By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 4, 2019
Released Mar. 14, 1964
Unrated (equal to rated R for violence and thematic elements) – 1hr 28min
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Arianna Gorini
It was a dark and stormy night, and young model Isabella is killed on the grounds of the esteemed Rome fashion house at which she’s employed. While the discovery of her body sets off a fervor, it’s the discovery of her secret diary that sets in motion a campaign of brutal murder by a masked assassin who is terrified of something the woman had learned. However, Isabella had dirt on everybody.
Blood and Black Lace is among the more influential yet lesser seen of the proto-modern horror classics. While its structure is not unlike a ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery, many contributions to the evolution of the horror film can be found here.
Narrative: It’s more of an engaging story of duplicitous and ruthless people than a satisfying mystery, and that’s likely more a matter of its age. The ‘whodunnit’ is not as interesting as the ‘why’, and it makes for a surprising third act.
Acting: Nothing special here. The classical theater-style acting was starting to phase out during this era, but the performances in Blood and Black Lace fall more on the classical side of the line. As such, some may find the characters to be unnaturally wooden or rehearsed
Appearance: Here’s where the movie really shines – it’s got style to spare. Bold and vivid colors are contrasted by the void of concealing shadows, creating a disorienting cacophony of reactions in the viewer. Set design is often used to frame shots in visually pleasing or claustrophobic ways. Long tracking shots are implemented to generate mood, atmosphere, and suspense. The visual influence on later films is apparent throughout.
Horror Elements: Again, the impact that Blood and Black Lace would have upon the genre was substantial. Unlike other similar murder mysteries of the time, director Mario Bava opted here to focus on the killings as opposed to the cycle of accusation and defense. It was a daring and rarely-taken route at that point, and not altogether well-received at release. Refusing to cut away for the sake of sparing the audience greater discomfort, leaving them helpless and in anticipatory dread of the worst possible outcome, was initially loathed. Yet, in a relatively short time, it would become a horror standard – further popularized by Dario Argento (along with the visual style) and other European filmmakers before crossing over to America as the slasher film. Furthermore, Blood and Black Lace may be the first film to prominently feature the stalking masked killer, making its concealed antagonist a direct predecessor to the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. However, it’s not particularly gory – that likely would have been yet another bridge too far – but the physicality of the violence, at times, is still quite shocking.
Misc.: Good luck getting the theme out of your head. It’s 100% Euro-’60s, but it’s very effective here. It is overused though, as virtually the entire score is centered around it.
TL;DR: Blood and Black Lace – with its artistic visuals, macabre themes, and relatively grotesque imagery – is an often overlooked landmark horror film that is a must-see for anyone curious as to how the genre has developed over time. It does have its dated qualities – both in presentation and in social politics – so it might be of considerably lesser value to anyone predisposed to disliking ‘old stuff’.