Blood And Black Lace (1964) – Giallithon #2

Blood And Black Lace (1964) - Mario BavaThere are no two ways about it… Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) is a genre defining classic. Not only did it lay much of the groundwork for many giallo films to come, it upped the ante and included the kind of savagery that came to characterise these films over and above thrillers that were being made in the USA. It also laid the groundwork for a new genre of films, that wouldn’t actually really take off until the late 70s and early 80s… stalk’n’slash, or slashers as they are affectionately known by fans. This was the first film to feature a seemingly unstoppable killer who lurked in all the shadows that stalked and murdered victims in a brutal and vicious way. Bava then further cemented the genre with the excellent Bay Of Blood (1971) taking things a step even further. It was also the first film where the director started to employ point of view (POV) shots from the eyes of the killer, to further bring the audience into the film and help them identify with the killer. Lastly, another of the big giallo genre staples was the killer being dressed all in black, with a black fedora, and black leather gloves. The giallo killer’s favourite weapon was also introduced… the cut throat straight razor.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

The story follows a seemingly pretty simply premise. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) run the exclusive Christian haute coutre fashion house populated with beautiful models and fashion designers. One stormy night the model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is murdered on her way into work at the fashion house and is discovered dead in a cupboard. Soon Isabella’s diary is found, which highlights some seedy corrupt goings on at the fashion house. Soon each model that comes into contact with the diary, or seemingly knowns more about what’s going on… are murdered in various gruesome ways. Only Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) can discover the truth…

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

What ensues is an exhilirating mix of brutal violence, highly stylised visuals, beautiful women, numerous red herrings, and the required unexpected twist (or two). Bava directs with so much gusto and beligerance against the usual standards of the thrillers coming out of the USA, or even the Wallace inspired Krimi films. He deliberately focus on everything that is visceral in the World that his characters inhabit, and fills it with sleaze, violence, drugs, and sex.

When pivotal plot devices are introduced, such as the discovery of Isabella’s diary, he deliberately uses the camera to make everyone look like a suspect. Each character gives uneasy looks, as if they are all hiding some terrible secret. Bava wants his audience to question every little detail he throws in front of them, and to keep them guessing right up to the big reveal (which is only about 3/4 of the way through this film!).

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

Bava was advised to shoot the film in black and white, as he did with his previous The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). Being Mario Bava, he filmed this film in glorious Technicolor and deliberately filled the screen with as many bright styles and fashions as he could cram on. From the highly stylised opening sequence where we are introduced to each character as the cool jazzy soundtrack from Carlo Rustichelli indignantly blasts forth, to the extremely visceral killings.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

All the lead performances are very strong, particularly from Mitchell and Bartok. Reinher’s Inspector Sylvester never appears to be ahead of the killer, and always on his heels… and as such he is a much more minor character than you would probably expect. We don’t even really have a main character who is pivotal in the investigation… Bava is quite content to just let things play out in their own inexplicably macabre manner.

There’s not really much that can be said about this film that has not already been said. It is a true classic in every sense of the word, and possibly one of the most influential films of all time. It’s a shame that it’s not heralded a true classic in the Citizen Kane (1941) sense of the word, as it’s every bit as important as that film or even Hitchock’s Psycho (1960).

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

The version under review here is the truly excellent Hande Weg German DVD (as Blutige Seida). This is by far the best transfer of the film available in it’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 presented here anamorphically. Every visceral detail is presented with stunning colour, and great clarity. It’s certainly an improvement from the VCI releases of the film. There are also some great extras including a comparison of the murders from the censored version of the film  and the complete uncut version. It also has 11 great trailers of other classic Mario Bava films. Highly recommended if you can find it, but unfortunately out of print and commanding high prices on such sites as eBay.

Blood And Black Lace

Blood And Black Lace 

Blood And Black Lace 

Essential viewing for every giallo fan.

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