Cast & Crew
Cristina and her lover Max Martan own a luxurious fashion salon which is a coverup for illegal activities such as traffic in drugs. Isabella, a model, is strangled, and when Nicole, her roommate, finds her diary, she too is murdered by a masked killer. Next, Peggy is tortured and killed; and after Peggy's death, another woman is murdered. It is divulged that Martan was responsible for the murder of the four women, and he convinces Cristina to murder a fifth, Tao-li, as she attempts to escape. Coveting Cristina's wealth, Martan then arranges for her to fall from a balcony, but before dying, Cristina manages to telephone the police and shoot Martan.
Dante Di Paolo
Blood and Black Lace
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
Blood and Black Lace
Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace on DVD
Isabella, a model at the Christian fashion salon, is brutally murdered by a masked figure clad in black. The police find themselves with an abundance of suspects, as almost everyone working at or associated with the salon has something to hide. More murders follow when Isabella's secret diary is discovered by another of the models. Determined to crack the case, the police round up all of their suspects and hold them overnight-but the killer strikes yet again.
As Tim Lucas points out in his excellent commentary track, Blood and Black Lace was influenced by the huge success of Psycho, with its shocking murder scenes, and the popular Edgar Wallace "krimi" films that were then being made in West Germany. In addition to devising more elaborate and violent murder scenes to "top" Hitchock, Bava and screenwriter Marcello Fondato appear to have focused their efforts on subverting audience expectations. There are few sympathetic characters and no pretty young heroine. There is no brilliant detective who solves the mystery and explains everything to the audience. There are almost no clues to follow, and the one that would traditionally be the key to story-the diary-is quickly destroyed.
Bava and Fondato successfully avoid genre cliches, but they create a new problem: there is little in the script to engage the audience emotionally or intellectually. None of the many characters get enough screen time for us to develop much of an interest in them; most are either killed or simply disappear from the story after two or three scenes. Character development is usually limited to a few lines of dialogue explaining who someone is, then a few more lines later on revealing whatever secret he or she is concealing. Trying to unravel the mystery is essentially pointless, since we aren't given sufficient information to deduce the killer's identity, just a lot of suspicious behavior to mislead us.
Ultimately, Blood and Black Lace is only truly engaging on the aesthetic level. Fortunately, this is Bava's strong suit, and he imbues the film with a rich, sensuous visual style that makes one willing to overlook flaws in the script. Most commentators on the film single out its bold use of color, for good reason. Throughout the 30's, 40's and 50's, it was widely believed that black & white was best for dark, moody subjects, while color was best for musicals and historical spectacles. Bava defies convention and employs color in vivid, at times expressionistic, ways for his suspense thriller. The most memorable example is perhaps the scene in which a model, Nicole (Ariana Gorini), is pursued by the killer in an antiques shop at night. Most of the scene is lit with a flashing green light (supposedly from a neon sign outside); other parts of the shop are bathed in magenta. The effect is to transform the everyday location into a nightmare landscape, the familiar into something grotesque and threatening. Bava also uses color in more subtle ways, with black and red, colors associated with death and blood, accenting scenes in key pieces of décor and wardrobe throughout the film. Bright red female mannequins, for example, appear in the fashion salon, suggesting the blood that runs just underneath the skin and the terrible vulnerability of the human form.
Color is by no means the only stylistic tool Bava uses. Elegant tracking and crane shots, reportedly created with a child's wagon and improvised teeter-totter rigs, prowl through the sets. Compositions create an uneasy sense of vulnerability during the suspense scenes. In the aforementioned sequence in the antiques shop, for example, Bava frames the clutter of the environment to evoke both the feeling of a maze and to suggest dozens of possible hiding places for the killer. Fortunately, crash zooms, a technique Bava overused in some of his later work, are used sparingly in Blood and Black Lace. Shock cuts, used endlessly in today's horror films, are also used with discretion. When they do appear they have maximum impact, as when Bava abruptly cuts to one of the murders already in progress, the victim staring at the viewer in an unforgettable close-up. All in all the film is a stunning showcase for Bava's directorial talents.
The cast, including Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Dante DiPaolo and Mary Arden, do the best they can with their underwritten parts. Most of the male roles have defining quirks-drug addiction, unrequited love, etc.-that allow the actors to sketch their characters in quick strokes. Eva Bartok gives the standout performance as Christina Como, manager of the salon. Bartok has remarkably expressive eyes that convey fear, dread, remorse and longing far more effectively than any dialogue ever could. Also contributing greatly to the film is Carlo Rustichelli's score, built around a tango theme first heard in the opening credits. Fans will be happy to learn that the score is about to be released on CD, paired with Rustichelli's score for Bava's The Whip and the Body (La Frusta e il Corpo, 1963).
VCI's 2-disc DVD of Blood and Black Lace, which they are calling the "Unslashed Collector's Edition", is a reworking of their earlier release from 2000. The transfer appears to be culled from a release print (possibly more than one) and not pre-print elements. The image is slightly soft and contrasty, with dark areas that are a little murky and lacking detail. The color is fair. Hues are a little on the blue side, but reasonably accurate. The color is slightly more garish than Bava intended, lacking the more subtle gradations of color found in the best Bava transfers. Overall, it looks as if faded source materials have been pumped up by the colorist. (In some shots, skin tones almost glow.) There are many superficial scratches and other minor damage throughout the film, particularly at reel changes, but most of it is unobtrusive. VCI's earlier disc was flat letterboxed. This new release is 16 x 9 enhanced, but the mediocre resolution and significant video grain makes it look as if a flat transfer has been bumped up and reformatted. At 57 minutes into the film, two brief flat letterboxed shots appear, further suggesting that this may not be a true 16 x 9 transfer.
The disc offers a selection of English, Italian and French dialogue tracks. The Italian offers the overall best sound and is recommended by this reviewer as the preferred listening choice. The English track, in which almost all of the male parts are dubbed by legendary voice artist Paul Frees, is fairly clear for a 40-year old dub track to a low-budget film. The synch is a little loose, which is not uncommon for a dubbed film, but during the final scene it seems significantly off. The French track sounds the worst, with tinny dialogue. Note that when using the remote to select audio tracks (instead of choosing from the menu), the Italian track is mistakenly labeled as the French, and vice-versa. The English subtitles are based upon the English dub track instead of being a translation of the Italian; Spanish subtitles are also available.
There are many extras, most of them ported over from the earlier release. Disc One features Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas' exemplary commentary, the American trailer, some brief text biographies and trailers for other VCI releases. Disc Two has an excerpt from an interview with Cameron Mitchell conducted by David Del Valle, a video interview with Mary Dawne Arden, foreign trailers, alternate title sequences, a still and poster gallery, music tracks from the score, and a comparison of the film's cut and uncut versions.
For fans who already own the earlier release, this disc is not enough of an improvement to merit a new purchase. However, for those who do not yet own the film, the low retail price ($14.99) makes the disc a good bargain in spite of the shortcomings of the transfer. The uninitiated may want to consider a rental first, as the strong violent content is definitely not for all tastes.
by Gary Teetzel
Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace on DVD
Released in Italy in 1964 as Sei donne per l'assassino; in Paris in December 1964 as Six femmes pour l'assassin at 85 min; in West Germany in November 1964 as Blutige Seide at 88 min. The following appear under pseudonyms: Arrigo Breschi (Harry Brest), Ubaldo Terzano (Herman Tarzana), Mario Serandrei (Mark Suran), Carlo Rustichelli (Carl Rustic), Marcello Fondata (Marcel Fondat), and Alfredo Mirabile (Alfred Mirabel). U. S. prerelease title: Fashion House of Death.
Released in United States Spring April 2, 1964
Released in United States April 2, 1965
Formerly distributed by Allied Artists.
Formerly distributed by Woolner Bros Pictures.
Released in United States Spring April 2, 1964
Released in United States April 2, 1965 (Chicago)