Blood and Black Lace
directed by Mario Bava
starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok
Blood and Black Lace is a hugely influential film that has inspired countless directors and basically created the giallo film genre. Surprisingly the film has been wildly under appreciated for decades, due in no small part to heavily censored, low-grade prints and transfers, including pan and scan versions that eviscerated Bava’s compositions and use of color. VCI Entertainment’s new Blu-Ray/DVD combo release of the film gives this important piece of genre cinema the respect it deserves.
Giallo is a catch all term referring to a loose genre of murder mystery films marked by their stylized violence and visual trickery to keep the viewers and the characters off balance. Giallo is literally translates to yellow but refer to the yellow covers of pulp novels that were popular in Italy going back for decades Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is considered to be the first giallo film and set many of the tropes until they are expanded upon and reinvented by Dario Argento in Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Kat Ellinger in her audio commentary describes giallo as a blending of noir, gothic, and expressionist filmmaking.
Blood and Black Lace doesn’t concern itself much with plot. Beautiful young models are being murdered by an unknown killer in black. A diary containing secrets about the Christian Haute Couture fashion house has come to light and everyone wants to keep it out of the hands of the police. Suspects and red herrings pile up as the body count rises until the killer is unmasked in a twist that was much more shocking fifty years ago. The kills in the film aren’t gory but are actually far more sadistic than the splatter of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 2000 Maniacs that was released the same year. The killings aren’t merely random acts, the attacks feel personal. The women aren’t just killed but they are beaten and mutilated which simply wasn’t the norm and certainly not in a movie and beautifully staged. One outstanding murder set piece is the drowning of a model bent over a clawfoot bathtub. The scene starts with the woman’s wide eyed face filling the screen from under the water. The shot is visually striking and disconcerting as it takes a moment to process what you’re seeing. The black gloved killer the pushes her fully into the tub as the camera rises and floats over the tub. Her body, clad in white bra and panties, settles and fills the space with an unnerving bobbing as her eyes stare up at the camera. It is not easy to forget and Dario Argento would pay tribute to the scene in his classic Deep Red.
Mario Bava’s expertise behind the camera as a cinematographer mines more effective and memorable imagery than should be possible given the film’s impoverished budget. The film boasts gorgeous use of color and lighting, along with inventive use of sets and camera movement that yields maximum mileage out of each set. Mario Bava’s trademark pools of colored light illuminate the frame while the blacks are filled with menace and every frame of the film is loaded and looks beautiful on this new transfer.
VCI Entertainment’s Blu-Ray features a brand new 2k restoration that finally gets the film back to its original form with an uncut running time, proper aspect ratio, and colors that pop off the screen. The disc contains two audio commentaries. Writer Kat Ellinger (All the Colors of Sergio Martino, Diabolique Magazine) delivers an in depth, scholarly track that discusses the film and it’s place in Italian and world wide film culture. Writers David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner provide a fun, informative, audio commentary that provides a bit more of a fan’s view of Blood and Black Lace. Both tracks are quite entertaining and add a great deal of gravitas to the film. Other special features include trailers, a David Del Valle interview with cult favorite Cameron Mitchell, and a lengthy featurette comparing the American and European cuts of the movie.