Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok
Director: Mario Bava
For many film buffs, Mario Bava has to rank as one of cinema’s greatest visual stylists, and there’s perhaps no better exhibition of his talents than Blood and Black Lace, his genre-defining giallo from 1964. At its centre is a nicely turned little mystery about a swanky fashion house whose models are being murdered by a masked killer fetishistically garbed in leather gloves, black hat and black trench coat. The fashion house, as it turns out, is a hotbed of intrigue, and suspects include a twitchy dresser, a slimy, moutachioed aristo and an antiques dealer who’s a secret drugs fiend.
With its balance of glamour and ghoulishness and some of the best dressed corpses you’ll ever see, it’s the ideal subject matter for Bava, who infuses the story with a mix of baroque opulence and ’60s chic and turns the models’ workplace into an extraordinary gilded birdcage dotted with ruby red mannequins and basketwork dress forms. The script divides its time equally between the various potential victims and culprits, but you don’t feel the lack of a central character, because the director is the star, marshalling one ravishing set-piece after another, from the gorgeous neon-hued title sequence (accompanied by a sultry samba theme from composer Carlo Rustichelli) to the various brutal murders, each of which is mounted with fashion plate exquisiteness.
The result is like the lurid cover of a pulp shocker come to life, but it’s a film of swoony depths as well as glittering surfaces. While the script emphasises a neat, conventional plotline, the imagery divulges sexual hang-ups and motivations which the characters aren’t even aware of, and it’s all bound together by its mood of voyeuristic intensity and the genuine chill of its murder scenes. Even in Bava’s extravagant oeuvre, there’s nothing quite like it for its power to seduce and unsettle. Arrow have treated this underrated masterpiece to a lovely new release, including a cherishable limited edition steelbook emblazoned with original poster art, and if you add only one film to your collection this year, this should be it. 10/10
Bava’s ability to combine chiaroscuro with saturated colour is simply peerless, and this new 2K scan from the original 35mm camera negative fairly blazes with jewelled hues and rich shadows. The establishing shot of the fashion house, with the broken sign swinging in the storm and the camera zooming in on the fountain in the forecourt – it all looks breathtakingly lush and atmospheric. So, too, does the sequence where one of the girls is pursued through a dark antique shop, and the scene with Cameron Mitchell in the basement looks especially good, with his figure standing out crisply from the dark background. Elsewhere, in some of the two shots, there’s a scattering of grain and a slight softness to some of the flesh tones, but overall this is a corking transfer of a film that demands to be seen in high def. 8/10
55-min documentary in which various writers and critics discuss the giallo genre and Bava’s place in it. The role of censorship and sex in the Italian cinema is discussed, and contributors include Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava, who talks about his father’s deep knowledge of cinematic techniques.~ Argento and Lamberto B return for a discursive 11-min chat about Bava (audio only with still images), which segues into a long story about Alfred Hitchcock. ~ 10-min appreciation of gialli by the directors of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s tears, who enthuse about the genre’s tendency towards excess, madness and violence (the interview is in French and the word ‘fou’ crops up a lot). ~ Densely argued and attractively presented 38-min video essay by Michael Mackenzie looking at the giallo genre in the wider context of the ’60s. ~ ‘Yellow’, a slickly made and rather bloody 26-min short directed by Ryan Haysom which homages giallo tropes with sinister efficiency. ~ Detailed, scholarly audio commentary by Tim Lucas, who explores themes and motifs, gives in-depth bios of the cast and crew and reveals, among other things, that this sumptuous film was made on a 6-week shooting schedule and that the Villa Sciarra in Rome was used as the primary location for the fashion house and its surrounding park. ~ The highlight, though, is a double bill (56 min altogether) of an old late night TV show called Sinister Image, with David Del Valle interviewing Cameron Mitchell, who went from appearing on stage in the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman to starring in films such as Gorilla At Large. “I could perhaps have been more selective,” he laments. In fact, he seems bewildered by Del Valle’s interest in his horror output and keen to steer the conversation onto the more mainstream titles in his filmography. He does, though, have some interesting and very nice things to say about Bava in the second episode, revealing that the Italian director loved marmalade and used a child’s toy wagon to achieve his clockwork perfect tracking shots. 10/10