Friday, May 4, 2012

Mario Bava Box Set: Blood and Black Lace (1964): Vintage DVD Review

Blood and Black Lace
Movie rating: 9/10
DVD rating: 10/10
Release Date: 1964
Running Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Rating: N/A
Distributor: VCI Home Video
List Price: $24.99 individually or $59.99 as part of the three film Mario Bava Box Set

Disc Details
Special Features:
Widescreen, uncut European version with scenes never shown in America before.
Scene Selection.
Biographies of Cameron Mitchell, Eve Bartok (What a Life!), Luciano Pagozzi (the Italian Peter Lorre), Mary Dawne Arden, and Mario Bava.
American, French and Italian Trailers.
Extra Mario Bava Trailers.
Excellent commentary track by Tim Lucas.
Photo Gallery.
Bonus Musical track.
Video Format:
Anamorphic Widescreen
English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
English, Spanish.
Sides: 1-Disc Keep Case


Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) questions some future victims in Blood and Black Lace. Of the three Mario Bava films available in the "Mario Bava Box Set" from VCI, I've saved my favorite for last. "Blood and Black Lace" is a landmark in the history of horror films for being the first 'body count' movie. Bava's suspenseful movie was the harbinger of the slasher craze of the 70s and 80s. Elements of "Blood and Black Lace" can be found in the "Friday the 13th" films. "Scream" also incorporated important elements from this 1964 classic. Set in the world of Italian high fashion, "Blood and Black Lace" deals with a series of violent murders of the young fashion models.

Contessa Cristina (Eve Bartok) owns 'Christiana Haute Couture,' one of Italy's top fashion salons. Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) is the manager of Cristina's empire. The film opens the night before and important show. Isabelle (Lea Lander) arrives at the estate only to be brutally strangled and dragged off into the woods. Another model, Nicole (Ariana Gorini) is shown sneaking outside to meet her cocaine addicted boyfriend, Franco (Dante Di Paolo) just prior to the murder. Franco is feeling the weight of the monkey on his back. Nicole can't help him at the time. She suggests he see Isabelle. Franco responds that he did see her, but she took what he had and used it herself. He slinks off into the shadows to wait for Nicole to score. In the background we see, Marco (Massimo Righi) the handyman. He fixes a broken sign. After completing his job he enters the house and runs into Cristina. Marco is in obvious pain. The source of his pain becomes apparent when he rushes into a back room and is seen taking pills in silhouette. Later that night, Cristina discovers the body of Isabelle stuffed in a wardrobe. Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) arrives and interrogates each of the models, designers and other hangers on. Later that night Nicole discovers Isabelle's diary in front of everyone. What secrets does the diary hold? In a wonderful montage, each of the main characters keep an eye on Nicole's purse which contains Isabelle's diary. Needless to say Nicole is not long for the world, but does she still have the diary, and what secrets does it hold?

Bava's genius as a filmmaker is perfectly displayed by the above-mentioned action. In the first ten minutes of "Blood and Black Lace" Bava has introduced all of the main characters, shown the first murder and set up the second (and third fourth, fifth .....), planted suspicion for the killing on most of the cast, and in doing so changed the face of horror films forever. As I mentioned in the reviews of the other Bava films in this boxed set, Bava's background was as a painter. His use of color, lights and shadows, and frame composition are all utilized to maximize suspense and terror. Unlike Hitchcock in "Psycho" Bava chose to shoot "Blood and Black Lace" in color. This decision paved the way for future horror directors like Dario Argento, Sean S. Cunningham, Sam Raimi and multitudes of others. Like Hitchcock, Bava storyboarded the entire movie before filming one frame. His meticulous eye for detail shows in every frame. Once again, Bava's images of mayhem are accented by the rich music of Carlo Rustichelli.

There has been much debate about violence against women in film and its relation to real violence against women. "Blood and Black Lace" is packed with scenes of violence against women. A strong argument can be made that the scenes have an erotic quality to them. So, you may ask, why would I recommend this movie? I fall on the "if you don't want to watch violence, then turn it off" side of the debate. In criminal law, "entrapment" occurs when the police overwhelm a person with temptation to the point that they do something they would otherwise not do. It is a very rare occurrence despite what Hollywood would have you believe. I don't believe that a person would watch "Blood and Black Lace" or any other slasher type film and then go commit murder. Those who get ideas for methods of killing and torture from film and then carry them out in real life were predisposed to do so, and would have done so whether they saw a violent movie or not. That is what I believe. I may be wrong. I don't believe that we should censor film content based on the lowest common denominator. If we did you would be reading a review of "Barney Goes to the Circus" right now. Editorial content aside, I loved this movie. It includes the brutal killings of many women, but so does the Bible.

Bava created several stunning set pieces of mayhem. Each killing has its own unique style, lighting and pacing. Bava's movie started a style of Italian film called the "Giallo." Giallos were lurid mysteries similar to the American Pulps of the 30s and 40s. The Giallos were characterized by exploitive and titillating cover illustrations. Bava translated these illustrations into his cinema and thereby created a form of cinema which continues to this day in Italy. Two set pieces stand out above the rest. This is an accomplishment considering the effort Bava put into each of the films set pieces. My favorite takes place in a deserted antique store at night. A green neon light from a dance club across the street flashes on and off. The Nicole searches through the deserted store in search for her boyfriend. Something else waits for her. Halfway through the sequence, Bava chose to end the music and rely on the sounds of the hunter and prey. This is a long and elaborate sequence which keeps the viewer on the end of their seat. The second set piece which stands out involves the sudden death of Tao-Li (Claude Dantes) in a bathroom. The scene is short in duration, but powerful in its impact. It is the only murder which has not been set up ahead of time. The viewer is suddenly thrust into the last few seconds of the young woman's life. This jarring cut from calm and serenity to violence and desperation is as powerful a scene as Bava has put on film.

Bava's brilliance is also apparent in many more subtle ways. There is a one minute sequence during the fashion show which is done in one shot. The camera travels around the room, characters walk in and out of frame, the action shifts from one character to another. What is more amazing about this scene is that the film crew couldn't afford a crane or dolly. The camera was attached to a child's red wagon. The shot is as smooth and precise as if a stedi-cam had been used. Another amazing fact is that "Blood and Black Lace" was made for around $135,000.00. "Blood and Black Lace" has the look and production values of a much more expensive film. I watched the movie last night with my two teenagers. My daughter said in her typically jaded way, "Oh no, not another old movie." I told her to leave if she didn't want to watch. She stayed, she was scared, she liked it. You will too.

The Disc

The best of Bava. VCI has gone to a lot of trouble restoring the Bava films. This is the jewel in their Bava crown. Lovers of the genre must have this boxed set. Hey VCI, how about a Boxed set of the Horror films of the late Michael Reeves. He only made three before he died at age 29.

Picture Quality: 10/10

Color was so important to Bava. He a master of color cinematography. VCI has done the master proud by painstakingly working on this film until it was perfect. Thanks VCI for not rushing to put out an inferior product. Film buffs will reward this dedication.

Sound Quality: 10/10

Crisp and clear. Rustichelli's music alone is worth the price.

Menu: 10/10

Nice incorporation of the films music, images and tone. Easy navigation.

Extra Features: 10/10

The commentary track is great. As with, "The Whip and the Body" Tim Lucas gives the viewer insight into the work of a master. Mr. Lucas' passion for his subject matter shows. This is a work of love.

The Final Word:

If you haven't figured it out by now, I love horror movies. I may rate this a little higher than a non-fan. Those who love horror movies will love this. Kudos to VCI Home Video Inc. for their work in finding, restoring and making available to the public this horror classic. "Blood and Black Lace" is available individually and as part of a boxed set of three Mario Bava films. I got the boxed set, and am very pleased with all three films. One of my favorite reference books is Phil Hardy's "Encyclopedia of Horror Movies." My appetite for European horror movies was whetted by Mr. Hardy's book. My thanks to VCI for making the original European versions of some of these films available.

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