Director: Mario Bava
VCI Entertainment

As the original Italian title translates as "Six Women for the Murderer," Mario Bava inaugurated the "body count" film with the legendary BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Although the first "giallo" is also credited to Bava with 1963's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (aka THE EVIL EYE), this time the director uses color--although he was advised not to--and formulates an incredibly visual, sadistic yet beautiful paradigm. Bava set an unrivaled standard for Italian "who done it" thrillers, and countless imitators can be found, even in the American "teen in peril" movement of recent years. VCI originally released this title in late 2000, and are here revisiting it with a different transfer, different packaging and several more supplements, now spread across two discs.

The plot concerns a series of gruesome slayings surrounding the Haute Couture fashion salon, run by Contessa Cristina Como (Eva Bartok) and her lover Max Marian (Cameron Mitchell). The lovely models are sadistically murdered by a faceless nut that the police deem a "sex maniac." The killer is obsessed with tracking down a red diary, loaded with information about the sorted sexual affairs and drug abuse of the various models. One by one, the girls are viciously tortured and killed, while most of the male cast is held suspect by a fervent police inspector (Thomas Reiner).

Made for roughly $150,000, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was an Italian/German co-production, and the German co-producers probably wanted Bava to deliver an Edgar Wallace-style thriller, which were very popular at the time. Instead, Bava delivers a far superior film, substituting rapid editing with a unique style of long gliding tracking shots and pans, as well as his usual flair for colorful lighting schemes. The murders are grisly, without being overly graphic (much like the barbarous H.G. Lewis films of the same era), and are lensed in a beautiful, almost poetic manner. The film is rather misogynistic by way of a sleazy pulp novel, but Bava handles the violent slayings (victims are suffocated, slapped, drowned, scalded, gauged, etc.) with flair, and in an unusual turn, reveals the culprit during the third act of the film, making the climax all the more compelling.

With its black-trenchcoated masked killer, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE set the precedent for Italian giallo films of the 1960s. Also, it obviously had a major influence on Dario Argento’s first feature, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL BLUMAGE (1970), the film that spearheaded the second wave of giallos in the 1970s. The ensemble cast do a nice job, as all of the bickering, shallow characters are red herring candidates, and acting nods go to the beautiful Eva Bartok, who sadly passed away in 1998. The legendary B level thesp, Cameron Mitchell, is more subdued than ever, and he plays his character as calm and cool. A number of Italian horror fixtures are present among the supporting cast, including American born Harriet White Medin (who just passed away this year) and Luciano Pigozzi (aka Alan Collins) in one his typical sleazeball weasel roles.

VCI originally released BLOOD AND BLACK LACE on DVD some five years ago, and although the non-anamorphic transfer was satisfactory, it was later discovered that it was misframed, cropping off picture information, and carrying a falsified 1.66:1 ratio. This new release is reportedly sourced from the same materials as a recently released German disc, but the results are mixed. On the plus side, it’s still uncut and now presented in its proper 1.85:1 hard-matted ratio with anamorphic enhancement, boasting more picture information on both sides, and on the top and bottom of the frame. On the down side, colors (the film was shot in Eastmancolor but processed in Technicolor) look stable, but the picture tends to be soft, and dark scenes are often murky. Also, there’s a strange jittering role that’s mostly noticeable in darker sequences. Basically, the transfer is passable, but far from sparkling. VCI’s 2000 release, although misframed, actually had better saturated colors and sharper contrast, so I wouldn’t be in a rush to get rid of it. It also looks as though some violence had to be reinstated for this version and although its done flawlessly for the most part, you’ll notice a brief shot inappropriately squeezed: luckily it goes by very quick. The 5.1 English language soundtrack has pretty clear dialogue, and comes through strong enough, but there’s consistent “pops” throughout that can be loud and distracting. The original Italian language track and a French track are included, as well as optional English and Spanish subtitles.

Disc 1 of VCI's new BLOOD AND BLACE LACE still carries the original commentary done by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who also did the commentary for their THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Lucas gives us a great discussion as usual, and his research uncovers a bevy of facts (it’s amazing to discover that Paul Frees did the English dubbing for most of the male cast members) and anecdotes, many taken from interviews that he conducted with various cast members himself over the years. If you didn’t hear it the first time around, it’s well worth a listen. Also present is a profile on Lucas, which gives a rundown on his long-awaited, highly anticipated book on Bava. Looks like it will be a must-have when it’s released. Other extra on this disc include biographies/select filmographies for Bava, Mitchell, Bartok, Pigozzi and actress Mary Dawne Arden (which obviously confuses her with a same-name actress active in the 1940s), as well as the American trailer, and trailers for these VCI releases: RUBY, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, CITY OF THE DEAD (an American HORROR HOTEL theatrical trailer with new video generated "City" titles) and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (now available with definitive transfer from Blue Underground).

Disc 2 features a 2000 video interview with Mary Dawne Arden, the aforementioned American actress who starred as one of the murdered models, who is now living in New York. Arden talks pleasantly about working on the film (without bitterness, she claims she wasn't even paid for it!), and updates us on her varied non-acting career and what she's doing today. There's also an interview with Cameron Mitchell, conducted by David De Valle on his great public access talk show, "The Sinister Image," a few years before the actor's death in 1994. Mitchell--a confirmed defender of Bava's brilliance--shows his good sense of humor ("Mario, wherever you are, you son of a bitch, I love you!") and his appreciation for their body of work together. Other extras on the second disc include the French title sequence, the original American theatrical title sequence (more macabre than the Italian one, but the Italian one is much more elegant), three foreign trailers for the film (German, French and Italian), several trailers for other Bava films, and a nice still/photo gallery. Continuing on with the extras are a bonus soundtrack of Carlo Rustichelli's jazzy score, culled from the original record album, and a comparison of scenes from the American version and the heavily edited European version -- demonstrating how much of the violence was trimmed at one time or another.

With striking animated menus and a great array of supplements, VCI’s revisitation of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE gets an A for effort, though the transfer is lacking. Still, it’s definitely worth the low retail price and a recommended purchase in that respect. (George R. Reis)