Color, 1964, 88m.
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Cameron Mitchell,Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Mary Arden, Franco Ressel, FrancescaUngaro, Claude Dantes, Harriet White, Lea Lander
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RA/B HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), e-m-s (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), VCI (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A stripped-down, delirious tour through a candy-colored landscape of high fashion and mutilated bodies, Blood and Black Lace was really the first film to merge the world of modeling with ritualistic murders, and none of its imitators have managed to capture the same level of intensity. Originally released as Sei donne per l'assassino (or Six Women for the Murderer), the film was directed by Mario Bava at the height of his directorial powers (coming hot off of Black Sabbath and The Whip and the Body and just before Planet of the Vampires), but its unprecedented aesthetic brutality encountered censorship problems around the world.
In the powerful opening sequence, sneaky model Isabella exchanges a few furtive words with her junkie coworker outside the Haute Couture fashion salon. She then wanders into the windy night, only to be assaulted by a masked psychopath who disfigures her face with the help of tree bark-and strangles her. The murder sets off a chain reaction of terror and suspicion among her coworkers, who fear what she may have written in a recently discovered diary. The salon owner, recently widowed Countess Christina Cuomo (Bartok), and the manager, Max (or Massimo on the Italian track) Morlacchi (Mitchell), cooperate with the dogged Inspector Sylvester (Reiner) to untangle the intricate web of drugs, blackmail, and sex which has turned a sleek glamor palace into the stomping grounds for a lunatic. The diary passes through several other hands, all of them swiftly cut down by the ruthless killer, before a double twist ending exposes the nasty truth.
While the storyline inspired heavily by the German krimi of the time may be mechanical in the extreme, Bava uses this rigid structure to weave a series of spellbinding set pieces much in the style of an MGM musical, with the plot stopping every ten minutes or so for another wild demonstration of virtuosity. Particularly dazzling is an extended chase scene through an abandoned antique shop at night (later imitated with panache in I Know What You Did Last Summer), illuminated by the director's signature gel lighting and accompanied by Carlo Rustichelli's terrific bossa-tinged score. While most of the performers are simply fodder for their inevitable turn with the killer, Bartok and Mitchell manage to turn in intriguing performances, alternately vulnerable and suspicious, while the women look appropriately lovely in their designer label perfection.
The complete distribution history of Blood and Black Lace was an exercise in frustration for many horror fans for decades. The original U.S. prints and first VHS video (from Media Home Entertainment) were trimmed, with the opening murder of Isabella lacking a few brutal seconds of her tree bashing. More significantly, the bathtub murder near the climax of the film was missing several shots of Claude Dantes in a see-through bra, floating dead in the tub as blood begins to seep from her wrists (sampled memorably at the beginning of Pedro Almodóvar's Matador). The Japanese laserdisc was likewise edited but at least letterboxed (a little overzealously at 1.85:1), fairly colorful,and containing the beautiful original European opening titles shot by Bava himself (under the Six Women for a Murderer title). Sinister Cinema released a semi-letterboxed edition on VHS containing the full bathtub murder but taken from a touch-and-go print littered with scratches and speckles. Then came the Roan edition on laserdisc, which included the amusing opening U.S. credits (from Filmation) in very poor shape, with warbly sound, but restored the first murder. Unfortunately the bathtub murder was still cut, causing a severe jump cut as the killer's mask is removed.
VCI's first DVD rectified all of these problems in 2000 using a greatly improved flat letterboxed transfer prepared for Australian television and grafting on the European credits (along with a mercifully tasteful video-generated title card), which were in slightly inferior condition but still quite watchable. That disc includes the original English dialogue track as well as the Italian and French tracks, with optional English subtitles translated from the Italian (which makes for some very interesting comparisons).Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas provides a commentary very much in the vein of his now famous tracks for other Bava titles, not to mention his seminal book on the director, All the Colors of the Dark. There's a huge amount of information accumulated from decades of research including biographical trivia, filming anecdotes,and aesthetic observations guaranteed to enhance one's appreciation of the film. The DVD also includes the original U.S. trailer, as well as virtually identical French and Italian trailers, bonus trailers for Erik the Conqueror and the French trailer for The Whip and the Body, as well as a video interview of Cameron Mitchell by David Del Valle (carried over from the Roan disc) and a video interview with Mary Arden, one of the victims and a screenwriter in her own right. The factual information in the Mitchell interview is highly questionable; Mitchell claims to have made six films for Mario Bava and refers to his filmmaking son as"Umberto" instead of Lamberto. Other goodies include a gallery of photos and promotional art, an isolated soundtrack presentation of four tracks from the original rare Italian vinyl release (later rendered obsolete by Digitmovies' gorgeous release of the full stereo soundtrack on CD), and the alternate American credits.
Five years later, e-m-s in Germany issued a visually superior release of the film on DVD in 2005 under the title Blutige Seide; at the time it was the most remarkable the film had ever looked in standard def, with the German and Italian tracks offered with optional English or German subtitles. (The absence of the English dub is the only major strike here.) The slightly altered 1.78:1 framing alters the compositions of some shots a bit for those very familiar with the film, adding slivers of extraneous info on the sides but also mistiming some of the camera movements in the process. That disc includes a healthy amount of German and U.S. Bava trailers (Planet of the Vampires, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, some early peplums he shot, etc.) plus some German-only goodies such as a video intro by Reiner and an audio commentary with Christian Kessler and Robert Zion. That same transfer was later adopted by VCI for an American two-disc reissue, though the PAL conversion on this one was done far more sloppily with significant damage done to the many mobile camera shots. In other words, not much reason to upgrade here.
Ten years later with Blu-ray in full force, the time was obviously right for Bava's film to make the leap to HD where the intensity of its color palette could really shine. However, few could have anticipated the eye-popping glory of Arrow's dual-format edition, with Blu-ray being the obvious choice if you want to experience this classic the best way possible at home. The new restoration from the Italian negative is a constant stunner with every scene containing a wealth of visual surprises, and the framing has been subtly snapped back to the standard European projected ratio of 1.66:1 which shifts things back in synch with the soundtrack music in a few key moments. Be prepared; the reds alone in this presentation might cause your eyeballs to sizzle. The Italian and English audio tracks are also here in higher quality renditions with a lot more verve than before, with the former really the way to go if you're okay losing all of those Paul Frees voices. It's still great to have both as one's mood could go either way when viewing this one. The trailer is carried over here while the Mitchell interview is presented in its full 56-minute edition as an entire episode, with a lot of other ground in his career now covered as well. The gaudy American credits are also here in a fresh new HD transfer from the Joe Dante print that's been known to pop up from time to time at screenings around Hollywood, too. Otherwise it's all new supplements here, with Tim Lucas leading the pack with a brand new, significantly updated years after his book to provide a denser reading of the film as well as a wealth of facts uncovered since his previous track fifteen years ago. Once again he does an admirable tightrope act walking between technical facts and critical analysis while explaining how the film has now firmly cemented itself not only as the first bona fide color giallo but a major title in world cinema, period.
More extras on the video front include a lengthy study of the glory days of the giallo entitled "Psycho Analysis," clocking in at 55 minutes and positioning Blood and Black Lace as ground zero for the cinematic craze that became a major Italian export well into the 1980s. Not all of the interviews pertain directly to the film at hand, but it's a good snapshot of the subgenre with participants including Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava (of course), leading screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (who wrote 80% of the major titles during the golden age of Italian thrillers), critics Roberto Curti and Steve Della Casa, and thriller writer Carlo Lucarelli. Next is a 10-minute appreciation of the film by directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, best known for their two cinematic giallo mix tapes, Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, with another modern nod to the formula here courtesy of a short film by Ryan Hansom and Jon Britt entitled Yellow (which tosses in almost all the usual tropes you'd expect with plenty of verve, available only on the Blu-ray). Blogger and Movie Matters podcaster Michael Mackenzie appears for a scholarly and sometimes eye-opening look at the giallo's sociological and political underpinnings with "Gender and Giallo," a solid 38-minute study that draws a clear line through the more pivotal cinematic contributions and the sometimes tumultuous history of Italy itself at the time. An 11-minute Bava panel is also included from the 2014 Courmayeur Film Festival with Argento, Lamberto Bava, and Steve Della Casa briefly talking about the maestro's work and influence. As usual the artwork on the cover is striking with a reversible option including more traditional poster art, and the liner notes booklet comes with written contributions from Howard Hughes, Del Valle, and Dante. Currently available in the U.K., this release is slated for an American release later in 2015 and can also be purchased from Diabolik or directly from Arrow in a limited edition steelbook, perfect for caressing with a pair of black leather gloves.