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Blood and Black Lace

Blood and Black Lace(1965)

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Italian director Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace did not find success when it opened in its native Italy in March 1964 under its original title Sei donne per l'assassino (Six Women for the Murderer). Critics disparaged the film -- set in a fashion house where beautiful models are gruesomely murdered -- for its unrelenting, shocking brutality. In America, the film was released in 1965 by Allied Artists, virtually uncut, with a poster campaign that promised "the 8 greatest shocks ever filmed!" According to historian Troy Howarth, Blood and Black Lace can be considered "the first-ever slasher film, though the label cheapens Bava's achievement."

Indeed, over the years this picture has achieved cult status, reassessed for its extraordinary visual beauty and admired by generations of filmmakers including John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Bava not only merged striking beauty -- of sets, actors, and Technicolor -- with harrowing sadism, but he imbued the color with meaning and implicated the audience in the violence, choosing not to provide sympathetic characters and portraying the masked killer as more of a "force" than a person. As Phil Hardy has written: "In this picture the audience is no longer asked to care about who gets killed... and the killer, in his featureless mask, is merely the representative of the male spectator as he stalks, one after the other, a series of women guilty of nothing less than provoking desire."

Bava shot the picture in late 1963 and early 1964. American actor Cameron Mitchell, who spearheads the international cast with Hungarian Eva Bartok and German Thomas Reiner, had worked with Bava once before, on Erik the Conqueror (1961), and would reunite with him on Knives of the Avenger (1966). "There was a special chemistry between us," Mitchell later said. "Bava was one of my favorite people on the planet." Mitchell also described the sometimes crude filmmaking devices used by the director. For a striking travelling shot through the fashion house, Mitchell recalled, "our dolly...was a kid's red wagon! And when we had to do a crane type of shot, we didn't have a crane. They literally took something like a seesaw and counterbalanced the camera by sitting crew people on the other end." The result was effective enough to put Bava's unique vision on screen and to shock no end of critics. "Only the most hardened patron can take this kind of drama," said Box Office magazine, even though the extreme violence comes across more in the staging of the murders than in any visible blood.

In his introduction to author Tim Lucas's landmark book on Bava, Martin Scorsese hailed the director for creating art in the most disreputable of genres and effectively distilled Bava's dreamlike artistry. Bava, Scorsese wrote, "places his viewers and his characters in an oddly disquieting state where they're compelled to keep moving forward -- even though they don't know precisely why, or where they're going. The atmosphere itself becomes the principal character, a living organism with a mind and will of its own. Bava was a master craftsman, and he knew how to create a mood, where every sound, every movement of the camera, and every object was weighted with mystery and suspense."

By Jeremy Arnold

Troy Howarth, The Haunted World of Mario Bava
Tim Lucas, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark

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