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Blood and Black Lace (1964)

VCI Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/23/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2018

If you were to ask me who the master of Italian horror cinema is, I would reply Dario Argento. Why? Because I've seen most of his movies and I know that the good ones show a stellar talent. Others would give Mario Bava as the answer to that question. I will admit that I have not seen much of Bava's output, and the ones which I have seen, such as Black Sunday or A Bay of Blood, weren't very impressive. I could appreciate how Bava's work influenced others, but I wasn't wowed by his movies. But, I appreciate the need for a larger sample size, so I decided to try out Blood and Black Lace to see if a Bava effort would finally live up to the label of "classic".

Blood and Black Lace is set in the fashion house of designer Countess Christina Como (Eva Bartok), who oversees a bevy of beautiful models, including Nicole (Arianna Gorini), Peggy (Mary Arden), Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), and Greta (Lea Krugher). When Isabella is brutally murdered, her boyfriend, Frank (Dante Di Paolo), is suspected, and everyone is clamoring to see the dead woman's secret diary. However, when other's associated with the fashion house are killed, Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) realizes that he must chase every lead if the deranged murderer is to be caught.

I've seen Blood and Black Lace cited as a classic and one of Bava's best, but as I'm not overly fond of older films, I'd never checked it out. Having now seen it, I can certainly agree that it's an impressive film and the best offering from Bava which I've seen thus far. The movie works for two key reasons. First of all, the film was ahead of its time in terms of its themes and content. As a pioneer of giallo (Italian murder mystery) films, Blood and Black Lace pulls few punches when it comes to violence. Yes, the movie may seem somewhat tame today, but the strangulations and bludgeonings would have come across as quite shocking in the early 60s. The movie also casually trots out some sexuality and a mention of abortion in a way that must have come across as brazen at the time.

The second, and more important element which makes Blood and Black Lace stand out is the film's style. It can be easy to forget that for many years, most films were in black & white, including Bava's early work. For directors like him, the move into the world of color was clearly a liberating one, as Blood and Black Lace is awash in vibrant tones. The use of Technicolor film certainly makes the colors stand out, but the real work went into the placement of the colors. Nearly everything here, even mundane objects, is given a creative shade. For example, the mannequins in the fashion house are red, as opposed to the standard flesh tone. Bava (who reportedly worked as Director of Photography on the film) has also brought style to the way in which the film was shot. While we don't a lot of wild angles and moving camera, as we would see in later gialli, Bava's camera is always placed in a strategic location so as to assist in telling the story -- see the shot with the purse for an example of this. Finally, we have the look of the killer. Decades before Rorschach from Watchmen would appear, the murderer in Blood and Black Lace wears a fedora, a trench coat, and a white fabric mask which covers the entire face.

As with many films in this sub-genre, the only place that Blood and Black Lace truly stumbles is the story. The killer is revealed to the audience about 3/4 of the way through the film and the motive for the murders is somewhat flimsy. And, in a genre where the characters are often just human cardboard cutouts who will eventually be killed, the people here are indistinguishable at times. These issues aside, it's obvious why Blood and Black Lace is seen as an important and influential film. The overall tone of the film would help to set the standard for giallo and it's easy to assume that the film's look would influence fellow Italian director Dario Argento when it came to his work on Suspiria. Watch Blood and Black Lace and see if you agree that Bava was doing Hitchcock "Italian style".

Blood and Black Lace gives a lot of credit to how observant gas station attendants are on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of VCI Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. We get a new 2K transfer which features a restoration from the original film materials. The image is sharp and clear, showing very mild grain and only scant defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, especially purples and reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, although the picture is a bit soft in some scenes. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. The track provide clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a Mono track, we don't get any dynamic effects here, but the actors are never overpowered by the music and there is no hissing or popping here.

The Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Diabolique Magazine Editor Kat Ellinger. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY from Film Historian David Del Valle and Author Courtney Joyner. "American Cut vs. European Cut" (28 minutes) is simply a reel which looks at eight key scenes from the film, first showing us the edited American Cut and then the uncensored European Cut. "American Titles" (2 minutes) brings us the opening credits sequence which was attached to the American Cut of the film. The extras are rounded out by a "Photo Gallery" and a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long