Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Arianna Gorini, Mary Arden, Franco Ressel, Claude Dantes, Luciano Pigozzi, Lea Lander, Massimo Righi, Francesca Ungaro, Giuliano Raffaelli, Harriet Medin, Mary Carmen
Written by: Marcello Fondato, Giuseppe Barilla, Mario Bava
Directed by: Mario Bava
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 14/03/1964

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Rip Gloss

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace is one of the earliest examples of the Italian genre known as "giallo," as well as one of the earliest slasher films. It takes place in a fashion boutique, owned by Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max (Cameron Mitchell); this high-glamour façade covers a multitude of sins, including drugs, cheating, and abortions. Someone begins knocking off fashion models one by one while everyone tries to get their hands on a secret diary; everyone looks guilty, and so it's not easy to find the killer.

Bava was never known for the strength of his stories -- which may be the single reason he is not better known and appreciated today -- but Blood and Black Lace is actually one of his stronger narratives, a dark mystery building to a memorable payoff.

It's one of Bava's most accomplished works, executed with a dazzling, unprecedented use of bright colors and deep shadows (sometimes both at once). The killer wears a very creepy, faceless mask, and mannequins are constantly on display, not to mention the grim, reserved countenance of the models; this gives the entire production a weird quality, which is broken only when the characters meet their maker.

The violence is surprisingly brutal for its day, and still has the power to shock, especially given the stoic beauty of the rest of the film. Herschell Gordon Lewis made his infamous Blood Feast the previous year, but its blast of gore does not have the same power as this more painterly work. Bava was still ahead of his time when he revisited the serial killer genre seven years later with Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) (a.k.a. Bay of Blood).

VCI Entertainment released a DVD back in 2001, packed with extras and supervised by Bava expert Tim Lucas. I still have that DVD in my library, even though it has dated badly. I was thrilled to learn that VCI would be releasing a new two-disc edition in 2010, but the news is not all good. The movie now has an entire disc to itself, getting more space for sound and picture quality, with the extras on their own second disc. And the picture is now 16:9 enhanced, except that it looks as if the old picture were merely zoomed in, rather than being remastered for widescreen TVs. Also, the new disc no longer has Lucas' liner notes from the original. But until this classic is taken seriously, either of these discs will do fine.

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