Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Dante DiPaolo, Mary Arden, Franco Ressel, Claude Dantes, Luciano Pigozzi, Lea Leander, Massimo Righi, Francesca Ungaro, Guiliano Raffaelli, Harriet Medin, Mary Carmen
It is a dark and stormy night, and at the high fashion salon of Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok), there are a few people who wish to see one of the models, Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), who has not arrived for the show rehearsals as of yet. Two of those people want to see her because she supplies drugs to them, but her bosses are growing impatient with her non-appearance for more professional reasons. However, Isabella will never show up, not alive at any rate, because after her taxi dropped her off at the mansion's gates, she was followed and murdered by a masked figure - and she will not be the last...
Blood and Black Lace has an important place in the history of horror movies and thrillers, because it was here that the idea of joining horror violence to thriller suspense and plotting was first thought up. Certainly there had been prototype old dark house thrillers that aimed to chill, and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None formed the template for much of this kind of shocker to come, but it took the inspired director Mario Bava to pick up this notion and truly run with it. So it was here that all those much-maligned, and in turn much admired, giallo and slasher movies got their start; whether you think that's a good thing or not was a matter of taste.
What is inarguable is the immense style that Bava brought to the table, not something that his followers were always able to match to any great sufficiency, but setting the bar high for anyone who chose to imitate him, and there were plenty of those. The whole set up involves the glamorous deaths of beautiful women, something the Inspector (Thomas Reiner) investigating after the discovery of Isabella's body in a wardrobe puts down to the killer being a "sex maniac". The thought of such deviants were rare in cinema thrillers until Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho came along, but the use of a term like that here turns out to be an example of misdirection.
That said, it does provide Bava all the excuse he needed to decoratively present his screen murders with a flair not often seen outside the work of, well, Mr Hitchcock, and even he wouldn't go quite as far as Bava did here until Frenzy a few years later, a film that repaid the debt to the Italians who were so in the thrall of the Master of Suspense. The killings here range from death by iron claw glove to burning on a red hot stove, all very nasty, but somehow weirdly palatable in the context of the drama due to the elegance of their assembly. There's no doubt that they were the reason this film was made, and they prove the most memorable aspect.
Where the rest of the film falls down is in the bits in between. The dialogue leans heavily on the exposition side of things, where the characters basically explain the machinations of the narrative so we can understand who has a motive, or, in the final third, why the murders have occured at all. Funnily enough, the big reveal is not held back until the very end, as we find out who is behind the scheming at the sixty minute mark or thereabouts, and the rest shows how they get their comeuppance. The appearance of Cameron Mitchell will set alarm bells ringing among those seasoned viewers of the kind of trash he starred in when he wasn't in The High Chapparal, but if you haven't seen this before don't get too complacent as it doesn't pan out the way you might expect. A pioneer in its field, Blood and Black Lace is satisfying in its imagery, if not entirely when the suspects discuss their predicament. Music by Carlo Rustichelli.
Images: Marcus Brooks
Images: Marcus Brooks