In the time when the scariest things in movies involved rubber suit monsters and fade-outs before the victim ceases to exist, along came PSYCHO (1960.) and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964.). Both somehow contributed in making of the SLASHER genre; the first with the ideology behind the slasher and the latter for the structure of the slasher film. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE served as a blueprint for future bloodbath epics such as Deep red (1975.), A nightmare on Elm street (1984.) and Scream (1996.). With this movie, the era of GIALLO films began. GIALLO, named after the yellow covers of mystery thrillers from the newsstands, is basically a whodunit thriller with extended uncut horror elements. The addition to the mystery is a stalking masked killer with black gloves, black fedora hat and in black clothes, who kills in such horrendous ways, that your children will still talk about it.
GAS STATION CLERK: ‘A man, I’m sure. He wore black
and seemed to have no face!’
In the process of creating the story and the screenplay of Blood and black lace, are three people involved, MARIO BAVA and two other dudes (Marchello Fondato and Guiseppe Barilla). Doesn’t it seem odd to have three screenwriters on the payroll and the movie ends up a ‘style over substance’-type of flick? That was the point. They didn’t spend much attention to the plot, because they brought a new look and innovations to the table. The movies story had to be simple, so that BAVA’S bold choices could be more visible. By not paying that much attention of who, when, where, the audience could see the massive increase on violence, try to figure out metaphors and enjoy the artistry inside every single visually breath-taking frame.
The characters in this ballsy fright-origin are all replaceable, that’s why almost everybody dies. Nothing is like it seems. The friend is not a real friend. The lover is no lover and the broken widow isn’t that broken after all. One of the characters, ISABELLA (Francesca Ungaro) has a diary that everyone desperately needs, because written inside are all the secrets no one should ever know. A cat and mouse game begins to occur. Not one character is loyal, truthful or honest. The killer isn’t just a killer, no, there are two of them. Since everybody’s lying, the whole movie feels like a scam and it is! It serves as an experiment to push the limits of what’s acceptable in the society. BAVA pushed the limits of how much intensity and brutal murders the audience can take. It seems everybody was very fond of it, because fans named him ‘Mario Bava, the maestro of macabre’.
ROGER CORMAN: ‘He is a genius and he was a genius, an inspiration to
those who came after him that was whatever the situation,
you can do excellent work.’
THREE REASONS WHY IT’S IMPORTANT THAT BLOOD AND BLACK LACE LACKS PLOT
- The plot is not that deep, because the victims, mostly women, are shallow. As fashion models, their only concern is their beauty, so BAVA concentrated on the visual aspect of the movie. He wanted to reflect the principals that the models have.
- By not complicating the plot, there was more screen time available, so he decided to stretch the murders. Increase in tension, in brutality and stylistic death scenes followed. The deaths are instantly serious and they are more elaborate, then just shooting someone.
- Without the plot getting in the way, the audience can’t miss the little nuances the movie offers. Good looking, fragile women are murdered, most of their clothes are ripped from their bodies and their underwear comes to the surface. This erotic sub tone was BAVA’S new entry for the horror genre, even the title BLOOD AND BLACK LACE suggests that death and sex should go together.
There is no main character. From the beginning of the movie, too many characters are introduced at the same time. They all seem important, but no one seems to stand out as person to follow. Every victim has their big chunk of screen time before their part with the world, so it’s not that obvious who the main character is. In the end, the audience can establish the main characters, CHRISTINA and MAX, but solely because they planned the whole charade and they are the last ones in the movie.
Why is he so important? He is one of the two persons, who are left alive. Why? Everyone in the Christian Haute couture (Fashion-house) had dirty little secrets and everyone is a pretty little liar. MARCO (Massiomo Righi) has a secret, too. He loves PEGGY (Mary Arden). Too bad, she doesn’t care about him, but he is still persistent. He doesn’t want anyone to know about his feelings for her. PEGGY on the other hand, has a dirty little ghost in the closet. She was pregnant and needed money for the abortion, so she stole it from ISABELLA. MARCO is persistent, because he was the father. PEGGY wants nothing to do with him, since he almost destroyed her modelling career. The killer left him alive because he is innocent. He wants PEGGY back, but that is as bad as he can be. During the movie, the audience sees him taking some pills and he is suffocating a lot, especially in the police station. He is suffocating, because he saw how ISABELLA was strangled, that’s why he is holding his throat all the time. His reaction to that horrible event caused him some psychological damage. He didn’t say anything, because he was afraid of a scandal.
FRANCO (Dante DiPaolo) is a junkie, a harmless blackmailer, a heartbreaker and a worm when he is afraid, but he is innocent, too. At one point, he calls Nicole to say that he’s suffocating, just like Marco. He didn’t have any intrigues in the Christian fashion-house. That is why he and Marco are the only ones left alive.
STRUCTURE OF THE MOVIE
If we take COUNTESS CHRISTINA as a main character, the structure is compressed in a very short time inside the movie. The last four points happen during the last 15-20 minutes.
- ESTABLISHING A GOAL: Get the diary. Cover up dirty secrets.
- CONFLICT: She has to kill until she gets her hands on the diary.
- DISAPPOINTMENT: Max wanted to kill her.
- REACTION: She is fighting back and wants to kill him.
- DILEMMA: Max tries one more time to seduce her.
- DECISION: She sees that he’s just playing with her, so she kills him.
When we take a closer look, we can establish that she didn’t reach her goal. She didn’t get the diary and she didn’t manage to cover up her nasty business. As the killer she had to kill everyone in order to preserve her secrets. The movie doesn’t follow structure and that is why most of the moviegoers couldn’t understand the reasons behind its basic plot-line.
METAPHORS AND SYMBOLS
‘It was a perfect murder, if only her diary hadn’t surfaced!’
The diary that everyone needs and wants to have is a MACGUFFIN. It serves just as a plot device to get the story going. Worth: None. In the first 15 minutes, Peggy throws it into the fire and the fifteen-minutes-of-fame for the diary is over.
The swinging sign outside the fashion-house is a foreshadowing sign. Firstly, it has the colour red all over it, which implies that the whole movie will be covered in blood, and secondly, the swinging or falling of the sign is telling how the Christian Haute couture is slowly crumbling down. Something happened that symbolizes the end of an era.
The intro sequence is showing every character appearing in the movie standing beside a mannequin. The mannequins are covered in red light just like the characters. It means, everyone will die. The red is a very vibrant colour, which is present during the whole movie. Besides that, the mannequins represent the characters from the movie, even the killer looks like one of the mannequins, by wearing black clothes and having no face. That is a direct hint, that the killer is someone from the fashion-house. Every character has a purpose, but is easily disposable. They are like pawns inside a chess game. This elaborate scheme is a new thing BAVA brought to the table. He initiated the gory chain reaction, a body count, and the victims are carefully picked, so the meta-message can be present.
The closing shot of a hanging telephone is a metaphor for a fairytale. A moral tale that says ‘don’t be greedy’. The whole movie is dreamlike with the saturated colours and the bizarre events unfolding. The shot of the telephone is drawing the audience to its attention, so its meaning is more than just a hanging device. Both killers were lovers, and somewhere along the way, their connection died.
‘Now I understand why you married me in secret and so quickly.’
When they both died at the end, CHRISTINA’S body falls on MAX, but in such a way that it symbolizes: in death, they’re together again.
Some of the tension falls flat during the movie. The director made a simple, but crucial mistake, on purpose.
During the caption of Peggy, she managed to take the mask off the killers face. It is only a glimpse that the audience catches, but it more than it needs. It is a man underneath the mask. Half of it is already revealed. From that point on, the audience pays attention only to male characters during the movie, which is a good diversion. However, in the end when it is revealed that there are two of them, there is no tension left, no shock to be had. It flat lined. Without that shot, it would be more surprising to see they are two.
The inspectors are arrogant and lousy at their jobs. They don’t search for clues, they don’t examine fingerprints and they don’t even question the witnesses. Both seem like they escaped from a Looney Toon cartoon. One of the inspectors throws his jacket on the furniture piece, which is knocked down in the process of kidnapping a victim, but for him it is not important at all. Too bad, because they had the potential to be very interesting and memorable.
INSPECTOR SILVESTER: ‘Perhaps the sight of
beauty makes him lose control of himself, so he kills.’
It is not a mistake per se, but it would be important to have a main character in the movie. With too many to choose, the audience doesn’t engage with any of them, and feels empty, when the movie ends. The potential of a leading man/woman could make this movie a bigger landmark in horror film history, because everyone would remember the movie by this character. Nonetheless, this movie is already a classic and it is epically good, it only lacks the main character.
REFERENCES AND LEGACY
The knight glove with spikes is obvious from another MARIO BAVA movie, BLACK SUNDAY (1960). In the movie, they ram the spikes through the woman’s face, just like in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.
Dario Argento’s whole blood filled filmography consists of thrilling GIALLO films. His career wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for BAVA’S influence.
The killer mystery of whodunit with two killers was copied a numerous times, but the most popular of the bunch is SCREAM (1996.). In this movie, a killer (with the mask in the shape of the famous Edvard Munch painting ‘the Scream’) kills innocent teenagers and in the end, it’s revealed that there are two of them.
People always refer to MARIO BAVA as the incredible director who influenced many directors that we love, like MARTIN SCORSESE, JOHN CARPENTER and QUENTIN TARANTINO, but no one really specifies why is he that important. When you analyze his films, they are indeed little masterpieces of experimental film making. He always broke taboos and tried to bring new elements into dusty genres. At first sight, this movie doesn’t seem that big of a deal, but at closer look, it all makes sense and every element is there for a purpose, a truly classic masterpiece.
‘Aren’t you scared of being home alone?’