Mario Bava’s visually stunning Blood and Black Lace (1964) is a before-its-time whodunit that was actually one of the pioneers of the slasher genre.
The Italian director delivered a dark story using bright, gorgeous colors and camera work impressive for its time. But it’s not just an arthouse flick that knows how to wow us with color. It’s also a quite gory murder mystery with some hefty shock value and a twist ending. Again, these are all things ahead of its time.
Blood and Black Lace is set in an Italian fashion house run by Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max (Cameron Mitchell). It’s a hustling and bustling house in the middle of a fashion show when a faceless killer (literally, a faceless mask that is quite chilling for 1964) starts offing the beautiful models one-by-one. The first model to meet her demise kept a diary that apparently has a lot of incriminating information about the entire cast of characters. These people are all trying to hide something — adultery, drug-use, blackmail and abortion — so they all want their hands on that diary. And so the killing continues. Anyone who had their hands on the diary shows up dead.
And again, all of these kills are surprisingly brutal and bloody. One model is attacked and murdered by a claw glove. Another is beaten senseless. I don’t want to spoil everything for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but there’s a lot of terror and brutality, which is a fascinating juxtaposition to the beautiful colors and intricate sets.
Since everyone is a suspect, the only way to even clear your name is to turn up dead. Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) has hauled in all the men who work at the fashion house as suspects. For some reason, none of the also quilt-stricken women are suspects. Sylvester decides to hold all the men, hoping to prevent another killing. When someone else turns up dead, all the men are presumed innocent and released from custody. And that’s when the story takes a turn. We find out why the first model was killed, who has been doing the killing and why. Everyone’s various sins are revealed and just when you think you have everything figured out, we get an ending you don’t see coming. It’s a very nice payoff, is all I’ll say.
Blood and Black Lace is a beautiful film. It’s also filled with suspense, action, some gore and shock value, that I can only imagine how intense that was in 1964 before we were all desensitized. So, to say the movie was ground-breaking is an understatement. The film has been called “one of the most influential thrillers ever made” and “the first authentic ‘body count’ movie.” You can see inspiration in the 1980s slasher flicks and even arthouse films from today.
Gimme Gore! Rating: Four Stars Out of Four Stars. The movie is currently streaming on Shudder and is also available on Blu-Ray.