This Blu-ray does justice to the inventive photography and elaborate set-piece murders
Blood and Black Lace Film Review
The models at a super-trendy Italian fashion house are being picked-off, one by one, by a mysterious masked killer in Mario Bava’s legendary 1964 Giallo trendsetter.In Blood and Black Lace the butchered bodies of beautiful women keep on turning up. All those still alive appear to have a secret or two. The police are left blundering about with a host of twitchy suspects. Everyone seems determined to get hold of the first victim’s diary because the vital clues to the murder’s identity could well be in there. And all concerned smoke endless cigarettes. Bava’s flamboyant direction and showboating visual invention smooth over the red-herring stuffed, and really rather silly screenplay to create a hyper-stylish and hugely influential thriller that would set the template for the iconic Spaghetti genre to come. It is all here in its embryonic form, ready to influence a generation of filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.There's the set-piece murders, the savage misogyny, the array of potential killers, the sinister black gloves and the convoluted and elaborate plot. But what makes this brutal foundation so indelibly cool is the colourful and baroque opulence in which Bava bathes it. The palette is a Technicolor dreamcoat of dark dreams and even darker deeds, all made sumptuous by its creator’s dazzling use of lighting, audacious photography and neo-gothic sensibility. Carnage would not be this ravishing to behold until Dario Argento took the baton from Bava and carved his own unique signature upon the Giallo. Dripping with atmosphere and smothered in stunning visuals, this is a savage work of art. Stalk ‘n’ slash was born here.
Blu-ray Picture QualityBlood and Black Lace has been restored by Arrow Video to provide what is unmistakably its definitive home presentation. The film has been scanned at 2K from the original camera negative, with numerous instances of dirt and debris cleaned, diminished or removed altogether. The resulting AVC 1.85:1 image is spectacularly colourful, really promoting its lush and dreamy Technicolor palette with beautiful band-free, smear-less primaries, a full range of spectrally blended secondaries and shades that run the gamut from art-deco to menacing to simply radiant. Blood is bright. The intense heat of scalding-hot metal brazier is so striking you would swear your screen is about to melt. Occasionally, the picture appears to have every colour of the rainbow applied to some part or other, creating a truly impressive canvas indeed. And all without any bleeding.
Those fearing digital manipulation can rest easy. The image is not betrayed by artificial sharpening, aliasing or DNR. The film-grain is happily and convincingly discernible, and looks authentic and natural. The print is surprisingly bereft of blemishes, resulting in a picture that is consistently clean and robust and vivid.
There is incredible detail on offer from the image
With all this sensorial opulence going on in the bold and carnival-esque spectrum, it is nice to find that the audacious colour scheme has not detracted from the debauched shadows that populate many corners of the frame. With black levels that are strong and deep, and contrast that is always smoothly delineated, the image feels grounded and marvellously three-dimensional. Even those magical midnight blues permeate the screen with a cool and moody eloquence, unsullied by age or compromised by mistiming. Only one sequence fares less well with regards to colour, clarity and depth, and this is also the only one that takes place in a daytime exterior out in the countryside. A panning shot that moves from the open road to seek out the police investigators is slightly marred by some flickering and the quality of the image during this scene, as a whole, seems to drop down a notch. I have absolutely no doubt at all that is simply down to the source, and it only sticks out because the rest of the film looks so stunning.
There is incredible detail on offer too. Close-ups deliver on all counts, from faces and costumes to set-design and props, and there is clear definition upon such things as billowing drapes and poised mannequins, curling plumes of smoke from the thousand or so cigarettes being puffed-on, the items in a handbag and the writing on the pages of a diary. A woman’s face and eyes as she is being drowned in a bath are startlingly vivid. The stick-on burns for another victim as she is grilled are too. Glimpses of the killer moving through the trees during a ferocious storm at the start are also well rendered, particularly so when you consider they are in the middle-ground of an already deep image that is awash with colour, rain and crazy lighting.
This is a wonderful transfer that does not look boosted or unnecessarily tampered with. It is smooth, detailed, awash with vibrancy and almost constantly gorgeous.
Blu-ray Sound QualityArrow supply two tracks in uncompressed PCM mono – English and Italian (with subs). I stuck with the English track as this is the way that I have always heard the film play.
The audio has been cleaned-up, with pops, hiss and crackle removed or diminished. It all sounds terrific. In fact I didn’t notice anything to complain about other than a slight and solitary drop-out. I have older DVDs of the film, but I haven’t, as yet, checked to see if this admittedly small anomaly is present there too.
I actually love the English dubbed track for this film. Before you get used to it, the dialogue seems to be delivered with such ripeness and overt melodrama that the film gains even more height than that attained by the already decadent visuals. Obviously the lips can be out-of-synch, but the dialogue is always crisp and clear.
And a lot of depth and detail to be enjoyed in the audio too
Even given the limitations of its vintage and the restrictions of being mono, there is a lot of depth and detail to be enjoyed. The opening storm, with the wind unshackling the sign for the fashion house and it creaking from side to side, and branches tossing every which way, has tons of presence, really placing you in the centre of the action. A car alarm is shrill and loud. Burning evidence and then seared flesh have a crispy realism. Gunshots have some punch, albeit muffled. Clattering objects as victims tussle with their killer have a degree of placement even within the confines of the mix. Slaps to the face are, sadly, mistimed and sound very unconvincing, but this is down to the original source and not the transfer.
With Bava painstakingly choreographing the action, it is left to Italian musical maestro Carlo Rustichelli to orchestrate the mood and menace of glamourous models in dire jeopardy. The saxophone and brass really soar on the crime-jazz score, and Rustichelli even provides some nice hints of the Theremin-like Ondes Martinot to add to the spectral quality of the mystery and menace. All elements of the orchestra come through with clarity and detail, leading to a track that is lively and buoyant. The composer had worked with Bava on the awesome The Whip and The Body, and would again for Kill, Baby Kill.
A great track that sounds alive and hugely atmospheric.
Blu-ray ExtrasArrow’s typically lavish approach to such releases continues unabated with the smart reversible sleeve and illustrated booklet, as standard, but the real treasures come with the multitude of featurettes that truly compliment such a landmark giallo picture.
We are blessed to have a brand new commentary from Bava scribe, biographer and authority, Tim Lucas, who graces this release with his usual wealth of trivia, anecdote and in-depth production knowledge, as well as praising this new transfer.
A feature-length documentary entitled Psycho Analysis charts the origins and impact of the iconic giallo genre and contains interviews and insight from acclaimed and cult filmmakers Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava, as well as screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, critics Roberto Curti and Steve Della Casa, and crime novelist Carlo Lucarelli, amongst others.
We get an appreciation of the film and how it translates to the genre that evolved out of it from Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, the creative duo who distilled giallo with their stylish outings Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears.
A fantastic addition is the celebrated short neo-giallo Yellow, from Ryan Hansom and Jon Britt. This Berlin-set shocker has a serial killer being hunted by an obsessive old man. Be warned, however, that there is a severely jolting gore effect early on. You think they won’t show it... but they do! Very stylishly shot and powerfully strange, this also benefits from a mesmeric 80’s synth score. However, I will say that cool as this short is, Hansom and Britt enjoy their visual longeurs a little bit too much, and the piece could have done with being perhaps even shorter still.
Michael Mackenzie provides a unique video essay on the social and moral mores that altered the genre over the sixties and seventies in Gender and Giallo. Some of the major entries are covered in depth using a variety of scenes and clips, often in provocative screen-filling kaleidoscopes of moving images. His observations, as always, are excellently thought-out and delivered.
Argento and Lamberto Bava and Steve Della Casa provide memories and anecdotes about Mario Bava in a piece culled from their panel discussion at the 2014 Courmayeur Film Festival. Some of these tales are long wrought-out and lack the punchline that the deliveries think they are delivering, but there are some intriguing nuggets of trivia to be found here, such as how Bava achieved some of the effects for Argento’s Inferno.
Two full episodes of David Del Valle’s TV show, Sinister Image, devoted to TV and movie star Cameron Mitchell are certainly worth your time and effort. The actor made some strange choices in his life, but really provided some memorable horror outings in what proved to be a diverse oeuvre. From acclaimed stage productions to a long-running role on TV’s The High Chaparral, he’s pretty much everything and met everyone, so it is strange that he is most fondly thought of by genre fans.This is vastly entertaining and full of clips both cheesy and critically dramatic, proving the actor’s dedication and versatility. Mitchell is a fine raconteur and Del Valle an easygoing and witty host.
The US distributors of the film did not think that Bava’s original title sequence, in which the cast are all introduced alongside mannequins in a very arch, knowing and self-conscious manner, was suitably scary enough for a horror-thriller, so they insisted that a different sequence be filmed. More in-keeping with the tone of the movie, this has been sourced from Joe Dante’s own private print and scanned in 2K, and can be viewed as the alternative US opening.
There is also the film’s trailer.
This is a great all-round package that just has to please.
Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray VerdictAfter giving the Giallo genre its cinematic debut with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Bava took it upon himself to create it’s most iconic and long-lasting elements with Blood and Black Lace, forging the whodunit with the bodycount picture and, along with Hitchcock and Psycho pretty much laid the foundation stones for what would become stalk ‘n’ slash.
With its baroque sets, lurid and flamboyant use of Technicolor, inventive photography and elaborate set-piece murders, Lace continues to fascinate and entertain. The large roster of victims and suspects can now seem quite comical – Agatha Christie on acid – but this just adds a welcome element of sheer un-reality to the film’s killing-spree momentum. It is great fun to witness the anguished and desperate looks of a gaggle of potential murderers as seemingly every cast member realises, in unison, that they need to get their mitts on a dead girl’s diary to save them from incrimination in her slaying.
B-movie and drive-in flick legend Cameron Mitchell gives a great performance in one of several pictures he made for Bava during his European stint. Eva Bartok walks that fine line between savvy and vulnerability, empathy and suspicion as the widowed Countess who co-runs the fashion house with him. And it is always cool to see Luciano Pigozzi, the Italian Peter Lorre, get all bug-eyed nervous in an identity parade. Lots of lovely ladies flutter through incendiary and hallucinogenic lighting schemes to come unstuck in the merciless grip of a mystery killer – a figure in black and white cutting a swathe through a garish world. And the lush score from Carlo Rustichelli moves from breezy, cigarette-smoky jazz to sinister serenades for slaughter. It is all good, ghastly fun.
No fan can afford to be without this superb 2K restoration
But although notable for its decorative violence and the often sexualised charge of the attack sequences, I still find the film quite tame, even given its audacious impact at the time of its release, and its continued notoriety. Yet there is no denying that Bava pushed a few boundaries here, especially with regards to the treatment of the female victims, giving future filmmakers and the genre, as a whole, that mostly undeniable moniker of outright misogyny. Dario Argento was certainly as enraptured by this element as much as he was by the striking visual style that Bava delivered, as would be revealed when he commenced on his own cinematic massacres the following decade.
Whilst the police procedural aspect of the story is painfully protracted and stuffed with truly awfully written and eye-rollingly duff detective work, it does provide some ironic relief from the frequently intense and suspenseful chapters of damsels in distress. But with black gloves, a horrible blank mask, a hat and trench-coat, one of the most indelible species of movie-killer was born within this sensationally colourful festival of picturesque carnage.
In all honesty, no fan can afford to be without this superb 2K restoration. It looks glorious, proving once again that Arrow have really got it together in terms of providing such cult and niche films with accurate and lustrous AV quality and extremely worthwhile supplements. The inclusion of the short giallo film Yellow is especially nice. A fantastic release of a true giallo classic.
You can buy Blood and Black Lace on Blu-ray here
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