The Giallo Project #3: Blood and Black Lace
Alternative titles: Sei donne per l’assassino; Director: Mario Bava; Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner; Music: Carlo Rustichelli; Italian theatrical release date: March 14th, 1964
Whenever the topic of Blood and Black Lace comes up, I always seem to find myself apologising for not liking it more. I’ve seen it four or five times now, and on each occasion I find myself feeling strangely distanced from it and unable to see it in quite the same light as its many, many admirers. Maybe it’s the fact that it lacks a single clear-cut protagonist to whom I can relate, or perhaps it’s because, to date, there has not been a satisfactory presentation of the film on DVD (it’s fickle, I know, but there have been occasions when a better transfer has improved my appreciation of a film, particularly those that are visually-oriented). In any event, for whatever reason, Blood and Black Lace is an entry that I see as important on account of its influence, but considerably less interesting when taken on its own merits.
Dubbed “the first authentic body count movie” by VCI on the cover of their (frankly pretty poor) DVD release, Blood and Black Lace builds on the thematics that Bava developed in his previous two gialli, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and The Telephone segment of Black Sabbath, and injects a vital new component that would come to characterise so many other films in the genre: the protracted, deliriously violent murder sequence. While Girl’s death scenes, such as there were, were pretty perfunctory, they are Blood and Black Lace’s raison d’être, and are quite shocking in their intensity. The very first, occurring in a windswept park at night within the first five minutes, is brutal and frenzied, unveiling the fedora-clad, black-gloved killer (his face concealed with a mask), who, thanks to his sheer viciousness and lack of identifying features, feels more like a force of nature than an actual person.
Actually, it’s difficult to fault the murders at all - they are all incredibly well-executed and almost always incredibly sadistic. One unfortunate victim is slapped about before having her hand and then face scalded, while another receives a blow to the face with a spiked glove, prefiguring the killer’s modus operandi in Death Walks at Midnight by several years. A further death, occurring late in the film, also sets the template for many a giallo bathtub drowning. However, the scenes designed to connect them together (and I believe that this is all they really are) are considerably more mundane, with the plot never sustaining my interest in that way that Girl’s does. Thomas Reiner’s wooden Inspector Silvester plods from scene to scene without doing anything particularly interesting, and the various women of the fashion house around which the events revolved are given only enough characterisation for us to know what dirty deeds they have been getting up to in between shows.
Admittedly, some of this really is quite clever. In typical giallo form, everyone is hiding something, whether it’s drug addiction, thievery or blackmail, and to an extent you can almost imagine the killer representing a force of brutal retribution. Bava also indulges in one of his favourite pass-times in opening up an outwardly respectable society and revealing it to be corrupt to the core. Furthermore, I don’t need to tell you that it’s impeccably shot, with Bava’s trademark gel lighting giving the various locations an otherworldliness while still anchoring them firmly in reality. However, Blood and Black Lace remains, for me, a stepping stone in the giallo’s journey rather than the landmark that many consider it to be. I like it, but I would never afford it masterpiece status.
Next time, I’ll be looking at Michelangelo Antonioni’s seminal Blowup (don’t worry - all will be explained).