UK Blu-ray review: Blood and Black Lace aka Sei donne per l’assassino (1964)

Year: 1964
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Cameron Mitchell,Eva Bartok,Thomas Reiner,Luciano Pigozzi, Massimo Righi, Dante Di Paolo
Themes: Murder, Giallo, Thriller, Black Gloved Killer

blood and black lace coverWhen expectations are high, there is always the possibility that things can go horribly wrong. On that note I always try and avoid hyping things up in my own imagination until they are in the here and now. However, when Arrow Video announced their fully restored Blu-ray edition of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (  Italian title: Sei donne per l’assassino– which translates to Six Women for the Killer ) was due to hit Blu-ray, my expectations uncontrollably burst through the stratosphere. Conscious that this could result in disappointment, it was all I could do to contain myself in the months that ensued. With the stakes high for such a visually decadent piece, on finally viewing, I find myself left picking my jaw up off the floor at the result- awestruck from witnessing the full splendour of this luxurious classic in the miracle of HD.

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray Any giallo aficionado worth their weight will know the ins and outs of this forerunning piece of genre history. But for introduction purposes it is perhaps of some value to lay down the basics- although, given that the bones of the film have been deconstructed time and time again in many a discussion, it seems an almost pointless task rehashing old ground. For instance, the part Blood and Black Lace has played in establishing the sub-genre of giallo, has become (rightfully), fully entrenched in genre commentary for being one of the first of its kind, and the one that led the dance that was to follow later on. Here, Bava utilises a standard thriller narrative for his first true giallo, the likes of which were booming in the German Krimi cycle at the time; imbibing it with his own luscious signature of art, violence and simmering sexuality. Blood and Black Lace was made during a period when the director was crafting out many of his signature pieces. The year before Bava had directed The Girl Who Knew Too Much; a film that has also been credited as one of the first gialli, but plays out more in line with a traditional approach to the thriller than seen here in Blood and Black Lace. The differences between the two demonstrate the versatility of the director as an artist and highly skilled filmmaker.

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray A constant frustration of mine, and I suspect many other fans of Mario Bava, is this reoccurring dismissal of the director as being some sort of Hammer horror gothic copycat, by those who have yet to bask fully in the rich cinematic tapestry the director created during his bountiful career as a filmmaker. Bava remains one of the Maestros of European and genre cinema; a filmmaker who was truly unique in his own voice, nothing short of a true innovator. No matter what he turned his hand to: gothic, science fiction, thriller, peplum, even sexy criminal comic book renditions, Bava’s careful eye, trademark use of lighting and composition and exquisite craftsmanship behind a camera, is something that always shines through. Blood and Black Lace is one of the purest examples of this in action- the use of Bava standard coloured lighting to promote an almost otherworldly ambience- especially bold reds, magentas and greens- is nothing short of breathtaking in this film; a striking look that the director utilised in other stand out features such as Planet of the Vampires (1965), Black Sabbath (1963), The Whip and the Body (1963) , and Kill Baby, Kill (1966), really comes to life here, in his most lurid and violent feature up until that point.

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray Using a narrative built around murder and blackmail at the Christian Haute Couture fashion house allows for all the juicy aspects of a thriller to come to the fore. We have beautiful models, glamour, sex, vicious murder- the black gloved killer as seen here ultimately becoming the definitive trait of an Italian giallo (although there are many examples where this is absent, it is perhaps the one factor with which the subgenre is most identified with). Bava assembles an International ensemble cast- helmed by Eva Bartok as Contessa Cristina Como, who owns Christian Haute Couture, and Hollywood star Cameron Mitchell as Max, her lover . Bava takes the same route that he would in his later giallo, Five Dolls for an August Moon, by having a number of suspects to bounce off as the story unfolds. Everyone holds their own, despite the obvious difficulty in shooting with a cast that covers the gambit of nationalities in origin- on that note as the film was shot with no sound (as was usual practice for the time and place) and then synched in post-production, there are small incidences where the overdubbing is slightly more obvious than others. Recognisable faces among the throng are Luciano Pigozzi ( a hugely prolific character actor from Italian genre film), Massimo Righi (Planet of the Vampires), Dante Di Paolo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Harriet White Medin (The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock). The scope of having such a large cast gives plenty of opportunity for red herrings, and twists and turns, as the viewer attempts to figure out who the killer is.

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray The setting of intrigue, murder and blackmail at a fashion house was used in the Swedish thriller The Red Mannequin aka Mannekäng i rött (1958)- directed by Arne Mattsson- just a few years before. There is indeed some parallel, although it remains undecided if Mattsson ‘s film was the direct inspiration for Bava. The Red Mannequin plays out like a conventional Krimi- complete with an offbeat comedy vibe- but there are moments, especially in the sumptuous closing act of that piece, which could possibly have been a reference for Blood and Black Lace. What Bava does with his vision is load the narrative to make something far more thrilling and slick than Mattsson’s forerunner . Always one to push boundaries- the director was fresh from his mouth-wateringly beautiful, S&M infused, The Whip and the Body– Bava fuels his work here with the same dramatic creative energy. Never shying away from giving the audience what they want; with Whip it was Daliah Lavi’s character Nevenka being whipped within an inch of her life and begging for more from her illicit lover Kurt (Christopher Lee). Here we have a masked, black gloved killer, despatching victims in a brutal and highly stylised way. As with much of the work the director did with cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano, there is a crafting of something which is much more of an art piece than traditional pulp cinema; rejecting the realism that many thrillers typically strive for, in favour of luscious avant garde creativity . The result of which is a visually extravagant fantasy world that exists purely from the imagination- a dark fairy tale strictly for adults, seeped in opulence and 60’s fashion cool.

Blood and Black Lace Blu-ray You couldn’t really wish for a better transfer. The print here- upgraded to 1080p HD for Blu-ray- was exclusively restored for Arrow from an original camera negative on a 2K scan in Rome. To say this is a vast improvement on previous home video releases is a massive understatement. The process featured a respectful cleaning that has left no evidence of age related damage; dirt and scratches have been respectfully cleaned away to leave a nice, clearly defined print. The colours look nothing short of spectacular. Detail is gorgeous. The grading process used appears to have reignited the heart and soul of the film in its careful attention to colour and saturation. Overall this is one of the label’s most impressive transfers to date. In line with the quality of the print the original mono audio- in both Italian (with optional English subs) and English dub- has been restored from original elements. The sound levels are clear and free from distracting flaw. Carlo Rustichelli’s iconic score- including the main theme Atelier (Titoli) – demonstrates a beautiful depth on this release. The US release has apparently been delayed on this disc until the end of the year, but the good news for region A viewers is this UK release supports both A&B regions on playback, so no need to wait!

The extras here are immense. So much so that it is far beyond the scope of this review to go into them in any depth. For me, who was only ever interested in the main event, the fact that Ryan Haysom’s short film Yellow (2012) is included here as part of the supplementary material is pretty impressive. We reviewed Yellow here some time ago, and as an example of Giallo New Wave, it’s very worthwhile. Tim Lucas lines up to take commentary duties once more in his capacity as Bava expert. His commentary track is again packed full of rich detail as he goes to great lengths to provide information on every minute feature of the film and its making. This will prove highly educational to those who want to absorb into the experience fully. The rest of the specs are as follows:

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Optional Italian and English soundtracks presented in original uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Newly translated subtitles for the Italian audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas
  • Psycho Analysis – a new documentary on Blood and Black Lace and the origins of the giallo genre featuring interviews with directors Dario Argento (Suspiria) and Lamberto Bava (Demons), screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (All the Colors of the Dark) critics Roberto Curti and Steve Della Casa, and crime novelists Sandrone Dazieri and Carlo Lucarelli
  • An appreciation by Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, the creative duo behind Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
  • Yellow – the much-acclaimed neo-giallo by Ryan Haysom & Jon Britt [Blu-ray exclusive]
  • Gender and Giallo – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the giallo’s relationship with the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s
  • Panel discussion on Mario Bava featuring Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Steve Della Casa, recorded at the 2014 Courmayeur Film Festival
  • The Sinister Image: Cameron Mitchell – an episode of David Del Valle’s television series, devoted to the star of Blood and Black Lace and presented in full
  • The alternative US opening titles, sourced from Joe Dante’s private print and scanned in 2K especially for this release
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Howard Hughes, author of Cinema Italiano and Mario Bava: Destination Terror, an interview with Joe Dante, David Del Valle on Cameron Mitchell and more, all illustrated with archive stills and posters

Check out further details on the Arrow Video Official page here.

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Categories: 60's horror, giallo, Reviews

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