Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #529
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 14, 1964
Country of Origin: Italy, France, West Germany
Box Office: ITL ₤123,000,000 (Italy)
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Mario Bava
Producers: Alfredo Mirabile, Georges C. Stilly
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Marcello Fondato
Cinematography: Ubaldo Terzano
Score: Carlo Rustichelli
Editing: Mario Serandrei
Studios: Les Productions Georges de Beauregard, Emmepi Cinematografica, Monachia Film
Distributors: Media Home Entertainment, Arrow Film & Video
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Dante DiPaolo, Mary Arden, Franco Ressel, Claude Dantes, Luciano Pigozzi, Lea Lander, Massimo Righi, Francesca Ungaro, Giuliano Raffaelli, Harriet Medin
Suggested Audio Candy
Carlo Rustichelli “Blood and Black Lace”
When speaking of innovators, it is impossible to discount Mario Bava. The legendary Italian filmmaker was so far ahead of the game it is scary and we have never seen a talent quite like him since. Of all his many great films, Blood and Black Lace is undoubtedly one of his most influential. Not only did it single-handedly begin the giallo movement, but it also provided the blueprint for slasher. I frequently speak of Twitch of the Death Nerve and how it pre-dated Friday The 13th by almost a full decade but, the truth is, he was already laying the tracks back in 1964. If you’re looking for someone to point the finger at, then Bava’s your go to guy.
By the time the swinging sixties were upon us, Bava already had over twenty years of experience as an esteemed cinematographer and the turn of the decade saw him make the transition into directing his own full-length features. Some of his most celebrated works arrived during this early flourish and Black Sunday is still regarded by many as his finest hour. Bava’s 1963 Hitchcock riff The Girl Who Knew Too Much could also be seen as a forerunner for giallo while, in the same year, his E.C. Comics-style anthology Black Sabbath saw him make the move into full Technicolor. He wasted absolutely no time in expressing himself using his new-found palette and Blood and Black Lace made the very most of every last splash of color like the true artist that he was.
If you were looking for the maestro’s trademark style, then Blood and Black Lace had it in almost embarrassing abundance. The chilly exteriors were never less than grand, strewn with rustling leaves and punctuated by dimly lit twisting passageways housing long uninviting shadows. The interiors, by comparison, were simply overspilling with salon chic, populated with luxurious drapes, antique furnishings, and mannequins bound in deep red satin. While substance undoubtedly played a rather poor second fiddle to style with Bava, the narrative here was considerably less convoluted than with many of his offerings.
A Haute Couture Fashion House run by Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) and Countess Cristina Como (Eva Bartok) is thrown into disarray after one of its aspiring young models is brutally murdered on the grounds. The subsequent investigation of Inspector Silvester (Thomas Reiner) reveals that she kept a sordid journal, containing incriminating evidence that the killer wishes to locate before anybody else. Motives for murder are plentiful as the diary highlights all manner of skulduggery, from unwanted pregnancy and unrequited love, to financial dirty dealings and blackmail. This revelation leaves everyone looking nervously over their shoulders and, to make matters worse, the bodies continue to pile up all around them.
While not particularly bloodthirsty by today’s standards, the killings are as brutal and unflinching as they are beautifully captured. Our killer, clad in black fedora and white stocking mask, is disinterested in playing cat-and-mouse and instead prefers the up-close-and-personal approach, placing his audience front and center for each violation, and forcing us to share in every last detail. These set-pieces are masterfully executed and Bava ensures that the screen is awash with vivid primary colors, using mirrors to create illusions and shadow to suggest ominous occurrences just out of view, while going to great lengths to showcase each victim’s terror.
However, for as much as Blood and Black Lace is undeniably a visual tour-de-force, it isn’t all garter belts and French ticklers. The score by Carlo Rustichelli has aged considerably and his jazz-tinged compositions are a far cry from the kind of soundtracks that later typified the seventies gialli. Meanwhile, the screenplay from Bava and Marcello Fondato is fairly wretched and, the police investigation scenes, unnecessarily drawn-out and uneventful. If these factors detract from the overall experience somewhat, then a little perspective soon sees us good as there was nothing quite like this in 1964 and certainly no filmmaker quite as bold and audacious as Bava.
Certain elements may well have aged but his kinetic camerawork is as fresh over fifty years on as it was back then. Fluid in the extreme and always on the move, he ensures that not a single millimetre of his frame is ever wasted and it is easy to see why the likes of Dario Argento and Martin Scorsese regard him as such a key motivation for their own craft. Blood and Black Lace may not be the director’s magnum opus, but its influence in both the giallo and slasher movements is impossible to ignore. Ultimately, it is all a question of origin. Should you consider yourself a student of either giallo or slasher, then you owe it to yourself to check out where it all started.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Whilst never overtly gory, it is the erotically charged intensity of the kills that really packs a punch. Victims are frequently depicted in their underwear and our anonymous psycho killer goes about any business in all manner of inventive ways. Methods of dispatch range from switch blade, taloned gauntlet, drowning and scalding and every last one leaves its mark.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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