having these moments of slowdown as if it was lagging. It’s also hard to escape that most of the set up and lead characters are pretty stock and uninteresting. Still, it has enough in the setting and the killer to elevate itself slightly from the similar slasher films of the period.
The Wrap Up:
Below I’ve included a list of my Top Ten and Bottom Five films I covered as well as links to all the previous threads from this year and links to the schedules for each year where you can find an account of every film I covered (since the titles only represents a fraction of the films covered). There were so many movies I didn’t get to this year both in terms of those still sitting on my DVR and the ones I had sitting aside to watch on streaming. The former will probably be knocked out in the coming days at least. The final damage was 84 films, 3 shorts, and 1 non-horror but thematically related doc. That’s up significantly from last year’s 59 films, 2 shorts, 1 TV show, 2 games, a novel, and a novella, similar to 2016’s total of 78 films, 12 shorts, 1 TV episode, and a miniseries and up from 2015’s total of 62 films, 3 shorts, and 1 TV episode. I finally hit my goal of 50 countries, finishing up at 55 this year, and hit every country that I could find an accessible film for. I would have liked to have done Ravenous for French Canada (not a country no matter how much they like to pretend they are), but I kept forgetting to do it and largely ran out of time (and honestly didn’t want to on the last day).
Next Up: There is no next up. Not only is this the last feature of the year, but this will also be in all likelihood the final entry of this series. I’ve been writing these since 2014 with them growing increasing longer and more time consuming to the point where for the past three years it has felt like a full time job and my life shuts down for a month as I work on these not counting all the preparation that goes into it before the month starts. It also feels like the hours of work each day is for little as these threads were regularly the least (or occasionally one of the least) popular on the site by far. I’d rather just get back to focusing on watching as many horror titles as I can and I’m just so excited to be done with this for good.
1. Mummy’s Boys
2. Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings/Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Special Award for Failure to Qualify as an Actual Film: Don’t Watch This
A – Ages
1920s – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
1930s – Werewolf of London
1940s – Phantom of the Opera
1950s – I Bury the Living
1960s – Kill, Baby… Kill!
1970s – Tales from the Crypt
1980s – The Lost Boys
1990s – eXistenZ
2000s – Three… Extremes
2010s – Unsane
S – Sex
Stephanie Rothman – The Velvet Vampire
Barbara Peeters – Humanoids from the Deep
Amy Holden Jones – The Slumber Party Massacre
Claire Denis – Trouble Every Day
Soska Sisters – American Mary
Ana Lily Amirpour – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Karyn Kusama – The Invitation
Sophia Takal – Always Shine
Anna Biller – The Love Witch
Coralie Fargeat – Revenge
L – Location
Hungary – Taxidermia
Iceland – I Remember You
Iran – Fish & Cat
Nepal – Kagbeni
Nigeria – Ojuju
Peru – We Are Not Alone
Philippines – ‘Wag Kang Lilingon
Romania – Domnisoara Christina
United Arab Emirates – Djinn
Vietnam – The Housemaid