Saturday, October 17, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: A Laundry List of Suspects in Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace

It's a windy, stormy night, and a fashion house is active with models and designers and the like. One of the models, Isabella, is on her way to work when she is attacked and killed by someone wearing a mask to disguise any features. Upon discovery of the woman's body, the police are notified, and everyone at the fashion house is questioned. It seems that maybe things will return to normal. That is, until one of the models stumbles upon Isabella's diary. Apparently everyone wants to get hold of this diary, but none more desperately than the killer.

Mario Bava's
Blood and Black Lace (1964) is one of the earliest examples of both Italian giallo films and the so-called "slasher" genre. Giallo is Italian for "yellow," which originated from paperback crime novels identified by yellow covers. The Italian films labeled as such were most often thrillers or horror films, or as we Americans may call them, slashers. While many films -- such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) or another Bava effort Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) (1971) -- may have influenced or inspire
d early slasher films, Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) is generally considered the movie which sparked a run of slasher films in the early to mid-80s (Wes Craven's Scream generated a similar result in 1996). Slasher films are primarily categorized by a systematic killing of characters, and it is these individual murder sequences which provide the true focal point for the films.

While Bava's movie can certainly be characterized as a slasher picture, Blood and Black Lace included an important element that many slasher films of the '80s neglected: the "whodunit." The opening credits indicate the actors' names with each actor posing, almost like a line-up. This is furthered by the police interrogating the fashion house employees, making sure each person states his/her name and presenting the audience with a clear list of suspects. The movie's best sequence is after a model named Peggy discovers Isabella's diary. She tells everyone that she will take it to the police and subsequently places it in her purse. Peggy's purse suddenly becomes its own character, and there are plenty of close-ups of the models, et al., eyeing the purse, knowing it contains the diary. In many of the slasher films of the whodunit variety, viewers can frequently narrow the suspects down to one, maybe two people. In Blood and Black Lace, it seems that everyone has a reason to kill everyone else. The audience has to wait until the end to see who is left alive.

In spite of the multitude of characters, Bava does a splendid job of keeping them all in check. Names are given (quite directly sometimes, when the police have suspects lined up), and the director spotlights particular characters at the appropriate times. Best of all, Bava does not overstep his directorial bounds and make the viewers feel as if he is drilling the information into their collective heads. It's an impressive feat, especially back in 1964, when
gialli and slasher movies were not common genres and had no real format.

Before becoming a director, Mario Bava was a cinematographer, and this is abundantly clear in Blood and Black Lace.
Even the most inferior DVD or VHS transfer cannot spoil the rich, gorgeous colors of Bava's films. So many scenes include bright greens, blues and reds, sometimes as strange lights inexplicably flashing, creating a surreal, hypnotic experience. Like many Italian films, the movie suffers a little from second-rate English dubbing (even though it was actually filmed in English), but Eva Bartok as Christina -- owner of the fashion house -- is terrific and easily steals the movie. Bava's son, Lamberto Bava, worked as an assistant director on his father's films before directing his own, such as his own giallo, A Blade in the Dark (1983).


  1. Sark, I have never seen BLACK AND BLACK LACE…and so your review underscores one of my favorite things about the Café. That’s learning about movies that I haven’t seen. This one is high on my list of want-to-watch pics because I have seen some of Bava’s other films: his eerie black & white chiller BLACK SUNDAY and his colorful, decidedly offbeat HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (with Chris Lee…but not in the title role!). The whodunit angle in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE makes it sound more like Dario Argento than many of the later English-language slasher films, to include the current crop of recycled fodder. I really enjoyed this post! (By the way, I have seen Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, which had a clever tie-in with one of his Dad’s earlier films.)

  2. I've never seen this movie -- now I must! You never cease to amaze me with your fabulous writing! If you ever do a book, tell me! I'll buy it in a minute!

  3. Sark, this is truly an intriguing blog. Your research is quite fun to read. It is interesting to hear of a slasher film taking on a "whodunit" perspective. This makes the film more appealing to me because I love a good mystery. I am curious as to the title, though. Blood is self-explanatory but Black Lace could mean a number of things. Are the victims only female? Does black lace provide a clue to the killer? Thank you for your exemplary writing. I always look forward eagerly to reading your post!

  4. Thanks for the compliments, everyone! Rick, Mario Bava has made plenty of excellent films. In addition to the ones you mentioned, he made BLACK SABBATH, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (a misleading English title, as a hatchet never appears in the film), and SHOCK, starring Daria Nicolodi, the longtime lady friend of Dario Argento. Gilby, I doubt a book of mine would sell, due to my below average intelligence and skill, but thank you so much for saying you would buy a copy! toto, maybe the BLACK LACE provides a clue and maybe it doesn't. You'll have to watch to find out... :)

  5. Sark, I also love a good mystery.Wonderful review.