Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l'assassino)

Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay:Giusseppe Barilla, Marcel Fonda, Marcello Fondato, & Mario Bava
Stars: Mitchell (Max Marian), Eva Bartok (Contessa Cristina), Mary Dawne Arden(Peggy), Dante DiPaolo (Frank Sacalo), Lea Krugher (Isabella), Ariana Gorini (Nicole),Giuliano Raffaelli (Zanchin), Thomas Reiner (Inspector Sylvester), Franco Ressel (MarquisRichard Morell), Massimo Righti (Marco)
MPAA Rating:NR
Year of Release: 1964
Country: Italy
Blood and Black Lace Poster

The work of Mario Bava, often considered the grandfather of Italian horror, was largelymisunderstood while he was alive. Although his first film, 1960's Black Sunday(La maschera del demonio), received a warm critical reception during its initialrelease, many of his subsequent films did not, including Blood and Black Lace(Sei donne per l'assassino). For instance, in his otherwise excellent andperceptive history of horror and science fiction films of the classical era (1895-1967), CarlosClarens misses the mark completely when he describes Blood and Black Lace as afilm with "minimal plot" that "consists of a string of brutal murders, each staged with relishand in the most redolent hues, attesting to the fact that Bava is simply trying to titillate a veryspecialized segment of his audience that requires neither rhyme nor reason."

Although the film does consist chiefly of "a string of brutal murders" that are certainly"staged with relish and in the most redolent hues," it is a gross understatement to assume thatBava is sinking to some lowest common denominator in order to titillate viewers. Unlike therash of slasher films in the 1980s for which Blood and Black Lace served as aforerunner and model, Bava's film is a complex murder mystery raised to a higher levelthrough artistry and innovation.

Blood and Black Lace is generally considered the first giallo, Italianmystery thrillers that feature graphic violence. The name itself is derived from lurid Italianpaperbacks, the covers of which were always yellow. Thus, unlike most slasher films,Blood and Black Lace is set up as a mystery--a whodunit with a significant bodycount. While there is plenty of violence throughout the film (six beautiful women aremurdered in unique and sadistic ways), the violence is but one element of the larger whole. Itis not, like some horror films, the sole reason for its being.

The majority of the story takes place at the Christian Haute Couture, a fashion salon in Romerun by Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok). In the opening scene, a young model named Isabella(Lea Krugher) is murdered outside the salon by someone dressed in a black trench-coat andfedora whose face is covered by a white mask of cloth, which gives the impression of awaxen, featureless visage. It turns out that Isabella had kept a diary in which she recountedthe dark secrets of everyone involved the fashion salon. Her small red diary, which changeshands numerous times and becomes a prized object for many (which is why so manycharacters come under suspicion of the murder), contains information about affairs,blackmail, abortions, and drug use.

However, as the diary changes hands, the death toll grows. One by one, each model ismurdered in a particularly nasty way (the worst being one woman who is burned to death byhaving her face pressed against a red-hot stove), and at various times, the shadow ofsuspicion falls on different characters. At one point, the frustrated police detective in chargeof the investigation (Thomas Reiner) holds five men in prison because he thinks any one ofthem may be the culprit ... and another murder still occurs.

As with Bava's other films, Blood and Black Lace is a visual marvel. Even thosewho find the story and violent imagery repulsive cannot help but admire Bava's skill behindthe camera. A former cinematographer, Bava had an intricate working knowledge of theeffectiveness of lighting and shadow, and he bathes his horror film in showy Technicolorthat gives an aura of professionalism and technical polish that betrays the film's meagerbudget. (The acting, however, is not particularly good; many of the performances are stiffand unconvincing, with the exceptions of Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok.)

Appropriately enough, the dominate color in Blood and Black Lace is red, fromthe crimson curtains that adorn much of the fashion salon, to Isabella's diary cover, to theblood of the victims. Bava gives the film a distinctly modern feel (in contrast to his earlierfilms, such as Whip and the Body, which take place in historical contexts), but hestill manages to incorporate classic whodunit motifs such as hidden passageways and anominous underground catacomb. He generates suspense and tension by complete control ofthe camera; although always in motion in complex tracking shots and sudden zooms, heexpertly trains the lens only on that which he wants you to see. At times, the killer is readilyvisible in the corner of the frame, but you don't notice the figure until it is right on top of thevictim because Bava keeps your interest focused elsewhere.

Like Hitchock's Vertigo (1958), the screenplay for Blood and BlackLace takes a serious gamble in revealing the solution to the mystery well before the endof the film. While it does not take place halfway through the narrative, the identity of theblack-clad murderer is revealed with a good 20 minutes left in the film, which opens newpossibilities and reveals further complications in motive and deception. Although thecomplete narrative is not as clear as it probably could have been, Blood and BlackLace maintains the ability to surprise right up until the very end, which is always thehallmark of a good giallo.

Blood and BlackLace: Uncut European Version DVD

AudioDolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
Supplements Audiocommentary with Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog editor and Mario Bava biographer
Separate musical score
Photo gallery
Original theatrical trailer (English, French, Italian)
Theatrical trailers for Erik the Conqueror and Whip and the Body
French title sequence
American title sequence
Interview with Cameron Mitchell
Interview with Mary Dawne Arden
Cast and crew biographies/filmographies
DistributorVCI HomeVideo

Blood and Black Lace is presented in a newwidescreen transfer in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and in its complete, uncutform. Bava's visually striking use of Technicolor is well rendered, and the extensive use ofthe color red, which proves problematic on some transfers, is kept in check. The image iswell saturated, and the more intense colors resist bleeding and there is hardly any grain to befound. There appears to have been a slight amount of fading, and some of the darker scenesare lacking in the sharpness and clarity of the well-lit scenes. This is likely due to theunfortunate fact that the transfer is not anamorphic, which greatly reduces the potentialresolution.

The disc has the option of viewing the film in either Englishor Italian (with optional English subtitles). The film was originally shot with the actorsspeaking English, and all of the dialogue was dubbed in both languages duringpostproduction. Both soundtracks, rendered in Dolby 1.0 monaural, sound relatively good,despite the inherent limitations. Carlo Rustichelli's jazzy score is a little overbearing at times,but generally well-rendered (some of the higher tones tend to be a bit tinny). The dialogue isalways clear and understandable, although not particularly satisfying due to the fact that itwas all looped.

VCI Home Video has put together a nice array ofsupplements for this much-anticipated release. Tim Lucas, editor of VideoWatchdog, a publication for video collectors and fans of paracinema, contributes ascreen-specific audio commentary in which he discusses the film in detail, from the historiesof the actors to Bava's unique filming style. Lucas is lucent and interesting in his discussion,and he adds a great deal of depth and nuance to what many people would like to write off asjust another sadistic horror movie.

The disc also features two interviews. One, with actor Cameron Mitchell, appears to havebeen done sometime in the mid-1980s on a TV show called Sinister Image hostedby journalist David Del Valle. Mitchell is energetic, if a bit incoherent in what he says, as hepraises Mario Bava and the experience he had working with him. The other interview, withactress Mary Dawne Arden (who played Peggy, the model who dies by being burned todeath on the stove), is more of a direct address to the viewer. Arden, who is now an imageconsultant and communications instructor at New York University, details her experienceworking with Bava and what she has been up to for the past 37 years.

Also included is a photo gallery of production stills and international poster art (while thecollection is good, the pictures are too small to see well). The disc also features theatricaltrailers for Blood and Black Lace in English, Italian, and French, as well as bonustrailers of two other Bava films, Erik the Conqueror and Whip and theBody (which is also available on DVD from VCI). You can also watch the originalcredits sequence for the French and American versions of the film. The French versionseems to be exactly the same as the Italian version, with the exception that the credits are inFrench, while the American version is an entirely different montage of images.

For fans of the film's soundtrack, the DVD features four musical tracks for the film scorewhich are presented in stereo. Lastly, the disc features brief biographies and selectedfilmographies for Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Mary Dawne Arden, and Mario Bava.

Copyright ©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

© 1998 - 2023 - All logos and trademarks in this site are the property of their respective owner.