Blood and Black Lace: Horror Never Looked So Good

In 1929, an Italian publishing house started a series of translations of classic mystery and thriller novels, the works of Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, just to cite a few, and the series was named Il Giallo Mondadori, because of the yellow covers of the paperbacks (Giallo is Italian for yellow). As the series was a major success and continued to grow by each passing the year, the word giallo became synonymous with mystery fiction in the Italian audience’s psyche, and come the 1960’s, and the emergence of Giallo as a horror genre, that was the name it was automatically assigned. Giallo, as a cinematic genre, however, refers to horror stories that usually involve a killer whose identity is not revealed until the end, a lot of detective play, and a fair amount of gore; Gialli are immediately recognizable by their striking visuals, the ad-libbed dialogue that is of course a trademark of the Italian film industry, and their plots which range from whodunnits to stories of supernatural and psychological natures.

It would be hard to safely call Blood and Black Lace, or any other title for that matter, the first Giallo ever made; movements don’t just appear out of thin air and tracing origins can be as tricky as it is vain, but Mario Bava’s 1964 film, in many ways, shaped the following couple decades of Gialli that followed and set a prime example that was very rarely topped. Its original Italian title is “Sei Donne Per L’assassino” (Six Women for the Murderer), and bares the basis of its plot; in a fashion house, a model is brutally murdered and the more the crime is investigated, the more murders happen, with the killer’s identity masked and not revealed until the end, bringing closure to the chain of plot-twists the story is filled to the brim with.

Perhaps even without realizing it, Mario Bava set the standards and features of an entire genre with this low-budget picture, and in Blood and Black Lace, everything giallo is here. The villain is of course the masked, gloved killer with minimal screen time and no dialogue for the majority of the film, granting him a more penetrating sense of danger and a certain mythical nature, which is one of the reasons why the terrible stories of Gialli remain entertaining and never really plunge into anything morbidly real. Another big reason for that is the way these films are shot; Blood and Black Lace for example is radiantly colorful, every frame of the film is soaking in colors, primarily red, something that is made grittier by the fact that most scenes are set at night, and the contrast results in very unique tones, think Halloween (’78) meets Peeping Tom (’60), and since this is a Bava film, it is breathtaking, which is no surprise, since the man worked on Inferno (’80) alongside Dario Argento and produced some of the most gorgeous sequences in horror history.

The camera during scenes that are not investigative questioning or irrelevant conversations moves in a very peculiar manner; while it doesn’t exactly put the viewer in the shoes of the criminal, it still feels very perverse and voyeuristic; its odd low angles, door-framed shots and long shots makes the viewer feel like an impotent and helpless spectator as they witness one murder after another, it is extremely nerve-wracking. And of course, since this is exploitation cinema we’re talking about here, something that was directly made for the neighborhood houses, a generous amount of sexual explicitness is present, and in a very morbid manner one might note, since it is always the victims who are used as erotic material; as the murder is being committed, the killer somehow always makes sure to reveal some private part of his victims, something that adds to the perverse voyeuristic viewing experience of the film.

Shocking with every new murder, Blood and Black Lace’s mysterious killer always finds new, ghastlier approaches to his crimes that keep getting worse (or better); this gory spectacle is wrapped in one of the most gorgeous camerawork in the entire genre, resulting in a nightmarish and haunting experience with no match.


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