Blood and Black Lace (1964)

a.k.a. - Sei donne per l'assassino (ITA)

Cameron Mitchell stars in the prototype Giallo film, directed by Mario Bava. VCI US R0 DVD

The Film

At an Italian fashion house run by Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) and his lover Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok), a young model named Isabella is killed by a masked, black gloved killer. The police investigate, but can find no motive behind her murder. During a fashion show, Peggy finds Isabella's handbag and discovers that she kept a detailed dairy which she takes home with her. She is attacked and kidnapped by the killer who is determined to find the diary. The police investiage, but have no leads on who could be behind the murders...

Co-written by Marcello Fondato (who also worked with Bava on I tre volti della paura (1963)), Blood and Black Lace is generally referred to as the first of the true Giallo films. The term Giallo, derived from the distinctive yellow covers given to crime and murder mystery books in Italy, had been applied by Italian audiences to earlier films such as the classic Hitchcock thrillers and Bava himself had made a thriller La ragazza che sapeva troppo (1963) along similar lines. However has in film circles the term Giallo has become associated with a distinct genre of Italian-made murder mysteries and Blood and Black Lace contains a number of elements that would become synonymous with the genre - a masked, black gloved killer, a cosmopolitan setting, young and attractive female victims, largely ineffectual police proceedurals and most importantly a focus by the film on the gory details of killings themselves, not just the investigations in their aftermath.

The storyline behind Blood and Black Lace is surprisingly conventional and straight forward, an old-fashioned whodunnit with plenty of red herrings that builds up to a coherent denoument with a plausible motive behind the killings - this is in contrast to many of the later Gialli which often boasted labyrinthine plots and non-sequitur twists - indeed, the storyline is considerably simpler than Bava's own La ragazza che sapeva troppo of the year before. However, it is still an effective and hard to predict mystery film and it moves with decent pacing throughout even if the revelation of the killer is a very understated scene that destroys a lot of the potential impact. The only aspect that does not quite work are frequent references to cocaine being taken by the models - playing no part in the actual storyline it seems to be present for no more than shock value.

Behind the camera, it is Bava's work that really pushes the film into true Giallo territory - eschewing the realist exteriors and settings of his earlier La ragazza che sapeva troppo, he bathes this film in the coloured lighting and elaborate set design that he had previously brought to his gothic horror films. The death scenes are certainly what makes this film stand out from earlier murder mysteries, the film revels in showing the disturbing killings in surprisingly vivid detail (although refraining from the often daftly over-the-top gore of many later genre entries) and even adds a sexual element to the murders as most of the woman have clothes ripped by the killer exposing a lot of bare flesh (although again, this is never as extreme as in some of the later 1970s exploitation Gialli and there is no actual nudity).

American actor Cameron Mitchell was more at home in Westerns and adventure films but is well cast here, certainly not looking out of place like one might expect. The beautiful Eva Bartok (The Crimson Pirate (1952)) plays the Contessa and the acting throughout is generally strong.

Blood and Black Lace is the first film of what would become known as the Giallo genre, drenching the classic murder mystery thrillers with the active sexuality and gore of a new generation of cinema audiences. Despite a rather simple storyline it builds an effective mystery and with Bava's creative direction and some fine acting it is a must-see for fans of both Bava and the Gialli.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Cameron Mitchell - an American actor who also appeared in Bava's enjoyable Erik the Conqueror (1961)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - although credited with creating the Giallo, never shot another straight genre entry, although he did make a number of twists on the genre, including proto-slasher film Reazione a catena (1971).
Any gore or violence ? Some blood and vivid violence but not as gory as later Gialli.
Any sex or nudity? No nudity, although there is an implied sexual aspect to the murders as several of the woman have their clothes ripped.
Who is it for? Recommended for Mario Bava and Giallo fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The picture quality is somewhat soft and grainy but the all important colours come through clearly.
Audio English, Italian and French
The Italian is the strongest track with good depth, the English is a little muffled but the dialogue is clear.
The French is distractingly tinny but dialogue is clear.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Italian audio. Yellow
Although generally good, the subtitles do have a number of minor spelling errors and grammatical mistakes that should have easily been caught and there are a few lines of dialogue (fortunately not key) that seem to have been missed out from the translation.
Extras Disc 1 includes:
  • Audio commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas - typically detail filled.
  • American theatrical trailer
  • Bonus trailers for City of the Dead, Ruby, Horrors of the Black Museum and Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
  • Short biographies of Bava, Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Mary Dawne Arden and Luciano Pagozzi.
Disc 2 includes:
  • Archive interviews with Cameron Mitchell from David del Valle's Sinister Image. Fascinating discussion of his Bava shoots, if only it could have been longer. (7 min)
  • Interview with actress Mary Dawne Arden (12 min) from 2000.
  • The alternate US title sequence and the French language version of the original titles
  • German, Italian and French trailers.
  • Bonus trailer for Erik the Conqueror and French and American trailers for Whip and the Body
  • Lobby card/photo gallery - as a video file with music backing.
  • Four musical cues from the film's soundtrack are played over a lobby card background.
  • Comparison clips showing the cuts made to some prints for the murder scenes although some more context might have been useful to explain which markets the cut prints were used in for example. (26 minutes).
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? German DVD by Anolis released under the 'Blutige Seide' title has the best picture quality, released in limited edition standard and later hardbox editions. The latter includes English, German and Italian audio but only German subtitles.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is English although the title sequence is the original Italian-style version with the actors appearing along with their names, for some US prints a different animated title sequence was used (included here as an extra).



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 22nd September 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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