Saturday, November 21, 2015

BLOOD AND LACE (1971) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: November 24th 2015 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 87 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Philip Gilbert
Cast: Melody Patterson, Dennis Christopher, Gloria Grahame, Milton Selzer, Len Lesser, Vic Tayback

Synopsis: After her mother's brutal murder at the hands of a hammer-wielding maniac, teenaged Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) is suddenly orphaned. She is sent to a home for children run by the enigmatic Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame, a 1952 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award® winner for her role in The Bad and The Beautiful), in spite of the concern that Ellie will be the newest target of her mother's killer. But as terror strikes again and again, it becomes unclear who might be the bigger threat to Ellie's life: the mysterious murderer with a hammer… or her sadistic new caretaker. With borderline insane plot twists, and some unexpected performances by two faces familiar to fans of classic sitcoms – Vic Tayback ("Mel" from Alice) and Len Lesser ("Uncle Leo" from Seinfeld) – this little-known horror gem is a jolting, terror-filled thriller you've got to see to believe.

In this '70s proto-slasher shocker we have a hammer-wielding maniac on the loose, making an orphan out of a whore's daughter. We begin with some tasty POV from the killer's perspective as he sneaks into a house through a window, rummaging through a tool-drawer in the kitchen where he discovers his weapon of choice, a claw hammer. Now we switch to some gruesome hammer-cam shots of the murderer smashing a woman's face in repeatedly with the claw-end of the hammer, along with that of her hourly-rate lover who is sleeping beside her. It;s a terrific start to the move, and I couldn't help but wonder if the creepy POV shots might have been a bit of an influence on not just John Carpenter's Halloween but maybe even the seminal Black Christmas, which didn't come to cinema for another three years. After the lovers are properly dead the killer throws the bloodied hammer on the floor, sets fire to the curtains, and flees the scene while the house burns down. 

In the aftermath the whore's teen-aged daughter Ellie (Melody Patterson, TVs F Troop) becomes an unfortunate and mentally unstable orphan, sent to an orphanage for wayward children run by the demented Mrs. Deere (Gloria Graham, The Big Heat) and her handyman, played by Len Lesser, better known to my demographic as "Uncle Leo" from Seinfeld, and if you thought he was just a bit odd on Seinfeld you ain't seen nothing yet my friend.  Mrs. Deere and Tom have quite a scheme in place at the orphanage, they receive a monthly fee from the county for taking in the orphans, but the place is awful and they work the kids to the bone, and many of the kids would rather run away, but if they try and get caught it means certain death for them at the hands of the handyman. 

There's a scene early on of a young boy running away from the orphanage, the handyman follows him into the nearby woods with a hatchet in hand. The boy tries to hide behind a too-skinny of a tree with his arms wrapped-around the trunk in plain site of the handyman who flings the ax which slicing off the boy's hand. The kids gets away, sort of, and the handyman tucks the severed appendage into the boys suitcase and tucks it away in the basement, where it will obviously be found later by someone to push along the story. 

We discover how the scheme works, when the kids attempt to runaway and are killed their corpses are stored in a walk-in freezer in the basement, when the local county case worker shows up to do a head count they thaw the kids out and place them in the infirmary, but they warn the case worker Mr. Mullins (Milton Selzer) that the kids are contagious and he should keep his distance.

There's also a weird story thread that goes absolutely nowhere, a demented science fiction arc after we discover that Mrs. Deere's deceased husband is stored down in the freezer, too. Apparently having died of natural causes, but Deere goes on for a bit about how someday in the near future science will find a way to cure the dead of their illnesses. She drops it just that once to us and it is never again brought up, which is so damn weird to me, it makes me think that there must have been a longer variant of the script that touched on that topic more. 

I almost forgot, fans of the long running TV show Alice (1979-1985) will get a kick out of seeing Vic Tayback who portrayed the owner of Mel's diner in the show, appearing here as the cop investigating the murder of Ellie's mother. In another weird twist the guy who is way to keen on the young girl, if you know what I mean. At one point mentioning that the young Ellie would make good "breeding stock", uh-oh. 
Tayback's cop character suspects that whomever murdered her mother and burned down the house might still be around and may come after young Ellie to tie up any loose ends, and sure enough a freak with a burned face shows up around the orphanage and things get even weirder/

Blood and Lace is a cheap and demented slice of '70s exploitation and I loved every frame of it, this is a terrific slice if drive-in terror fuel. Loaded with many familiar faces and shocking - and often head-scratching - twists and turns that will have you coming back for more again and again, and that zinger of a shocker at the end will have you scratching your head in disbelief.

Audio/Video: Blood and Lace (1971) arrives on Blu-ray for the first time from Scream Factory looking a little on the soft side at times but otherwise quite nice. I see some organic looking film grain and decent fine detail during the close-ups. There's a surprising lack of print damage aside from a few white specks now and again this looks pretty great in HD. The DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 audio is solid, dialogue and the library sourced music cues are clean and crisp, but the music can be a bit jarring at times,  sounding like a a cross between the Universal Monsters movie music from the '30s and the Dragnet TV show, a bit on the brassy and dramatic side of things, which only adds yet another layer of weirdness ot he movie. 

Supplemental materials are on the thin-side of things but not bare. There's a pretty fantastic commentary from Film Historian Richard Harland Smith who gives a lively presentation with loads of fun facts and anecdotes about the cast, particularly star Melody Patterson, whom he had a crush on back in the day. There's also an alternate opening title sequence featuring the 'Blood and Lace' title card, the print used for the HD transfer uses the alternate title of 'The Blood Secret', which is actually more apt as I didn't see any lace throughout the movie. There's also a theatrical trailer for the movie and a reversible sleeve of artwork.

Special Features

- NEW Audio Commentary By Film Historian Richard Harland Smith
- Alternate Opening Title (1 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 

Apparently this is the first time the sleazy hammer-slammer whodunit has received any legitimate home video release, so I tip my hat to Scream Factory for rescuing this one from whatever dusty vault they found it in, they're doing the cinema-lords work right here. On top of just the fact that the A/V quality is very pleasing and it might be a bit thin on bonus content, that commentary track is fun and fact-filled. Lovers of corny pre-slasher mayhem and seedy drive-in cinema aren't going to want to miss out on this one, highly recommended. 3/5