Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #481
Also known as The House With The Dark Stairs
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 6, 1983
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: Lamberto Bava
Producers: Lamberto Bava, Luciano Martino, Mino Loy
Screenplay: Dardano Sacchetti, Elisa Briganti
Special Effects: Giovanni Corridori
Cinematography: Gianlorenzo Battaglia
Score: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Editing: Lamberto Bava
Studio: National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica
Distributors: Ascot Films, Blue Underground, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Andrea Occhipinti, Michele Soavi, Lara Lamberti, Fabiola Toledo, Anny Papa, Stanko Molnar, Valéria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza
Suggested Audio Candy:
Guido & Maurizio De Angelis A Blade In The Dark
The eighties were an interesting era for Italian cinema. With the sudden passing of the pioneer of the giallo, Mario Bava, at the turn of the decade, it was time for a fresh crop of filmmakers to carry the torch. Dario Argento was already in full flight and Lucio Fulci too was enjoying a particularly flush period thanks to his Gates of Hell Trilogy turning heads and stomachs worldwide. However, the changing of guard also saw the emergence of other key talents. Michele Soavi would later become a driving force with such classics as Stagefright, The Sect, and The Church ensuring that the decade ended with a distinct flurry but didn’t truly blossom until the mid-eighties. Lamberto Bava was another and had already amassed bags of experience working alongside his father since the late sixties in assistant director capacity so it seemed only fitting that he should step out of the great man’s shadow and leave his own mark on the industry.
After starting strongly with the well-received Macabre in 1980, Lamberto put himself squarely on radars in 1985 with the glorious Demons and consolidated a year later with its similarly aerobic sequel. While both movies traveled well and gained themselves a cult following with horror enthusiasts, there were also a number of other notable works before his fall from cinematic grace. Both Midnight Killer and Delirium are more than worthy of further investigation but A Blade in The Dark from 1983 is perhaps the closest he came to rivalling the likes of Argento. Originally shot as a four-part mini-series for Italian TV, it was rejected by networks for being too excessively violent for a television audience, and the decision was made to turn it into a full-length feature.
The winds of change had already been set in motion after Argento’s 1982 masterpiece Tenebrae dared to stray from the traditional formula and offer something which, despite featuring all the hallmarks of a traditional giallo, was significantly different to its seventies cousins. The slasher craze was already taking America by storm and haunted house features like Peter Medak’s The Changeling were also making ripples across the Atlantic so Bava decided to adapt to the changing marketplace and incorporate these elements into his story. A Blade in The Dark isn’t what you would call pure-blooded giallo and is closest in tone to his father’s final film Beyond the Door II (better known as Shock by American audiences), which he actually co-wrote. Similarly it is set almost entirely in a single location and features a protagonist beginning to question their sanity while the walls around them start closing in.
After an intriguing opening that sets the mood rather well, we are introduced to our main protagonist Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti). Hired to compose the score for an upcoming horror movie, he leases a spacious villa on the outskirts of Tuscany to afford him the solitude to create without distraction. While initially it appears as though the he has the isolation he craves, it isn’t long before strange shit starts to go down and with increasing regularity. Beautiful women begin showing up unannounced, hiding in his closet, swimming in his pool, and coming onto him in no uncertain terms. Lucky guy right? Perhaps if he were to act on his impulses. Instead, he barely gets the chance to loosen his trouser belt before they have mysteriously disappeared, leaving poor Bruno increasingly paranoid and convinced that he is not alone in the house.
Bava builds up slowly and effectively, leaving a trail of scattered breadcrumbs to tempt Bruno into checking every nook and cranny, of which there are many. The villa itself is vast although, to his credit, it still manages to feel insular and increasingly suffocating as both the bodies and clues begin to pile up. To keep us on our toes, there are also a number of potential suspects. We have liquor-swigging director cum sleuth Sandra (Anny Papa), possessive actress girlfriend Julia (Lara Naszinski), sexually frustrated handyman Giovanni (Stanko Molnar) and globetrotting landlord Tony (Soavi in a flamboyant cameo) as well as the lingering mystery of past occupant Linda who nobody seems to know much about whatsoever. No wonder Bruno is so vexed.
The dialogue is not the strongest aspect of A Blade in The Dark but, then, it seldom is with Italian cinema and we are used to taking hefty pinches of salt with our popcorn. If anything it adds a certain charm to proceedings although it’s not easy having faith in our hero when he struggles to differentiate between a spider and a cockroach. The fact is that we will likely have solved the mystery long before the penny drops for Bruno but, when the entire cast consists of eight people, it hardly takes a genius. Bottom line is that we grow rather fond of him over the course of 110 minutes, even if he frustratingly misses several chances to sow his wild oats. If Valéria Cavalli and Fabiola Toledo showed up at my front door unannounced and began pouting their luscious lips then I would be inside them faster than a hot meal after Ramadan.
While A Blade in The Dark predictably falls some way short of the impossibly high standards of Argento in his heyday, anybody expecting any different is perhaps being a touch too optimistic from the offset. Bava was still very much finding his feet in 1983 and, while this may lack the sheer alarm of Beyond The Door II or frenetic energy of Demons, it is a well-paced and stylishly executed thriller with plenty to commend.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Those expecting a splatterfest along the lines of Demons will be left wanting as the body count in A Blade in The Dark is decidedly meagre. Having said that, the kills are well staged and, most critically, suspenseful. There is one glorious standout which may dissuade you from ever again washing your hair over a sink and this is easily one of the most mean-spirited and munificent in giallo history. Meanwhile, Bruno’s house guests have a tendency to relinquish their clothing on occasion and you’ll never hear any complaints from me on that count.
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