Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)


Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: A,B,1,2
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 89 Minutes
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Italian/English Dolby Digital Mono and PCM with optional English SDH Subtitles

Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Francesca Ungaro, Luciano Pigozzi,Claude Dantes, Mary Arden, Dante DiPaolo

Of all the releases announced by Arrow Video (US) it was Mario Bava's stylish whodunit Blood and Black Lace (1964) that most intrigued me, a  classic slice of Italian murder cinema bathed in vibrant primary colors and Euro-stylish set design with a fantastic bossanova lounge score and more than a few wonderfully staged murders. Bava set the tone for the Italian whodunit murder mysteries with the black and white The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), a film that established many of the tropes we have come to enjoy from genre but it was Blood and Black Lace (1964) jut the year after that laid the foundation for the modern giallo with it's stylish blend of vivid set design, black-gloved murder, exotic scores, and drop-dead gorgeous women. It was a formula that would not be improved upon until Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). 

Gorgeous brunette fashion model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is murdered by a man in a trench coat with a faceless mask outside the the Cristian Haute Couture fashion house on a dark and windy night. Inspector Sylvester (Thomas Reiner) is assigned the case and interviews the co-managers of the salon, Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell) and the widowed Countess Cristina Como (Eva Bartok) but finds out very little about what could have lead to the murder of the fashion model. However, when it is discovered that Isabella kept a diary pretty much everyone at the fashion house begins to act like a cat caught with the bird in it's mouth. Apparently she had dirt on everyone scribbled into that book and someone is willing to murder every model in the place to get to it before the police do. 

The murderer has a classic look, a black trench coat and a faceless stocking mask with a brimmed hat, which looks quite a but like Rorschach from Watchmen without the ink blots. On his journey to recover the diary he will strangle, mangle, drown and burn his way through a series of gorgeous models, none of which are overly graphic or gory but they are certainly vicious. The killer mangles a woman's face with a clawed gauntlet, drowning one, smothering yet another and before tied-up and tortured before having her face pressed up against a red-hot furnace, and for a model I am sure that's a double negative, disfigurement and death. 

As you might expect of a film full of fashion models the women are completely glamorous and gorgeous without exception, particularly the short-cropped Tao-Li (Claude Dantes) who gets a fantastic drowning scene in a bathtub, those eyes are something special. It's worth noting that the bathtub murder would become a pretty standard Giallo trope afterward, as would the razor which the killer uses to stage her suicide after the fact.

There's no shortage of suspects in the movie, we have a police line-up featuring Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell years before his string of b-movies), a drug addled antique dealer named Franco (Dante DiPaolo) and employees of the fashion house, the pill-popping Marco (Massimo Righi) and the shifty-eyed Cesar (Luciano Pigozzi), the latter of whom reminded me just a little of the bug-eyed Peter Lorre. It could be any one of them or maybe none of them, but one thing's for sure, once the existence of that diary is revealed it becomes painfully clear that no one at the fashion house is without some damning secret of their own.

Keeping with the high visual standards we've come to expect from cinema master Mario Bava the film looks exquisite, the scenes of the killer stalking his prey in the darkness are bathed in shadow and atmospheric colored lighting, stylistically this is a visual feast and an obvious influence on the films of Dario Argento. A scene of the faceless murderer  pursuing Peggy (Mary Arden) through a shadowy antique shop is an obvious highlight, but there are loads of atmospheric scenes to enjoy.

Arrow have meticulously restored the film from the original camera negative which is presented here in its original, uncut Italian version running eighty-nine minutes.  The screenshot comparisons below speak for themselves in respect to the quality of the restoration. The screenshots are sourced from the new 2K restoration from the Arrow Video DVD (sorry, no Blu-ray drive on the PC) compared to the 2008 DVD release from VCI Entertainment. Clearly there is no comparison when it comes to image quality with the Arrow offering more detail, clarity and depth all the way around.





 Panel discussion on Mario Bava featuring Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Steve Della Casa, recorded at the 2014 Courmayeur Film Festival (11 Mins)

 The alternative US opening titles, sourced from Joe Dante’s private print and scanned in 2K especially for this release (2 Mins)

 Original theatrical trailer (3 Mins)

 Gender and Giallo – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the giallo’s relationship with the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s (38 Mins)

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 (55 Mins)

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 (56 Mins)

An appreciation by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the creative duo behind Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (11 Mins)

40-Page 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

- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys

Yellow – the much-acclaimed neo-giallo by Ryan Haysom and Jon Britt (Blu-ray exclusive)

Arrow Video have breathed new life into this classic slice of Italian whodunit cinema with a brand-new and gorgeous 2K restoration that is by quite a stretch the best this film has ever looked on home video. No self-respecting horror fan or Mario Bava completest should be without this on their movie shelf, an essential and seminal slice of whodunit.