The vaults of Mario Bava are certainly deep and contain plenty of obsidian treasure. Thankfully Arrow keep on digging and plundering more riches from them and with Blood And Black Lace we travel right back to 1964. This was made after his seminal ghostly 1963 compendium Black Sabbath and also The Whip And The Body which is another movie well worth revisiting. It’s another early giallo entry, a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat full of twisting, turning plot conventions that will keep you guessing right up until the end. As far as I am concerned it is a film that I had (criminally) never seen before being sent this to review. It would appear that this did the rounds back in 1979 on video tape via fondly remembered label IFS Iver Film Services. Anyone who lived through that golden era may remember their tape box artwork coming with a rather cheeky Oscar figure on, somewhat misleadingly as films such as ‘Honey Baby,’ ‘Night Of The Bloody Apes’ and ‘The Black Gestapo’ would only really have won any accolade in the bad taste awards.
I am somewhat glad to have waited until now in a way as the opening shot here shows just what attention Arrow have given the restoration work to get the film looking so remarkably vibrant and pristine. A sign outside an upmarket fashion house blows in the wind in close frame and becomes untethered on one side. As it unclasps and swings we get a remarkable shot of an opulent fountain and the fashion house behind it lit up in the night and bustling with activity in the distance. It’s all about the mastery of Bava’s cinematography and visionary gaze and lighting skills but it’s also very much about the aforementioned work put in and it looks absolutely dazzling practically taking the viewer’s breath away. As things progress the work on soundtrack is also noted as it is as polished as the image itself and sounds fantastic. Quickly established is the fact that all is not well as a model leaving the sprawling house de culture is brutally attacked and dispatched by a sinister masked killer. When I say masked well it’s quite an original disguise as the full face is covered in a heavy cotton, gauze fabric that makes you wonder how the killer can see or breathe, let alone drive away at high speed in a later scene!
Inside the upmarket fashion place everything is simply luverly darling and the plot unwinds around high class models who are being bumped off one by one. Lothario rich antique dealers and cocaine addiction are all parts of the plot too. My immediate thoughts on watching it all unspool was that this would be ripe for a remake starring that Carla Devileyebrows or however you spell her surname and all her hard working partying friends. Once that thought got in my head I unfortunately could not get it out. The beautiful people do their parts the justice they deserve, fluttering eyelids, looking drop dead gorgeous and dying in inventive ways. I have to admit that the cast on this was largely unknown to me apart from a couple of the leads, Hungarian actress Eva Bartok and the ever reliable and rugged Cameron Mitchell. There is a large ensemble within the film both male and female and it’s great fun sleuthing around them and trying to work out what are red herrings and what is the possible motive for the somewhat sadistic for the time murders. I am not going into the plot any more apart from saying that it is a bit like entering another world, one of the wealthy and privileged and its hardly surprising all the greed and lust that goes on within it. Bava shows his flair throughout not just with the narrative but with the panache and visual style of presenting it all. There are as with most of his films some scenes that will stay and haunt after seeing it and no doubt remain in your memory for time to come. One other thought that I had watching it was that although very much set in the swinging 60’s where it came from it kind of set the template for plenty of other stalk and slash films that would follow echoed by the likes of Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright 1987.
This one is crammed with more extras than you would find models on the guest list at a Sheikh’s luxury penthouse party. First up is a near hour long feature “Psycho Analysis: Blood and Black Lace, Mario Bava and the Giallo.” It’s not just the film makers such as Dario Argento and obviously Lamberto Bava themselves that talk us through the myriad conventions of the Giallo thriller and their origins but also film historians and the writers of the heavily convoluted plots themselves. As one of them points out, their job as author is to frighten people but in a way that two plus two is not always four but more likely five. I think that sums things up pretty well as watching these films is often like solving a mathematical conundrum. Another very good point that is made is the fact that Blood And Black lace is a film that is worth watching again and again due to the technical prowess and all the fantastic filming techniques utilised. I love the way immediately after saying this we are told “but the plot is a bit silly,” again something hard to disagree with. Taking in the sadism, sexual deviancy and the resulting censorship that came with it the documentary is both fascinating and one that stays on track not roving too far into the future but fixating on the genesis of the giallo thriller and the formative work on it by Bava. This does not serve so much as an introduction to the films but more of an authoritative and in depth exploration of things that even established fans of the genre will take something away from. Like the film itself it’s something that will stand up for repeated viewings too.
Next up are film makers Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani who were behind more recent Euro homages to the giallo Amer (which I absolutely hated on seeing) and The Strange Color Of Your Bodies Tears which due to its predecessor I have not rushed to view. Their interpretation of the films and Bava’s formative forays into it are spot on and intelligently discussed so I have to wonder why Amer feel flat on its face for me? Perhaps it is difficult to get away from the fact that these films existed at a point of time and are only really authentic coming from Italian film makers during that period. Maybe however I should also go back for a reappraisal. Speaking of new entries we next get an exclusive Blu Ray presentation of a crowd funded half hour ‘neo giallo’ by British film makers Ryan Haysom & Jon Britt. I was pretty damn sceptical before even pressing play on this thinking that such a short running time would make it impossible to formulate the necessary narrative and involved development within it that such films excelled themselves in. Indeed there’s little time for any great set up but the style of mood, sadism, and aesthetic look are immediately evident upon the canvas of a serial killer stalking modern day Berlin and even before the title fills the screen it seems to be trying to exploitatively ape Fulci’s already incredibly denigrated New York Ripper. Moody, brooding and suitably fetishist in genre conventionality Yellow is a well crafted short but is very much a case of style over substance and I knew exactly where it was going and how it would end about a third of the way through. Like making authentic pasta sauce nobody does this quite like the old Italian style!
Next up and no doubt of excellent use to anyone doing a university course on something so interesting as well as film fans we have a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie all about gender in giallo, during the social upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s an interesting and somewhat different presentation style and certainly represented illustratively in a much more thorough way than just having someone talking or vast amounts of text to trawl through. It does apart from this feel a bit like a scholarly lecture and at almost 40 minutes in length goes pretty in depth. It’s not something to watch if you are not au fait with the giallo medium though and have not seen many films as many that are discussed are done so with a large amount of plot spoilers emphasising the points made. Naturally there is a warning to this effect at the beginning of the piece.
Taken from a recent panel discussion ‘Blood And Bava’ has some amusing anecdotes from Argento, Lamberto Bava and Steve Dela Casa on working with Mario on films like Inferno and Danger Diabolik. It’s just a brief snapshot really but provides a few amusing tales. Then there’s a full TV programme presented by David Del Valle called ‘The Sinister Image’ all about star of Blood And Black Lace Cameron Mitchell which runs for near enough another hour. That’s probably one for the real completest though and someone with more time on their hands than me after already overdosing on this feast of extras.
Finally there’s an alternative US opening title nabbed from Joe Dante’s private copy of Blood And Black Lace apparently, not forgetting trailer, commentary track, reversible sleeve art, booklet and everything else the film company provide. Arrow really have hit the bulls-eye with this, there’s several evenings worth of entertainment for giallo enthusiasts to paw over, enough shots of black gloves and doses of the moody saxophone score to send you on a killing spree of your own. I hope by cramming this so full though it doesn’t mean they have completely run out of Bava and Euro Thrillers to reissue in the future!