Movie still from 1964's "Blood and Black Lace".

Blood and Black Lace June 23, 2015

Though it is often cited an ancestor of the modern slasher movie, Blood and Black Lace is more than just a stalk-and-slash splatter fest. It is also an artistic orgasm for the inimitable Mario Bava, a director so obsessed with the connection between romanticism and horror that his films, more often than not, found themselves as drenched in Technicolor mystique as they did claustrophobic shadows. 

 

Blood and Black Lace is important when considering the history of the horror genre, but it also marked a huge step for Bava. He kicked off the 1960s with the great black-and-white chiller Black Sunday, furthered his potential with an eventful 1963 (which included The Whip and the Body, Black Sabbath, and The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and then cemented his status as a visually adept horror maven with 1964’s Blood and Black Lace.

 

Although it was not a success in its native Italy, its reputation has grown over the years, in part due to the renewed interest in the giallo genre and a newfound respect for the filmmakers who were almost Hitchcock but never quite made it.  While I'm not as fond of Blood and Black Lace as I am Kill, Baby, Kill and Danger: Diabolik (the former a gothic spooker, the latter a campy soul sister to the early days of TV’s Batman), I still find myself haunted by its images, so simultaneously dazzling and freakish that I, a day later, cannot decide if the film is beautiful or nightmarish.

 

Blood and Black Lace details a series of callous murders disturbing the lives of the models employed by the Christian Haute Couture fashion house. Run by the physically stunning Countess Cristina Como (Bartok), whose husband has just died, the grounds seem to see tragedy regularly — and when Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), a flighty model, is offed one night by a masked assailant, it becomes clear that something is actually  afoot at the mansion. 

 

The film then devolves into whodunit histrionics, and always makes sure to accentuate its red herrings and its murders.  Surprisingly, though, the final result is not satisfying but predictable — one can only kill off so many people before a suspect(s), who never seems to be in trouble, turns into a definite beast of slaughter.

 

Blood and Black Lace's reputation precedes it, and though I cannot deny that it's extravagantly shot and opulently envisioned, the stiff acting of the cast, not to mention the bland dialogue, becomes distracting.  Bava is unparalleled when it comes to visuals — why must he ignore his actors in favor of optic luminosity? The photography of the film is so brilliant that it, certainly, deserves its own review. But the material is so flimsy (and eventually been-there-done-that) that making excuses for Blood and Black Lace’s lack of unfiltered thrills becomes hopeless.  

 

Don’t fear, though: there is no ignoring the film’s other strengths. The girls are memorably alluring; the murders are impressively staged; and the music, which sounds like background noise to a Spanish café, gives the impression that danger is running amok but is going unnoticed by the patrons of the invisible party going on outside.  Everything looks great. If only there wasn’t an underlying feeling that Blood and Black Lace’s accomplishments consist of being historically important and acting as an unusually exquisite Tumblr gif

set.  C+

 

DIRECTED BY

Mario Bava

 

STARRING

Eva Bartok

Cameron Mitchell

Thomas Reiner

Mary Arden

Arianna Gorini

Lea Krugher

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1964

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 24 Mins.