Thursday, October 05, 2006

It Came From Netflix! Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Blood and Black Lace (a.k.a. Sei donne per l'assassino) is Mario Bava’s first color horror movie, and an obvious transition piece between the campy tone exemplified by the period’s West German ‘Krimis’—a slew of goofy crime movies ostensively adapted from the books of Edgar Wallace—and the heyday of the Italian Giallo genre. One of my favorite B movies, The Bloody Pit of Horror, also is such a mid-range piece, although Bava’s movie packs a bit more punch.

Bava scholar Tim Lucas, who provides the disc’s commentary track, hails Black Lace as “the first body count movie.” (Although surely And Then There Were None deserves some credit.) Fittingly, this was actually indicated by the original Italian title, which translates to Six Women for the Murderer. In the wake of this film, the Giallos would quickly adopt a more naturalistic and serious tone, as well as a much greater explicitness in graphically portraying baroquely sadistic death scenes.

In other words, they predated and predicted the Slasher genre, albeit while exhibiting much better art direction and an arguably even greater disdain for story logic. Bava again pioneered the trend towards gore effects with 1971’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (a.k.a. Reazione a catena), which more than doubled Black Lace’s victim count and definitely upped the ante in terms of lovingly depicting horrible deaths. The gag of two lovers being impaled simultaneously during the act of sex, copied by Friday the 13th Part 2 and many other movies, originated in that film.

Yet if the murders in Black Lace are not particularly graphic, several of them remain surprisingly brutal and cruel. At the time the movie must have freaked out many, even when more heavily edited as its American release was. For more squeamish folks such as myself, this is at least partly mitigated by the film’s aggressively overt artificiality, again a trademark of the Krimi genre. This begins with the film’s opening credit sequence (apparently changed for the American release), which features the large cast introduced one by one, named as they assume winking poses.

The setting is a fashion house, which allows for a ready supply of beautiful victims. The first such is quickly dispatched by a man in a black trench coat and fedora, who wears a tight flesh-colored fabric mask that renders his head eerily featureless. (Comic book fans will note the resemblance to the Charlton / DC character The Question.) It turns out that the victim had an incriminating diary, however, the appearance of which kicks off a resultant chain of gruesome murders.

Being an early example of the breed, Black Lace actually provides a credible Whodunit element. (Actually, as least as far as I can tell without having seen many of the classic later Giallos, the identity of the murderers in those films were afforded more weight then the usually perfunctory and slapdash revelations of same in the Slasher movies of the ‘80s.)

Along with the often eye-rollingly exaggerated mugging of the cast, surfeit of red herrings a brassy jazz score, Black Lace again could easily be mistaken for a particularly mean-spirited Krimi. Lucas, meanwhile, notes that those films had solely been filmed in black and white, and only begin putting forth color entries (The School Girl Murders, The Creature with the Blue Hand, etc.) in emulation of Bava’s picture.

Among the cast and an obvious suspect (among zillions) is Cameron Mitchell, whose voice is dubbed by a different actor on all three of the soundtracks, the American, the French and the original Italian. Even with the latter it’s clear that all the dialogue was looped in post-production. The American language version, meanwhile, employs the vocal talents of voice actor Paul Frees, instantly identifiable to fans of both ‘50s sci-fi movies and Saturday morning cartoon shows.

Also on hand Lucianno Pigozzi, known as the “Italian Peter Lorre” for his strong resemblance to that actor, and who last caught my attention as a murderous henchman in the wonderfully goofy whodunit / lycanthropy epic Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory.

I really love this era of filmmaking, and the campy elements—such as the strident bum bum bum! music cues that follow such lines as “It’s cocaine!” and “Isabella kept a diary”—easily get me past my general antipathy towards nasty death scenes. This isn’t sheerly lunatic enough to rival my enduring love for The Bloody Pit of Horror, but it’s pretty good stuff none the less.

The VCI special edition DVD of the film features a second disc with extras (including the alternate American and French opening credit sequences) that I didn’t’ t bother renting. Still, it’s a handsome package and, despite the galling lack of an anamorphic widescreen presentation, clearly represents VCI’s bid towards the specialty genre market served by other companies such as Blue Underground and Anchor Bay. They were wise to bring Bava fanatic Lucas on board, and his commentary, albeit scripted and hence a bit robotic, is astoundingly informative on the actors, Bava and Italian genre films.


At 10:02 AM, Anonymous JazzyJ said...

I sure am glad you are on a break from the Jabootu site, otherwise you might be posting really long posts on the blog every day...


Seriously, thanks for the reminder about this early giallo. Cool stuff!

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dick Tracy villain the Blank predated Blood and Black Lace.


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