Blood and Black Lace
"Perhaps the sight of beauty makes him lose control of himself and kill."
When fashion model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is brutally murdered, her colleagues at the Christian Couture fashion house are distressed. But when her diary surfaces, filled with the details of a complex web of blackmail, everyone wants to get their hands on it to keep their secrets from being exposed – and one person will even kill! As the diary changes hands, the models are murdered one by one by a faceless figure in black. Could one of the implicated models, like Peggy (Mary Arden) or Greta (Lea Lander, credited as Lea Krugher) be responsible? Or was it Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell), the fashion house's business manager? It's up to Inspector Silvester (Thomas Reiner) to untangle this mystery.
Blood and Black Lace isn't the first giallo film, but I'm starting this blog with it because it is absolutely a must-see for those who are interested in the world of giallo. This movie is by far the most iconic and influential film of the genre, setting up the format of a series of beautiful women getting murdered in stylish ways, as well as introducing the "look" of the classic giallo killer: a faceless man in a black hat, coat, pants, and gloves. I highly recommend viewing the DVD of Blood and Black Lace because it includes the best, most illuminating commentary track I've ever heard, by Bava scholar Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog. Here are a few highlights:
- Mario Bava defied convention by shooting this movie in vivid, saturated color. Up until then, color was for comedies and musicals, while dramas and thrillers were always done in black and white.
- Because of this, Bava was able to color-code the film. Each killing and character is assigned its own color, reflected in lighting, set design, and costumes. Isabella is red; Nicole is blue; Peggy is gold; Greta is green; Tao-Li is white; the final murders are black. These color assignments recur throughout the film. For example, it's Isabella's murder that starts the plot, so flashes of red (her diary, fingernail polish, Max's phone) tie objects and characters back to her murder. Some have speculated that this is an homage to Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death," set in an allegorical series of colored rooms.
- As I mentioned, Blood and Black Lace is highly influential in the world of giallo. Dario Argento's color sense can be traced back here, plots, settings, and characters are often borrowed and, throughout the genre, you'll see mannequins and harps used as props as a tip of the hat to this film. Most notably, though, the movie Death Walks at Midnight borrows Blood and Black Lace's signature murder weapon – a unique spiked iron glove.
- Near the end of the movie, the camera moves through the dark studio into the office, through a doorway draped in red velvet curtains, like a theater proscenium – literally "opening the curtain" on the film's final scene. Dario Argento would borrow this effect in Four Flies on Gray Velvet, Deep Red, and Opera.
- So you thought Scream was clever, having two killers in cahoots, giving each other an alibi? Guess what? Blood and Black Lace did it first, back in 1964. That's 14 years before the genre that Scream parodies was even invented.
This is a classy production, but it really pushes the envelope when it comes to the murder scenes, by 1964 standards. For example, poor Peggy is choked, beat up, dragged up a flight of stairs, and burned alive on a hot stove. Then her body is loaded into the trunk of a car, driven to the country, hauled up more stairs, and hidden behind a screen before the police discover it. Mary Arden spent more time playing a corpse in this movie than she did playing a live person.
Nicole's (Ariana Gorini) murder really raises the bar on artistry, though. Bava expertly and stylishly cranks up the suspense as Nicole makes her way through a dark antique shop, lit only by flashing neon lights. It is both beautiful and frightening. And that's what giallo is all about.
This is a movie set in the world of fashion, so clothes and accessories figure in pretty strongly to the story. First, have a look at Fashion Director Christina Como (Eva Bartok). She only wears black since the death of her husband, but this evening look is stunning.
Only Nicole is brave enough to wear the "cursed" black dress that Isabella was supposed to model.
And, of course, we must mention the movie's most memorable accessory: the iconic spiked metal glove.