June 12, 2006

THE KING OF GIALLO - BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) - REVIEW 16



There is possibly nothing I could say about this movie that hasn’t been done so already. All reviews I have come across has seemingly praised this and seems to draw conclusively this is the very first that demonstrates the style and blueprint for all future giallo movies and influenced the stalk and slash genre decades later. Though arguably I would say that Bava’s other allegory of annihilation ‘Bay of Blood’ has more ‘common’ ground with the 80’s style of stalk and slash filmmaking.

Is this deserved? Oh yes, every praise is deserved for not only do we have the prototype for the future but under the watchful eye of Bava it is executed perfectly, and I mean that as a sincere perfectly.

Blood and Black Lace has influenced a whole gamut of contemporary horror film makers and was the spark that lighted the fuse for the other Italian giallo maestro ‘Dario Argento’. Despite the echo of momentum in our modern creations that can still be traced back to Blood and Black Lace what influenced this?

I would say ‘Psycho’ and ‘Les Diaboliques’ (especially the bathroom sequence) influenced some of Bavas plot but the majority is down to the genius of this director that I feel is as important as Hitchcock but does not get the iconic status - but then again Bava wasn’t an American.


Add to this the Edgar Wallace vehicles that were a favourite of European cinema goers back in the early 60’s, more on that later. Add that to the giallo history of Italy as featured in my earlier articles and we may see some trends and favourable nods via Bavas’ artistry.

Where Hitchcock utilised monochrome to it’s’ zenith milking all its black and whiteness for maximum impact Bava does the same but utilises candy coloured vibrancy.

The murders depicted throughout the duration are the first examples of collected sado-eroticised vignettes that do not shy away from explicit detail at the beginning, during and at the aftermath of the brutal homicide.

Forget all the crap we have acclimatised too, when viewing this imagine, if you will, as the audience must have reacted to this in 1964. Wipe the taint of modernity and go back in time and view the film with unbridled ‘freshness’. Remind yourself too that this is the first film of its’ kind you have ever had the fortune to stumble upon, this can only marginally eclipse how the original audiences must have reacted.


This was the very first time they were exposed to the staple motifs of what successful giallo is all about, executed so damn well. Importance’s as the black clad assassin, the fetishistic black leather glove, the razor wielding fiend, the beautiful victim, comic book sadism, the misogynistic representation of the murder weapon, corruption, vice and for the ghoul in the crowd - instances of cold, calculated and (prolonged!) sadistic murder.


This was not brought to them by an ‘underground’ entrepreneur with style but not necessarily directional skill nor a ‘one-off’ who wows then fades into obscurity and leaves a legacy. It was brought to them by one of the most influential, pioneering and enviably skilled directors of the 20th Century.

Having already displayed his talents to a monochrome weary audience with the previous years ‘Black Sabbath’ which was very well received, and setting the precedent for future pasta gothic with another exemplary flick ‘The Mask of Satan’ in 1960, Bava was given complete creative control of ‘Blood and Black Lace’.

The backers were an Italian-West German co-production and no doubt expected from Bava something similar to the Edgar Wallace fayre. In early 60’s European cinema approximately 25+ films, mainly West German, were made based on this formula.

The crimes in the novels that translated to screen were vicious enough but not sadistic, they also took second fiddle to plots focussing more on the ‘mystery’ and police procedures than much else. Bava tones this right down and reverses the whole concept making the murders equally important if not more so.

The slayings are an intense focus unlike anything witnessed previously and provides Bava with the opportunity to demonstrate this beauty, although savage, in film as a designer would demonstrate such beauty on a catwalk model.

THE PLOT

In the grounds of a prestigious fashion house ‘Christian Couture’ a beautiful model, Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is being stalked by a ‘faceless’ assailant. She is chased through the wooded undergrowth until the killer attacks and she becomes his first victim.

Isabella’s body is discovered by the recently widowed Madam Cristina Como (Eva Bartok) stuffed in a wardrobe.

The police are contacted and Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reinher) spearheads the investigation. Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell), the manager of the Fashion House, is interviewed and agrees he will do all he can to see justice done.

Another model Nicole (Ariana Garini) discovers Isabella’s diary and says she will give it to the Inspector. Everyone begins to behave in a nervy manner, suggesting the content could be highly controversial.

Peggy (Mary Arden) manages to abscond with the little red book.

Nicole drives to meet her sleazy boyfriend Frank (Dante di Paolo) at his antiques shop. He isn’t there but the killer is and makes an attack on her.

She nearly escapes but in her last attempt is wrestled by the killer; her struggles are cut short as a spiked glove is smashed into her face, fatally piercing the eye and brain. The killer lets Nicole’s corpse drop to the floor and frantically searches for the incriminating evidence in her bag but finds nothing.


Peggy meanwhile has read some shocking revelation in the diary and consequently burns the book. The killer arrives shortly after and beats the shit out of Peggy. He investigates the fire but as he goes to do so Peggy attempts to ring for help. In a complete hissy fit the killer intervenes and bashes Peggy unconscious. Alarmed by the police arriving he absconds taking Peggy with him.


When she rouses she is in bondage, the killer appears and begins slapping her, she repeats she hasn’t the diary. Unsatisfied he forces her hand onto a red hot stove. Still not revealing anything apart from screams of agony Peggy pleads for mercy. The killer responds by bashing her face onto the hot stuff resulting in a further agonising death.

Meanwhile the Inspector places the models and employees whom he suspects under arrest. Despite the custody and legal ‘threat’ the killer manages to strike again. This time it is model Tao-Li played by the scrumptious looking Claude Dante. After he drowns her in the bath the killer pulls out a trusty cut throat and slits the wrists inferring suicide.

During this frantic slaying and to observe the job well done more clearly, the killer removes their facial bandages to reveal a small glimpse of the face of……………… best stop their eh?

RETROSPECT

So important is this film, it should be seen by as many people that want to view it. This has to be an absolute milestone in Italian cinema and to the cinematic horror evolution in general. The director is equivalent to if not surpasses Hitchcock and it is such a shame that it is not fully rewarded as such.

The first thing I would bring to the fore is Bavas intricate, almost obsessive, use of colour to assist in the impact and atmosphere. The build up to Nicole’s demise is a perfect example of such maestro. The interior of the antiques shop is given a heartbeat due to the timed luminance of the neon sign outside.

Tension builds and as the climax to death the artificial light pulsates in deep, rich, crimson a harbinger of what is to happen to the victim. This instant is one of several examples of the highest calibre that a director of Bavas finesse could possibly demonstrate.

Blood and Black Lace is a canvas where the emerald greens, azure blues, blood reds and muted golds are added and the result is an overwhelming display of living, pulsing, and sadean sophistication as important to the life of the picture as blood is to the victims of the killer.

Exquisite style is one of the main themes of this movie and such style can be seen reflected in every frame and in nearly every situation. For further credibility on this skill check out the way Bava uses the hues to accomplished effect in the actors’ introductory poses – and these are only the credits!

The fashion house itself is a matrix of deviancy where all concerned are hiding something. The ‘secrets’ are also surprisingly ‘adult’ for their time featuring cocaine addiction, abortion and sexual intrigue giving the movie a further ‘edge’ than just relying on the shocks on display.

The killer himself is truly sinister, featureless and clad in black he truly is the grim reaper amongst the colour and ‘liveliness’ of the fashion house, a total antithesis. The way in which Bava makes him appear than disappear gives an ethereal almost inhuman quality to the character.

The mannequins bathed in reds and blue hue also emphasises the mannequin lifestyle of the employees. Something one can dress and glam up but underneath is emptiness, as shallow as the staff it seems but without their selfishness fortunately.

Fashion and glamour are their lives and ultimately will be their fate. This is such a clever juxtaposition and works really well for me in allegorical terms. Such allegories can be found elsewhere but because these instances seem unimportant in Bavas mis-en-scene can be overlooked e.g. the hanging sign of the fashion house leads full circle to the red telephone hanging in a similar manner at the end, thus we have come full circle.

Another strong highlight of the movie has to be the bath-tub sequence, when her wrists are slit by the razor, the models blood forms an elegant pattern that ‘smokes’ through the water. Death is beauty, beauty is death. This is truly, albeit brief, an aesthetic delight that you don’t have to be homicidal to appreciate.

Finally we must not overlook Carlo Rustichellis divine score that works so well with the visuals. The fusion of jazz and easy listening symphonies really are the dollops of whip cream with the ultimate chocolate gateaux.

Fortunately the film didn’t suffer considerable mutilation by the censors. The only dominant ‘change’ when released stateside was the change in the opening credits. Bavas’ original had a smashing opening sequence featuring the characters alongside mannequins, naturally exquisitely lit under Bavas guidance. In the alternative sequence this has been replaced by an inferior ‘animation’ sequence, featuring mannequins with skeletal faces and bullet holes.


Lou Moss’ new sequence is actually not that bad as it seems to be in keeping with Bavas atmosphere but is infinitely inferior to the original in style.

If you get any opportunity to view this – do so. VCI have bought out a 2 disc special edition which is sufficient but I feel that an anamorphic enhancement could’ve been better for such a gem.

I am annoyed that this movie still does not get the just attention it so rightly deserves. Especially when we realise the huge legacy it left behind. When one considers the ‘hype’ Psycho gets, and deservedly so, in comparison to Blood and Black Lace it is frustrating that something so equal is so sadly overlooked.

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

The Bag Sequence

The bag containing the diary is left unattended as Nicole does her catwalk turn. The camera remains static as the ‘suspects’ walk by the handbag and everyone seems to be watching everyone else – it builds up a crescendo of breathtaking paranoia and guilt without any vocalisation. Excellent, absolutely bloody excellent.



Starring: Mary Arden, Eva Bartok, Claude Dantes, Arianna Gorini, Cameron Mitchell, Luciano Pigozzi, Thomas Reiner

Directed by: Mario Bava

A.K.A ;
Atelier de la peur, L' (France)
Blood and Black Lace (USA)
Blutige Seide (West Germany)
Fashion House of Death
Six Women for the Murderer (International: English title) (literal title)
Six femmes pour l'assassin (France)

Country; Italy / West Germany / Monaco / France

Availability ; Region 1 & Region 2 (German- 'Blutige Seide')

2 Comments:

Blogger adrien said...

I like this movie as much as the next guy, but I find it unfair that it gets all the proto-giallo glory, when the neglected "Evil Eye / The Girl Who Knew Too Much" was filmed a year earlier and is just as much a forbearer of the Giallo genre, despite the less graphic murder scenes. I wonder if that film had been filmed in color we'd hear more about it. As it is, I find the The Girl Who Knew Too Much's stunning B&W photography almost as beautiful as the explosive use of color in B&BL.

10/24/2007 7:06 pm  
Blogger Laurence Niblick said...

Thanks for the comment Adrien. I have bought the box set and yet to view the (Evil Eye/G.W.K.T.M)but your comment has well and truly whetted my appetite. I couldn't agree more that B&W can be overlooked due to this one factor alone. Right, time for an audience with Mr. Saxon and Ms.Roman if I can find a spare moment................

10/24/2007 7:56 pm  

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