VCI Home Video // 1964 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // November 19th, 2010
"A fashion house of models turns to a terror house of murder!"
When a beautiful model's body is found mutilated inside Max Marian's (Cameron Mitchell, Night Train To Terror) fashion house during an exhibition, it leads police into a spiraling plot line of blackmail, drug addiction, and murder, murder, murder. Who is the fedora clad, white masked killer anonymously decimating the sultry, sinful vixens and which one is next?
Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace is a marvel of 60s-era filmmaking, taking the style and plot typical of a Hitchcock thriller and injecting it full of all the things that make Italian cinema great -- blood, sex, and a baroque color palette.
Mario Bava would build his career out of inventing ways to make horror violent, sexy and other worldly. Blood and Black Lace does not slouch in this department, and it is often considered his magnum opus. While the gore is fairly minimal in comparison to modern day fare like the Saw series, each murder is photographed in styles that are just as a brutal as they are beautiful. Only the most jaded slasher fans will be disappointed as faces are burned, bodies are drowned, flesh is slit and torsos are impaled on medieval...claw...things.
Elements like medieval claw things characterize a bold experiment common to Bava, who isn't afraid to step way outside the boundaries of traditional logic for the sake of his set pieces.
The presence of medieval claw hammer things, randomly pulsating strobe lights, red-silk bound mannequins and a killer that looks ripped from the pages of a superhero comic (think The Shadow) makes the film a living, breathing pulp novel. However, unlike the disposable literary fodder that inspired it, Blood and Black Lace has soul to spare. The film's pulse resides in the meticulous details of Bava's visual craft, making the set pieces as perfectly cinematic as any you are likely to see.
Blood and Black Lace's Technicolor comic book style is a prototype for similar films,; influencing the work of Italian horror heavyweights Lucio Fulci (New York Ripper), Sergio Martino (Torso), and Dario Argento (Deep Red).
Snooty film scholars and fan-boys alike will also find traces of the style in post-modern auteur as diverse as Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island) and Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz). The reverberating film history aftershocks left by Blood and Black Lace, the cornerstone in Bava's canon, cannot be overstated.
Gushing aside, from a traditional "film critic" side of things, the film isn't quite as fun when not getting down to horror business. This probably has something to do with the narrative existing only as a nonsensical excuse to string together the high concept murder set pieces you just read about.
Bava manages to dish out a decent amount of audience intrigue as we try to predict the killer's identity, but the "investigation" aspects of the film that try to convey this are uninspired and boring. Dialogue is consistently stiff and hilariously awkward at times, while the dubbing (a common facet of Italian genre film) is inconsistent in its sync throughout. A subplot involving a epileptic heroin addict plays out in unintentionally campy style and the film has a pretty misogynistic tone to it, redeemed only by a third act plot twist I shan't give away here.
By the same token, I find the above mentioned flaws all perfectly charming (well, maybe not the boring police scenes), but task master film fans might not be as forgiving. Watch it in the right mindset, suspend your disbelief to appropriate levels and you'll have a hell of a good time with Blood and Black Lace
VCI re-releases it in a two disc set to mixed results. The transfer has been subject to controversy among Bava purists due to aspect ratio tomfoolery and print issues, but I found the anamorphic video adequate. The picture is a little fuzzy, which I assume has something to do with the source material. Colors are strong and edge enhancement is minimal. The 5.1 audio mix is merely tolerable, with retaining pops and muffled dialogue flaws common to films of this type. A lack of a mono (or even stereo) track is disappointing, but the inclusion of French and Italian tracks help make up for it. This isn't the type of film you watch for pristine audio and video, and considering VCI is presenting the film uncut, it's easy to see why it isn't Lucasfilms quality.
Disc 1 contains the feature accompanied by a commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas. Lucas' commentary tracks skate somewhere between academic and anecdotal, and his work on Blood and Black Lace lives up to his legacy as the penultimate Mario Bava scholar. The track is a 90 minute crash course on the origins, implications, and philosophy of the film; the giallo genre; and Bava's career. I highly recommend it to fans or anyone interested in film history. Disc one also contains the American trailer for the film, as well as a collection of trailers for other VCI horror films.
Disc 2 begins with an archived television interview of Cameron Mitchell by horror host David Del Valle. Mitchell is amiable and funny, nostalgically recalling his relationship with Bava and mourning his recent (at that time) death. I'm not sure when the interview was filmed, but I'm guessing it's from the 1980s, as it mentions Dario Argento as the "top horror director."
Next is an archived interview from the 2000 DVD release with actress/ screenwriter Mary Dawne Arden. This is less casual than the Mitchell interview, as Arden is positioned squarely in front of the camera, shot from the chest up, looking directly at the viewer. This amateurish style makes for a confrontational, aggressively perky interview that's harder to watch than to listen to. Arden introduces the feature, gives her life story, briefly touches on her work for Bava on the film, and then goes back to talking about herself some more. I honestly could care less that Arden went on to work with South American politicians and built a modeling academy (both of which are talked about in great detail), I just want some Blood and Black Lace tidbits. You get them, but must wade through an interview that's the equivalent of having a one-sided conversation with one of your mom's friends for 20 minutes. Blegh.
The original American opening titles and French opening titles are also offered as a comparison between the official release's titles. The credits used in the finished film featured the entire cast of actors posing in the darkness of the film's fashion house as their title card appears next to them; a tongue-in-cheek beginning that plays up the film's murder-mystery angle better than the plot does. I can't quite tell what the differences between this and the French version are, aside from a title change ("Six Enemies For The Assasin" is the French title). The American title credits are a major difference, a series of psychedelically lit mannequins fitted with human skulls set to the Carlo Rutsichelli score. It's pretty awesome, but can't compare to Bava's original opening.
A comparison and contrast between the kill scenes of the American version and the European uncut edition is also included. This feature is somewhat interesting, but only worth watching for obsessive types who geek out over seeing censorship butchery juxtaposed with uncut gore wankery.
Four tracks from Carl Rustichelli's musical score are offered, which is fine, but I sort of wish they would've included them on a separate CD. Either way, the tracks are a welcome addition to anyone who likes instilling paranoia in themselves, friends, family, or (in my case) their house cats. Italian, French, and German theatrical trailers are also included, along with bonus Bava trailers for Eric the Conqueror and The Whip and the Body.
Overall, this collection of extras is simply okay. The interviews are passable, the commentary is amazing, and everything else borders on filler. I suppose filler is better than nothing, but if you have the original VCI release of Blood and Black Lace, you probably don't need to upgrade unless you can't live without the commentary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Music Tracks