Monday, December 20, 2010

Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)

Over the years it seems that attractive women, whether they be fashion models, construction workers or erudite English professors, have always had to put up with phantom killers who wear leather gloves. Fueled by jealously and resentment, these picky perpetrators lash out at the female and gorgeous amongst us in a veiled attempt to mask their own inadequacies. One of my many ill-conceived dreams is to live in a world where all people, no matter what they look like, are eligible to be murdered, in the most gruesome manner possible, by rampaging sex fiends. Until that day comes, we'll have to settle for the scenarios put forth by films like Blood and Black Lace (a.k.a. Sei donne per l'assassino), yet another giallo film about a mysterious killer stalking beautiful women at a fashion house. However, when this film came out in 1964, the whole homicidal maniac with the obscured face was still a fresh concept. In fact, you could say that this film is the reason small children, the elderly, men with severe ankle acne, and the so-called "unattractive" are rarely ever murdered in movies. Stop, collaborate and ponder this: The idea of watching alluring women between the ages of 18 and, oh, let's say, 54, hunted down like small woodland creatures has become so ingrained in our society, that no other group is even considered worthy of being stabbed, drilled, bludgeoned to death, electrocuted, buried alive, drowned, safety-pinned, thrown from a moving car or strangled anymore. It's a sad state of affairs, and one that I have no intention of doing anything about anytime soon.

Unlike every other film that sports an unhinged psychopath who kills pretty women for the fun of it, this one has Italian style on its side. Setting it in the cutthroat world of high fashion, director Mario Bava (Black Sunday) is able to satisfy his desire to film multiple scenes where ladies are slaughtered, while at the same time, create a lavish universe filled with vibrant colours, red mannequins, hiked up petticoats, flickering shadows, rustling lingerie, and an underlying feeling of dread.

This dread is felt almost immediately when we witness a young model in a red raincoat and tan stockings named Isabelle (Francesca Ungaro) wandering outside Christian's Haute Couture during a rainstorm. Stalked and eventually strangled by a black-clad, fedora-wearing figure in a white mask, the model's killing adds to chaotic atmosphere of the next day's fashion show. As you would expect, the other models, the one's who haven't been asphyxiated yet, are a tad skittish. Not only because there's a model-killing madman on the loose, but because Isabelle's red diary (a.k.a. rot tagebuch) might fall into the wrong hands.

Why the models, and some of the drug-adled men who work at the fashion house, are so concerned about her diary isn't exactly clear yet, but everyone seems to want to suppress its inflammatory contents. The first to wrestle control of Isabelle's diary (utilizing the finders keepers clause) is Nicole (Ariana Gorini), a bun-sporting model with lithe proportions. Plopping the diary in her purse, Nicole and the rest of the models go about their business.

The shots of the other models faces as they all stared at her chic bag was wonderfully realized.

Wandering through an ominously lit antique shop, Nicole soon discovers that she is not alone. Toying with her victim, the killer seems to appear and disappear at will. This maniacal magic act gives Ariana Gorini the opportunity to scream loudly in a torn blouse and make several futile attempts to preserve the structural integrity of her aforementioned bun, which is unraveling at a rate similar to that of a full-bosomed homemaker from Tuscaloosa trying to navigate the winding stairs of the Price is Right game Plinko; in other words, pretty fucking fast. It should be noted that Isabella wore her hair in a bun as well. But since we hardly spend any time getting to know Isabella, her bun's subsequent unraveling didn't have the same gravitas as Nicole's hair collapse. At any rate, the pulsating light of a nearby neon sign, which bathes the stalking arena with an extra layer of creepiness, and the overall use colour make it the film's standout murder sequence.

If it seems like I'm well-versed when it comes to knowing the names of all models, it's because after each model is killed, the living models would wonder aloud things like, "Has anyone seen Nicole?" or "Have you heard from Peggy yet?" If it weren't for these questions I would have no idea what to call these people. Which is exactly what happened in the case of the magnetic model with short dark hair. Praise Meg Tilly, it finally came to my attention that the follically-challenged model was named "Tao-Li." Played by Claude Dantes, this particular model stands out for many reasons. Firstly, she's the most attractive physically (she was a scrumptious cross between Animala from the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and a Romulan beauty queen), and secondly, she sports my favourite expression during the montage of faces eyeballing Nicole's black purse. It had a fierceness about it that set it apart from all the other steely, handbag-obsessed glances.

Even though the film's amazing opening titles sequence does a competent job introducing us to all the various players (which include Luciano Pigozzi, a.k.a. the Italian Peter Lorre and Cameron Mitchell), it doesn't list their character names. It does feature, however, the alluringly sordid music of Carlo Rustichelli; bongos and horns have never sounded so sweet together.

Anyway, you'll notice that in one of the above jumble of words that I used the name "Peggy." Well, the reason being is that she's next on the list to be harassed by the killer. With the diary now in her possession, Peggy (Mary Arden), unsurprisingly, comes face-to-face with the no-face enigma that is the killer in Blood and Black Lace, a film that equates not only attractiveness with murder, but also diary ownership. A slap happy, torturous affair, the showdown between Peggy and the killer is pretty intense.

The rest of the models wisely decide to go on vacation, which leaves Contessa Christina Como (Eva Bartok), the madam of Christian's Haute Couture, without any models. Despite the fact that all the men who work at the fashion house are in police custody (two of them have reluctantly teamed up to form an alibi), a model named Greta (Lea Lander) is still on edge. She knows that there's always a twist, and she's right: Moments after the ghastly contents of her car's trunk greet the cool night air with an arm dangling brand of haphazardness, the justifiably skittish Greta finds herself in a situation similar to the one that befell her dead sexy peers.

Who is the killer? And who keeps playing those eerie-sounding bongos every time our faceless antagonist appears on screen? Well, it's rather obvious as to who was playing the bongos, what wasn't so obvious was the identity of the film's garter belt exposing killer. While I could have used more scenes that centered around the glamorous underbelly of the fashion industry, I was generally pleased by the amount of backstage maneuvering, model interaction, and change room antics that were featured in the film. An hypnotic, groundbreaking classic.

video by PostDecadantTrailers

This movie was recommended by the fine folks over at Adventures in Nerdliness


  1. Happy Holidays, Yum squared! Wait, you celebrate Festivus, right? Christmastime is so complicated these days.

    We're still getting through Jeopardy! episodes. A marathon is a good idea, but our brains get mushy after two episodes. So we're on a two-a-day pace.

    We saw your girl Mila Kunis in Black Swan this weekend. (I predict you will like Black Swan.)

    I don't know if you knew Helen Wheels from RT. (She also posted under the name 22cute.) We found out that she passed away a couple of weeks ago. Sad. :(

    I love the word "erudite." Rot tagebuch!!!

  2. Yeah, Festivus, why not. ;) Happy Festivus, Karim!

    Give Mr. d a high five for me.

    Not to sound like a pompous ass, but some of the Final Jeopardy clues have been frightfully easy as of late.

    Holy crap! I was just gonna go see that flick (Black Swan) earlier tonight. However, I think I'll wait 'til the crowds die down a bit. (I hear the T.O. screenings so far have been packed.) I'm not surprised, the trailer had a cool Repulsion/Suspiria meets the Red Shoes vibe about it.

    Weird. I just threw in "erudite" at the last minute. Oh, and the word "tagebuch" is used in the movie, so I wasn't being a show off. My usage was mildly apt.

    I didn't know Helen Wheels. :(

  3. Claude Dantes has that bizarre look I always enjoy. I never considered Romulan Beauty Queen as a descriptor, but it is quite apt.

    I have not seen this one in years, and likely fell asleep on it (I seem to have an odd mixture of insomnia and narcolepsy), but do remember the color being incredible. It almost bordered on the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia.

  4. It took me a while, but I did finally catch the Vanilla Ice reference.

    BTW, my word verification was "sindw" which is either "Sin, Darius Whiteplume" or for the Latin Americans amongst us, it would be "without Darius Whiteplume"

  5. I'm glad you thought my description was apt.

    Catching Vanilla Ice references is what you do best. ;)

    SINDW: Salivating Indecision Never Draws Wood.

    Oh, and thanks for quoting me on your Tumblr.

  6. So, apparently some guy named Tom has had quite a run on Jeopardy! My mother, not knowing d. and I were behind, spoiled this fact for us. :)

    Hey, there is a YouTube user with some cool Canadian stuff. Here is a profile of Crime Wave:
    "Made in Manitoba!"

  7. You care who wins and loses? I guess I'm too wrapped up in my own awesomeness to give a shit. ;)

    Cool Crime Wave video.

    The little girl from the movie went on to become a news reporter, just like the lady who says "Made in Manitoba!" in the video you supplied a link to.

    Cracker on a pile of mustard, that sure is a lot of (random) Canadian content. Hmmm, watch should I watch first? Those Steve Guttenberg videos are practically crying out for some eyeball lovin'.

  8. I really wonder if Bava was inspired by the beautiful Swedish crime/thriller-flick Mannequin in Red (Mannekäng I Rött), directed by Swedens own Hitchcock Arne Mattsson, when he directed this gem.
    Have you seen it?
    It predates Blood and Black Lace by five years and is also about mysterious killings in a faux fashion house in stockholm (called La Femme). It's a stunning piece of eye candy of a movie with a dash of (unintentional) campness to it. Shot in radiant eastmancolur and features pretty amazing couture dresses from the famous german/swedish designer Mago. Off course, since it's from 58, it's a bit more tame than BaBL but is still a super gorgeous, and pretty unique, chiller.

  9. I haven't seen it, but it looks great. I'll definitely add it to my list.