VCI Home Video // 1964 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // January 17th, 2006
A fashion house of glamorous models becomes a terror house of blood!
Mario Bava is as renowned for his effective camerawork as he is for selecting questionable scripts. Blood and Black Lace is a Bava film, so it exemplifies both traits. That said, the movie was good enough to spawn an entire genre of horror films, collectively known as slasher flicks (or giallo if you're Italian). Few directors can claim to have spawned a genre, so this one is worth a look.
Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok, The Crimson Pirate) and Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell, The Toolbox Murders) run a den of haute couture. Decadent fashion models walk the runway by day, but their nights are filled with lurid sex, drugs, blackmail...and now, murder!
Inspector Silvester (Thomas Reiner, Tales of a Young Scamp) tries to make sense of the string of grisly murders. But in a place where everyone has motive and opportunity against everyone else, he can do little but stand by to catch the next corpse.
VCI has a tendency to go to town with every title they obtain, even if the titles are marginalized by major studios. From B-level films noir such as Blonde Ice to blaxploitation epics such as Black Shampoo, VCI has impressed me with their lavish extras and great packaging. They even customize (and poke fun at, in some cases) their own logo for each genre. Now they get their hands on a bona fide cult classic from a great horror director. What do they do? Turn it into a two-disc special edition, naturally.
Most subgenres can trace their roots to a string of early works that helped shape a particular style. Not so with the slasher genre: it was spawned, fully formed, from the creative talents of Bava. The rules are all here, such as unveiling the killer at the end -- but only after an hour's worth of finger pointing and misdirection. Sex is equivalent to death (although Bava is far less preachy in this regard than most slasher films would become). The killer has a shtick, be it knifed fingers or a hockey mask, which inspires terror in the young women who flee through the woods screaming.
Blood and Black Lace is most known for its sheer body count and the loose cycle of gruesome death/exposition/isolation of next victim/gruesome death. This formula has been copied, parodied, and homaged so many times that we're all familiar with it by now, but I had to do my job as a critic and point it out its genesis in this movie.
Far more interesting is Bava's visual flair. His direction transcends the seedy horror genre he favored. Bava is constantly setting the scene with naught but a light and a scrap of purple velvet. Victims emerge backlit from foggy tunnels, or run slapdash through rooms full of garishly colored mannequins, with each death scene topping the last in terms of sheer visual fireworks. Even when the plot was boring me to tears, there was lots to look at. Critics rave about the tracking shot that takes us through a dark house and behind a curtain to a corpse, only to have the corpse drag off screen in a startling crawl. But I was far more impressed when the mannish Claude Dantes was shoved underwater, drowning in a backlit sea of bubbles and blood before her icy-calm blue eyes resurfaced to stare at the ceiling. Words don't do Bava's kinetics and colors justice.
VCI has provided an entire disc worth of extras to supplement Blood and Black Lace. The nicest inclusion is a quartet of bonus tracks that highlight this film's powerful score. I was less enthusiastic about the trailers, title cards, photo galleries, and such, although a comparison between the European cut and the American cut will interest the detail-oriented viewer. A pair of interviewees duels for the title of "Hokiest Interviewee." I found Mary Dawne Arden's overexuberance preferable to Cameron Mitchell's macho display of bravado, though both drop the occasional tidbit of information. VCI took time to make the menu navigation interesting, including extensive biographies (even one of Tim Lucas) that scroll after several seconds to reveal the text, spooky animations, blood rivers, screams, and other slasher touches.
None of these extras overshadows the main special feature, which is the definitive Bava commentary by Tim Lucas. He is studious and measured, reading carefully written and timed notes. This delivery sounds dry, but really is not at all. His information is so interesting and personal that I became engrossed in the narrative. Many commentaries run out of steam by the end of the film, but his only gains momentum. He shares his deductions about actors in the film, fascinating anecdotes (such as a near fatal accident on set when a trunk snapped shut) and other piercing insights into Bava, his cast, and his crew.
Blood and Black Lace's decadent tone, sumptuous visuals, stirring score, and trend-setting violence are enough to recommend it to horror fans. Yet all is not well with this movie and this release.
Bava may have ushered in the slasher flick, but he also set the genre's low acting bar. The performances in Blood and Black Lace are unintentionally hilarious. In fact, the film contains a highly condensed capsule of bad acting when the (*dum dum DUM!*) dead woman's diary is found. This shocking event is followed by a round robin of reaction shots from each remaining character, each more melodramatic than the last. (Excepting Claude Dantes, who merely stares at the diary and cocks an eyebrow, as though she were channeling Mr. Spock.)
The conclusion of this film is twisty and somewhat interesting, but the ride that gets us there is a grueling slog through a swamp of predictability. In short, anyone who separates herself from the pack will die in the next scene. Rinse, repeat.
VCI does an amusing job with the release with touches like 1.85:1 Anamorphic "Widescream" and the "Unslashed Collector's Edition" moniker. Sadly, the technical presentation is not very good. I had no idea which language track was preferable. Italian is the native track, but the audio has a muffled warble, major dropouts, and hiss. If you switch between the three languages, music is present in some and absent in others in a seemingly random pattern (Italian has the music at times, English at others.) There are large swaths of the Italian track that are misdubbed or missing subtitles, so you can only get the whole story by switching back and forth. No track precisely matches the lip movements; in fact, the French track seemed to match up best. The English language track suffers an odd temporal distortion, as though e-very...one...was sp-eak-ing t h r o u g h mol-ass-es. Or possibly, drugged. It doesn't really matter which track you listen to, because all of them are muffled and reedy.
The video fares slightly better. Bava's signature colors are strong but the video is extremely soft, which makes the colors appear to bleed slightly. Detail is poor. The print is in decent, but not great, shape. In any case, the video is being shown in widescreen and uncut, which is 80% of the battle for Bava fans.
Bava is known beyond the confines of the giallo for his artistic set design and fascinating facility with the camera. If you appreciate his work, you could do far worse than this special edition by VCI. Though the image is very soft and the audio has issues, the film is uncut and supplemented with an armada of bonus features. Indeed, the commentary by Tim Lucas alone is worth the price of admission.
The victim is sentenced to die by dismemberment, fire, and sharp toothpicks in the eyes. That would suit Bava's style, I think.
Review content copyright © 2006 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
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: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Tim Lucas Profile
* Commentary by Tim Lucas
* Interviews with Mary Dawne Arden and Cameron Mitchell
* Bonus Music Tracks by Composer Carlo Rustichelli
* Original Theatrical Trailers
* Bava Trailers
* Foreign and Domestic Versions of Opening Titles
* Comparison Between European and American versions