Mario Bava Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

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To view A Bay of Blood click here.

A Bay of Blood (1971) shares something in common with Friday the 13th (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Brazil (1985). The first commonality is obvious as A Bay of Blood was clearly a huge influence on Friday the 13th (director Sean S. Cunningham cribs Mario Bava’s murder-setups along with a forest-by-the-water landscape normally used to inspire a sense of idyll), leaving the second connection squarely on the shoulders of Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects master who could decapitate a person as easily for Bava as he could construct a small, amiable and home-sick alien with a penguin-like waddle for Spielberg. As to the third connection, I’d like to think that one would stump most. Here’s the answer: both A Bay of Blood and Brazil begin with the death of a fly. In Brazil it’s a big to-do, with a bureaucrat killing said fly such that it lands in a typewriter, causing a typo that sets in motion all the chaos to follow. In A Bay of Blood, around the two-minute-mark, a fly buzzes noisily in the night sky and then, seconds later, drops into the water with a soft “plop” and dies with barely a ripple. It will be the first death of many.

A quote from Psycho (1960) at this point would be apropos: “They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, ‘Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…’”

I’d like to think the same of Bava, although in his case the insect in question is a beetle. According to the IMDB trivia page, “Mario Bava deeply regretted filming the scene where a bug is pinned alive.” Rebutting that assessment, however, is the following excerpt from the voluminous tome put out by Tim Lucas, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark,wherein he discusses that same beetle:

“The appearances of Paolo Fossatti’s little friend Ferdinando, the black beetle, also entailed some special effects trickery. For the Fossatis’ scene with Renata and Albert, in which Paolo babbles embarrassing endearments to the bug, contained in a tiny clear plastic box, a fake beetle was moved from side to side by means of a slender filament secreted under the bandage on actor Leopoldo Trieste’s hand. While on the subject of Ferdinando, Ecologia del delitto (A Bay of Blood) contained one shot that caused Mario Bava considerable distress: the pinning of the beetle – a significant shot in that it echoes the earlier shot of Duke and Denise impaled in bed. The man at the helm of this riotous procession of homicides had such a profound respect for all forms of life that he later confessed to being unable to sleep the entire night before filming the shot. By looking at the shot closely, we can see that Bava’s sleeplessness ultimately resulted in life winning out over art: the beetle is not pinned straight through, but on its side – and just enough to hold it in place – with the angle of its body in relation to the camera selling the lie.

Norman Bates wouldn’t hurt a fly, but people? That’s a different matter. Mario Bava wouldn’t hurt a beetle, but characters in a giallo film? He’ll go through 13. It’s fitting that we should be thinking about Psycho in relation to A Bay of Blood because Hitchcock’s masterpiece of horror was a big influence on Bava and one of the original writers, Dardano Sacchetti. Again, I consult Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (aka: My Bava Bible). Spoilers ahead:

Bavaand Sacchetti set out to write a giallo in which everyone was the murderer, a story of wall-to-wall homicide that would leave everyone, likewise, a victim. It was a play on the shock conceit initiated by Hitchcock for Psyco (1960), in which he surprised the audience by killing off the lead character, played by Janet Leigh, one-third of the way through the story. “Thirteen characters, thirteen murders!” Bava laughed. “I was [also] interested in depicting a variety of ways to kill, in presenting a veritable catalogue of crime.”

Bava succeeds on his intended level, and much more. My own personal attachment to this film is a simple one: an idyllic landscape gets pitted against greedy developers, and the landscape wins. How many times does that happen? However, only a few days ago was I introduced to the very unsettling idea that perhaps there are more than Bava’s 13 bodies buried in that landscape. Adam Lowenstein (Italian Horror Cinema, Edited by Stefano Baschiera and Russ Hunter) suggests that there might be real ones:

Bava’s choice for the film’s most important setting, the bayside landscape, turns out to be a fascinating one: Sabaudia, a small coastal town on the Tyrrhenian Sea roughly 50 miles southeast of Rome (Lucas, 2007: 862, 849, 856).

Sabaudia came into existence in 1933 through the draining of the malaria-infested Pontine Marshes, one of fascist Italy’s most ambitious and significant public works projects. Indeed, Benito Mussolini’s ideology of bonifica (reclamation) was exemplified by the Pontine Marshes plan, so Sabaudia was prominently located within discourses of ideal fascist land for ideal fascist citizens.

Much like a Stephen King novel in which a fancy hotel gets built atop an Indian burial ground, Italy clearly has its share of haunted real estate. Special thanks to Sabrina Negri for alerting me to Adam Lowenstein’s essay within Baschiera and Hunter’s “Italian Horror Cinema” book (published 2016), as well as (of course) Tim Lucas for his astounding Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark.

Pablo Kjolseth

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10 Responses Mario Bava Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly
Posted By Doug : October 29, 2017 7:30 pm

“As to the third connection, I’d like to think that one would stump most. Here’s the answer: both A Bay of Blood and Brazil begin with the death of a fly.?”
Okay, Pablo-third film which begins with the death of a fly?
You won’t be stumped, and you don’t need any hints, so…?

Posted By kjolseth : October 30, 2017 3:44 pm

I guess the obvious choice, if one allows the caveat that it’s part-man, part-fly, is THE FLY (1958), since that starts with the scientist found dead and the story is then told in flashback.

Posted By doug : October 30, 2017 4:24 pm

Okay, Pablo-one hint: the film garnered a mess of Oscars.
When you get it you’ll go, “Oh yeah!”.

Posted By Doug : October 31, 2017 6:52 pm

Pablo, I only thought of it as it met your criteria-
“In The heat Of The Night” 1967. After the opening montage with the theme sung by Ray Charles, the first scene takes place in a Diner where a busboy is killing flies with a rubber band while talking to a customer.

Posted By kjolseth : October 31, 2017 10:27 pm

I didn’t even think of that one, nice catch. I’m sure there are a few more too, especially if we widen the net to include invertebrates (ie, the beginning of THE WILD BUNCH). I read recently that scientists have detected an alarming decrease of about 30% of invertebrate mass as can be studied, meaning this is perhaps a timely affair.

Posted By Doug : November 1, 2017 7:58 am

I don’t tumbler. goodbye all.

Posted By mdr : November 1, 2017 8:16 am

Ditto, it’s been fun following this blog even after I stopped writing for it, but this shift to tumblr is too big a shift from its TCM roots for me. Bye all.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 1, 2017 9:27 am

Doug, and anyone else: I will be reposting the pieces I write for Filmstruck at my personal blog (after they’ve published on tumblr first, of course, and clearly marked as Filmstruck reposts with backlinks) as well as other writings and musings at Unexplained Cinema ( I welcome anyone to head on over and comment when I do as my comments will always be open. No pressure, of course, and I hope that the tumblr posts get lots of views and notes. But I will be reviving my personal blog and hope to see you there.

Posted By doug : November 1, 2017 1:03 pm

I may succumb to tumblr to continue with the Morlocks, so to speak. I understand the move-tumblr is the difference between a local AM radio show and a syndicated network show-it is where most of the populace goes for blogs-I get that.
Since I began on Facebook, my own blog has been very quiet-maybe I’ll send it to tumblr, too. Thanks, Greg, and all of the Morlocks for the fine posts and discussions. More to come.

Posted By George : November 1, 2017 4:30 pm

Now that there’s no blog on TCM’s website, maybe the Morlocks could be revived there …

In the meantime, there’s the weekly “TCM Diary” feature at Film Comment’s site.

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