Blood and Bava
Along with Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava is often considered to be part of the holy trinity of Italian horror cinema. In 1963, he wrote and directed The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which is widely considered to be the first ever giallo film, and his influence can be felt in virtually every American slasher film of the 1980s, with his Bay of Blood (also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve) having been ripped off wholesale by Sean S. Cunningham with Friday the 13th.
Despite this, however, I’ve never really been able to get into Bava’s films in the way that I have with Argento, Fulci and other less immediately memorable giallo directors like Massimo Dallamano, Aldo Lado, Luciano Ercoli and Paolo Cavara. Bava is one of the finest visual craftsmen ever to have lived - that much, I think, is undeniable - and the minuscule budgets he had to work with only serves to make his achievements all the more remarkable. I think that he is often let down by his scripts, though. Bava was very much a “director for hire” in the traditional sense: he would turn his hand to anything in order to put food on the table, and, as such, he never claimed a genre as his own in the way that Argento did with giallo and Sergio Leone did with the Western. A lot of Bava’s films, therefore, fail to engage me, because I often get the feeling that he wasn’t truly invested in what he was doing. As visually awe-inspiring as his work is, he often seems to have found himself working with rather generic scripts, and while I don’t think that an amazing screenplay is by any means the be-all and end-all of a film, most of the time I struggle to understand the big deal with his films.
If The Girl Who Knew Too Much was the film that started the giallo phenomenon, it was Blood and Black Lace, made a year later, that solidified many of the archetypes that would be adopted wholesale during the boom of the early 1970s: the masked, black-attired killer; the cast of nubile women being offed; the psychosexual nature of the murders; the parade of shifty suspects, all with something to hide. The narrative, as such, seems a bit derivative, although it must be remembered that this is the one that set the stage for what was to come. It’s not a particularly remarkable plot, though, even taking into account its position as a forerunner to the genre: a series of murders are taking place, the victims all models from a prestigious agency. The usual shifty-looking characters are on the prowl, and, despite dropping like flies, none of the women are particularly eager to divulge what they know. I doubt that this would have been considered original stuff even at the time of its release. Rightly or wrongly, however, it has been retroactively identified as the first ever “body count movie”.
What does stand out as remarkable, though, is the photography. Even by Bava’s already high standards, this is one incredible-looking piece of work. He originally trained as a painter, and it shows: every frame is expertly composed, with a level of three-dimensionality that sucks you into the world, despite its obviously artificial appearance. It’s obvious that Argento was heavily influenced by this when he did Suspiria 13 years later, and yet the comparisons are somewhat unjust. Whereas Suspiria’s setting could never be mistaken for that of the real world, Blood and Black Lace’s feels authentic despite its deliberate artifice.
In the final analysis, therefore, I can’t claim to be as enamoured by Blood and Black Lace as some, but I appreciate it as a key film partially responsible for spawning one of the Italian film industry’s most lucrative filoni, and as an outstanding achievement in a technical sense. This is definitely a film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, so that people can appreciate not only where the giallo genre came from, but also the American slasher movement of the 1970s and 80s. Bava definitely doesn’t get the recognition he deserves as a trendsetter.
PS. I’m incredibly grateful to Lee for his copy of the German DVD release of the film, which is vastly preferable to either of the two releases put out by VCI in the US.
Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2006 at 2:20 PM
| Comments: 15
| Dario Argento
You are right, the German DVD of "Blood and Black Lace" is indeed far superior to other releases of the film and in addition to that it comes in a nifty packaging which is really very unique. Unfortunately you can't listen to the commentary, which is in German and both very entertaining and very informative at the same time. This refers to the limited edition though, there's also a different release without most of the extras and without the Italian language track.
Maybe you have not been that enamoured by the film, but personally I like it a lot. As you said, Bava's photography is outstanding and all of the scenes are wonderfully lit. The story might not be overly original, but the way the film is made it is very atmospheric and suspenseful nonetheless. Argento's "Suspiria" doesn't feature a very complex story either and builds more on the atmosphere through visual and acoustic means. Of course "Suspiria" is not a giallo though, I would describe it more as a surrealistic nightmare, while "Blood and Black Lace" is a stylish, suspense-driven giallo.
Personally I also prefer "Suspiria", but not by much. While I would rate it 10/10, I would rate "Blood and Black Lace" 9/10.
I also really like "Bay of Blood", which is a rather lurid title by the way, the original title being "Reazione a catena", which means 'chain reaction' in English and fits the film much better. Actually this isn't quite as mindless as most American slasher movies, but features a rather cynical story about how the egoistic motives of the various characters lead to a violent kind of 'chain reaction'.
I also recently watched "The Whip and the Body" with Christopher Lee and remember liking "I tre volti della paura" aka "Black Sabbath". Both belong to the horror genre and feature Bava's remarkable lighting and photography. While the sadomasochistic elements of the former seem rather tame today, the film is still very atmospheric. The latter consists of three distinct episodes, of which I prefer the last one ("The Drop of Water").
"Black Sunday" is often mentioned as THE Bava movie par excellence, but I haven't seen it yet, although I own the great DVD that has been released in Germany last year. From what I know it is a black and white gothic horror film.
Bava may have made films from a variety of genres, but I think that most of his films belong to the horror and giallo genres. I might be wrong though, maybe those are only the ones that are generally regarded as his best. ;)
Posted by: BobaFett, November 9, 2006 5:55 PM
Mario Bava often defined himself as a movie "artisan" more than an "auteur": this unpretensious mood never obscured his talent, but it perhaps partly explains why you feel cold toward the movies you've seen so far, Michael. Yes, he worked for hire most of the times, and had a very long career doing every kind of genre: in this he's surely much closer to Lucio Fulci than to Dario Argento. But I am sure he particularly enjoyed the challenge of turning a (very)low budget flick into something that could be remembered, at least from a technical and aestethical point of view, and this is undeniably one of his marks.
If you want to see another piece of his beautiful cinematography, try his 1966 "Terrore nello spazio" (aka many other titles - see https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059792/). Wonderful visuals and a sf/horror/thriller plot where many see clues to Ridley Scott's Alien.
Posted by: , November 9, 2006 6:26 PM
You are, my friend, an idiot. Haha.
Posted by: Haha
, November 10, 2006 5:27 AM
Whiggles you should really leave these these movies to people who appreciate them and stick with Buffy or whatever is fashionable at the moment.It is quite obvious that the'Giallo' genre is just another trendy time waster for you until something else comes along.
Btw leave the commentries to the experts,you appear to have been only watching these films for the last couple of years so i hardly think we need your amateur opinion on them.Tel me have you seen 'Killer reserved 9 Seats','Giallo a Venezia' etc etc yet?No i thought not!
You are the real idiot around here!!
Posted by: Nick Jordan, November 12, 2006 7:43 PM
BobaFett and the other fellow who didn’t leave his/her name, thanks for your constructive comments.
Mr. Jordan, I may seem like an idiot to you, but you come across as a complete and utter fucking moron with your baseless attacks, not to mention your problems with spelling and punctuation. No-one is forcing you to read my posts or listen to my “commentries” - they’re simply something I do for my own amusement and because other people seem to find them enjoyable and/or useful. Can me a “trendy time waster” if you want, but you know absolutely nothing about me. While we’re on the subject, would you care to enlighten me as to any material which you yourself have provided that is more worthwhile than my “amateur opinion”?
Posted by: Whiggles
, November 12, 2006 7:58 PM
One has to wonder why these guys even bother coming here in the first place.
Posted by: Phantom
, November 13, 2006 2:32 AM
I'm really curious now to see Mr. Anonymous' blog or website, on which we can read his expert opinion that he seems to have according to his comment in which he indicates that he knows the genre for such a long time.
I'm sure he will give us the link soon.
Or is he merely an expert in name-calling and criticizing others in a very impertinent way?
Posted by: BobaFett, November 13, 2006 4:15 AM
Just noticed he used a nickname for this comment - it's Mr. Nick Jordan then. ;)
Posted by: BobaFett, November 13, 2006 4:19 AM
Sure, Bava was an artisan who at least considered himself an artisan above an artist. But he was a crafted and skilled artisan.
Bava's heart is indeed absent from every single one of his pictures, but then again, I don't think any of Fulci's giallos have something behind them either other than get the film made and cash the check. Same goes for some of the other filmmakers you mentioned.
For all things, Mario's films look better than Fulci's could ever dream of looking, and he never really made a film that comes near as absurd or as badly structured as Fulci's splatter flicks.
I actually rank Mario on equal terms with Dario (and way above Fulci) in case you haven't noticed. :D Try BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY. If neither of those do it... oh well.
Posted by: Marcus, November 13, 2006 4:20 AM
I certainly intend to watch both Black Sabbath and The Whip and the Body as soon as I get the chance. I’m well aware of Bava’s status and can certainly understand exactly why this is - every frame of every film of his that I’ve seen is a work of art. It’s just that I always find myself feeling somewhat distanced from his films, for some reason, and, as beautiful as they are, I often struggle to find them compelling. My favourite, by the way, is The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
As for Fulci, I’m not sure I’d agree that there is nothing going on behind his gialli other than a need to pay the rent. His 70s efforts all have a morbid fascination with death and decay (stemming, Stephen Thrower has suggested, from his wife’s suicide), and beyond that I think that free will and the nature of identity are common themes. I don’t doubt that he made these films primarily in order to put food on the table, but I don’t think it’s impossible to be both an artist and a craftsman for hire at the same time.
Posted by: Whiggles
, November 13, 2006 10:20 AM
Woops, just to say that the second comment (Nov 9th) was mine - I just forgot to fill the field.
Posted by: MCP, November 13, 2006 6:54 PM
I really liked your Suspiria commentary. Much more informative than anything i've ever encountered regarding this film.
Posted by: aw, November 13, 2006 7:13 PM
The third story in BLACK SABBATH is one of the scariest shorts ever put on film. The other stories are good too (with Karloff's segment being the weakest).
Posted by: Marcus, November 13, 2006 10:20 PM
***light spoilers ahead!***
Karloff's segment (The Wurdalak)... I know that its ending is considered as one of the most original/worth of praise especially by French critics: they adored it for its weirdness (ok, enough with spoilers)
Posted by: MCP, November 14, 2006 6:22 PM
Michael thanks for the mention mate. I am just happy to be of service, especially if it gets you to re-visit BAVA (a personal fav of mine as you know). Just to acknowledge waht others have said, I also think BLACK SABBATH is wonderful and a real BAVA high point. I adore THE DROP OF WATER EPISODE and think THE TELEPHONE is in many ways a prototype for what BAVA would do with the Giallo format in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. I realise THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is recognised as the 'first' true giallo but in terms of colour gialli, THE TELEPHONE is not only a superbly executed scenario it is an historically significant development in BAVA's work in this area.
Also, Michael, just to put it in writing I would love to see a Whiggles image comparison on this seminal Bava classic. For your information the German DVD I sent you had no image compression whatsoever. I simply removed the German language only extras and put the movie on 'as is' if that makes sense?!
Take care fella
Posted by: Count Fosco
, November 22, 2006 9:22 PM
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