My introduction to the Italian horror subgenre of giallo came several years ago when I scored a press pass to a Goblin concert at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Well, okay, I had seen Dario Argento’s seminal film Suspiria and Berberian Sound Studio, the British ode to the ingenious sound designers of the era, but I didn’t appreciate it yet.
After Eli Roth tried to oust me from my seat to make room for one of his friends, Goblin took the stage and trounced all my preconceived notions about horror and film scores, as the current manifestation of the Italian band performed their greatest hits from a slew of Argento classics, paired with gorgeous and gruesome cuts from those films. It was like a grenade to all senses.
Giallo broadly translates to “crime,” and giallo films often involve a murder mystery, but that undersells what you’re getting. These murder mysteries are totally wacked out and making HUGE, insane moves in regards to plot, murder sequences and color palettes. You haven’t truly seen red until you’ve seen the sumptuous evolution of Argento’s red in Suspiria. And thanks to geniuses like Goblin, Lucio Fulci, Keith Emerson, and even Ennio Morricone, the music is what sticks with you the longest: intense, disturbing and operatic earworms.
Unsurprisingly, giallo has become my favorite horror subgenre, even if I remain new to its distinct pleasures. Which brings us to the distinct pleasures within Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (originally titled Ecologia del delitto).
Let’s get it out of the way: A Bay of Blood isn’t a great movie. In fact, it’s two movies in one that don’t entirely coalesce. One of them is familiar: a random teenage sex romp where an unseen killer with a curved weapon makes quick work of youths daring to copulate and swim in the nude. That predictable formula may elicit eye rolls, but Bava’s film might be the first time this formula was actually used. Indeed, A Bay of Blood is often described as the film that inspired the slasher genre that took off with Black Christmas (’74) and Halloween (‘78). The film’s worth seeing from this historical vantage point alone.
But the other movie nestled in A Bay of Blood is far more interesting: an Italian ode to Agatha Christie that will remind you of Knives Out, wherein a fucked up family incite a confusing murder-rama to secure the inheritance. Once we get those darn teenagers out of the way, the splendid family melodrama armed with spears and squid takes off.
My favorite thing about this movie is that following every increasingly brutal murder, we cut and linger on idyllic cinematography of the Bay itself, accompanied by a beautiful, melancholy piano score. That jarring exposition is why I love giallo films. They’re weird, nonlinear, unpredictable and don’t always make sense — the English dub only adds to their off-putting nature. They seek only to fuck with you, the worthiest of goals, and succeed far more than they fail in that regard.