Blood and Black Lace, 1964.
Directed by Mario Bava.
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Ariana Gorini, Francesca Ungaro.
A fashion house full of beautiful models becomes the setting for a bloodbath at the hands of a mysterious killer.
The film most recognised as kickstarting the giallo genre, Mario Bava’s 1964 thriller Blood & Black Lace has been given a complete restoration by Arrow Films, and if any of Bava’s films – particularly his earlier works – lend themselves to such a task than this is it. Not because it is a film that needs to be tidied up as much as it is such a visually striking film that not to be able to see it in as vivid and clean a print as possible would be as much of a crime as the events in it.
Like many of the giallo films that followed it, Blood & Black Lace isn’t very plot-heavy; in fact it has the sort of plot that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Murder, She Wrote as it really is a simple whodunnit. On a stormy night, an employee at a fashion boutique is murdered by a mysterious masked killer, who then begins to stalk and kill several of the employees as it comes to light that the murdered girl kept a diary, a diary that seemed to detail a lot of things about a lot of people who work in the boutique.
But the plot of Blood & Black Lace plays second fiddle to Bava’s stylish execution of the material. The use of colour is as important to the narrative as the characters and their actions, and Bava’s experience as a cinematographer comes through as he fills the screen with a variety of lush reds, greens, yellows and purples to create an atmosphere and sense of dread whilst innovating with his fluid camera movements and obscure angles.
Needless to say, with the restoration that Arrow have done this all looks quite spectacular and is probably the best looking of their Mario Bava releases yet and as a film it certainly ranks as one you should see, although in terms of entertainment value on repeat viewings it may have been overtaken by many of the films that it inspired. However, this bumper package also includes numerous special features, including Psycho Analysis, a feature-length documentary featuring contributions from such notables as Dario Argento (Deep Red) and Lamberto Bava (Demons) about Blood & Black Lace, its influence and the giallo in general. That alone should be enough of a treat but there are also several other featurettes to get excited about, such as a Mario Bava panel discussion, a visual essay exploring the social impact of the giallo, a programme about star Cameron Mitchell and the 2012 short film Yellow plus the usual Arrow Video collector’s booklet, which features writings on the film by Italian film expert Howard Hughes and an interview with director Joe Dante. It’s a great package for collectors and also serves as a superb introduction to Mario Bava and Italian filmmaking for those not yet familiar. although in this case it is the extra features that may hold more long-term appeal over a film that is technically brilliant but ultimately not as exciting as the sum of its parts suggests it should be.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★