If you need to know just what has kept Italian director Mario Bava in such esteem with genre film aficionados such as Joe Dante and serious auteurs such as Martin Scorsese, look no further than Blood and Black Lace - a baroque, colourful whodunit about a series of gruesome murders at the Rome fashion house of countess Cristiana (Eva Bartok), revolving around a mysterious diary that may contain scandalous revelations.
Nothing in it seems to make much sense from a plot standpoint, unlike Mr. Bava's more elaborate and better-remembered horror entries such as Black Sunday - but it doesn't really matter. The director himself, a veteran cinematographer who had trained as a painter, often admitted the scripts were mere jumping-off points for his glossy, artful visual experimentations, borne out of the necessity to stand out from the well-oiled assembly line of commercial production Italian cinema was awash in during the 1950s and 1960s. And it's the gloriously overwrought handling that raises Blood and Black Lace to its heights, announced by the primary hues that seem to pop off the screen straight from its stylized, pop credit sequence.
Though a commercial failure in Italy at the time of its 1964 release and only a modest success abroad, this is in fact one of the key films in the development of the peculiarly Italian genre of giallo, the garish and hyper-stylized murder mysteries where sensuality and sadism went hand in hand, whose highlights were signed in the 1970s by Mr. Bava's friend and surrogate heir Dario Argento (who, actually, took the genre much further). But it was Mr. Bava's flamboyance in matching breathtaking style and throwaway content, with a sense of almost virtuoso playfulness, that showed the way, as Blood and Black Lace proves without a shadow of a doubt.
Look at the almost tactile colours and elaborate camera movements, underlined by Carlo Rustichelli's swinging, "with-it" score, for an instant rush of period-genre delight, while at the same time pointing out there was more risk and reward in a single sequence of Mr. Bava's filmmaking than in most contemporary assembly-line blockbusters.
SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO
Italy, France, Germany 1964
Cast Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Arianna Gorini, Dante di Paolo, Mary Arden, Franco Ressel, Claude Dantes, Luciano Pigozzi, Lea Krugher, Massimo Righi, Francesca Ungaro, Giuliano Rafaelli, Hariet White Medin
Director Mario Bava; screenwriters Marcello Fondato, Giuseppe Barilla and Mr. Bava; cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano (colour); composer Carlo Rustichelli; designer Arrigo Breschi; costumes Tina Grani and Eleonora Garnett; editor Mario Serandrei; producers Massimo Patrizi and Alfredo Mirabile; production companies Emmepi Cinematografica, Les Production Georges de Beauregard and Monachia Film
Screened April 2nd 2014, DVD, Lisbon