BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Mario Bava
VCI Home Video

VCI opens up Mario Bava's "fashion house of death" again with their Blu-ray/DVD combo of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.

When the mutilated body of model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) is found in a wardrobe in the fashion house of Countess Christina Como (Eva Bartok, SOS PACIFIC), her friends and colleagues feign concern but appear to be secretly relieved about her untimely demise. When Nicole (Arianna Gorini) wears the dress Isabella was to wear at the fashion show, she discovers Isabella's diary and hopes to censor of it of any information that might incriminate their shared lover Frank (Dante DiPaolo, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) before turning it over to the police; however, it appears that it may contain secrets Isabella used to blackmail others. While others like model Peggy (Mary Dawne Arden, JULIET OF THE SPIRITS) are willing to snatch the diary, someone else is willing to kill for it. Among the suspects are pining dresser Marco (Massimo Righi, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES), fellow model Greta (Lea Kruger, RABID DOGS) and her "fiancé" Marquis Richard Morell (Franco Ressel, STAR ODYSSEY), designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi, WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY), model Tao-Li (Claude Dantes, THE HYENA OF LONDON), and fashion house manager and Christina's lover Max (Cameron Mitchell, KNIVES OF THE AVENGER).

Cinematographer-turned-director Mario Bava had already made an international smash with BLACK SUNDAY and pushed the envelope with the sadosmasochistic ghost story THE WHIP AND THE BODY, but his mark on the giallo genre would not be his earlier "The Telephone" segment from his anthology BLACK SABBATH or the monochrome comic thriller THE GIRL WHO KNEW TO MUCH (its humor further augmented by additional footage shot for the American release as THE EVIL EYE) but the Technicolor thriller BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Bava not only dressed up the McGuffin script of the missing diary with gorgeous expressionistic color lighting and a mise-en-scene cluttered with mannequins, billowing cloth, and pools of colored light but also some unprecedented savagery in the "execution" of its body count through line. Faces are bashed, scraped, clawed, and burned in a manner that suggests sadistic urges underpinning the killer's more immediate aim of finding a diary with incriminating information. Characterization is minimal – the investigators (German co-production quota cast member Thomas Reiner and LONG HAIR OF DEATH's Giuiliano Rafffaeli) are ineffectual since there is little to investigate – but what retains interest between killings are what the script and characters consider what moral conventions they flaunt – the revelation that Greta is living with her fiancé evokes titters – scandalous, or what they would pay blackmail to conceal (including the social stigma of epilepsy), and the sleaziness underlying the glamorous façade is supported by Carlo Rustichelli's jazzy score which makes quite the contrast to his rich orchestral accompaniment to THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Italian horror fixture Harriet White Medin (THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK) has a small role as the cleaning lady of the apartment shared by three of the models. Bava's subsequent gialli HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON and FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON would take very different approaches to the genre despite the shared element of the body count.

Released theatrically by Woolner Brothers in a version censored of violence and featuring a new title sequence very much in the spirit of Bava with gel-lit mannequins and skulls, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was further censored when it came to Media Home Entertainment VHS in a TV print. A longer but not completely uncensored European cut with the misspelled export title SIX WOMEN FOR A MURDERE was released on letterboxed Japanese VHS and laserdisc with the American track synchronized to the Italian visuals (including the longer original title sequence). Sinister Cinema attempted to rectify this with a cassette compositing 35mm and 16mm print sources but the murder of Isabella was still missing footage. Polygram in France released a PAL laserdisc of the uncut version in 1993, but it was in Italian only with burned-in French subtitles. When The Roan Group released their laserdisc in 1998, it utilized a 16mm print of the American version. An uncut Italian version ran on the Australian SBS station with English subtitles, and VCI was able to obtain an unsubtitled copy of that master for their 1999 DVD which presented a PAL-converted, non-anamorphic 1.66:1 letterboxed transfer that was nevertheless a revelation for the time with an audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, English, French, and Italian audio and English subtitles, along with interviews with actors Mitchell and Arden, as well as American and French title sequences. A superior anamorphic transfer came out on limited edition DVD in Germany from Anolis featuring an anamorphic 1.75:1 widescreen transfer with Italian and German audio and English subtitles, as well as some non-English extras. The print was more colorful and more vibrant but the German title sequence crowded supporting cast onto single cards so as to make room for additional German version credits, robbing some of the actors of their underlined billing. VCI attempted to wed this transfer to their English audio (upmixed to 5.1) and extras in 2005, but it was a PAL-converted mess that was not as welcome as the original DVD.

In 2015, Arrow announced a Blu-ray, and delivered a 2K-mastered transfer in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio that was the subject of much controversy since it achieved its 1.66:1 framing by cropping the sides without seeming to open up the frame vertically beyond the earlier 1.75:1 transfers. Some suggested that this robbed the extreme periphery of Bava's compositions of accents like mannequins and other bits of set dressing while others suggested that it was the soundtrack area that was meant to be matted off. Some were satisfied with the rendition since the negative-mastered transfer revealed a wealth of detail unhinted at in earlier transfers while others who had seen several video and DVD incarnations of the film had a difficult time enjoying the viewing experience. A Blu-ray followed in German that was framed at 1.85:1 but the print was worn, the colors uneven, and it was not English-friendly.

VCI's apparent ownership of the film in perpetuity was the alleged reason why Arrow's US edition was delayed several months after the UK release, and their announcement of their own Blu-ray release this year had fans weighing VCI's quality control against the announcement that their 2K restoration from "original film materials" would be in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For the first reel, the side information seems to be identical to the Arrow with the 1.85:1 framing achieved by further cropping the top and bottom; however, the rest of the transfer appears to open up the sides compared to the Arrow. Saturated colors are still quite rich but the image appears slightly brighter (the darkness of the Arrow seems more suited), with less intense blues and skin tones that are less pink (the VCI looks a bit more naturalistic in this respect). The sole audio track on the Blu-ray is an LPCM 2.0 encode of the English dub with optional English and Spanish subtitle tracks. The DVD side of the package includes English and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks as well as the English and Spanish subtitles (yellow on the DVD, white on the Blu-ray).

VCI has not carried over the Tim Lucas track but has commissioned the recording of two new tracks. The first features Diabolique magazine editor and Daughters of Darkness co-podcaster Kat Ellinger who foregoes production anecdote in favor of discussing the influences on the film from the cinematic – Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is cited as a direct influence on one set-piece – to the cultural with the post-war economic boom and the growing resentment between the working class who once sought escapism in depictions of "la dolce vita" that would come to a head in the late 1960s, as well as citing the giallo genre as a response to the Hollywood screwball-esque comedy "white telephone" genre in that the Italian thriller incorporated elements of the gothic and noir from works that had largely been inaccessible to the Italian public during the Fascist era. Ellinger also notes antecedents in the destruction of beautiful women in the works of Hitchcock, Michael Powell, and even as far back as Edgar Allen Poe before Dario Argento would take up the mantle while also noting that this was the only one of Bava's gialli in which that aspect was up front and center. The second audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle and filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner (THE LURKING FEAR) is in some ways the American flipside to the Ellinger track with a discussion of the difficulty of seeing the film fully uncut or with its visuals unmarred by poor TV and video sources until much later in both their love affairs with genre cinema. Del Valle draws from his own research, including his interview with the late Mitchell, while Joyner touches upon the Italian cultural context like Ellinger while also providing some production anecdote in the absence of Lucas' commentary of other participation here.

The disc also includes a comparison of the cutting of the American version and the European original (27:31) that runs quite long because entire sequence are viewed in context rather than focusing specifically on the points of censorship. There is also a photo and poster gallery (5:38), soundtrack cues from the Carlo Rustichelli LP single (7:26) – although the full soundtrack has since been released on CD by Digitmovies – the Italian theatrical trailer (3:21) in high definition, and the American title sequence (1:53) in better looking shape than the way it previously appeared minus its Woolner Brothers logo and with warbly sound on the VCI DVDs. Exclusive to the DVD side are the Del Valle interview with Mitchell (7:25) and the interview with actress Arden (12:10) who died in 2014. The cover is reversible. (Eric Cotenas)