BLOOD AND LACE (1971) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Philip S. Gilbert
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

A crown jewel of homegrown 1970s schlock horror, BLOOD AND LACE has been one the most elusive titles of its type for the very fact that it’s never been given a home video release in its own country; that is until now. One of the few films to actually live up to its “SHOCK after SHOCK after SHOCK” tagline, BLOOD AND LACE now gets a highly anticipated Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Scream Factory.

In POV shots from the killer’s perspective, prostitute Edna Masters and her sleeping john are viciously hacked to death by someone with a hammer, and Edna’s house is then burnt to the ground. Her teenage daughter Ellie (Melody Patterson, THE CYCLE SAVAGES), not knowing who her father is or where he is, is put into an orphanage by social worker Mr. Mullins (Milton Selzer, THE EVIL) who periodically visits the place, but is conveniently blinded to what’s going on behind closed doors. Widower Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) runs the private house of parent-less teens like a cold-hearted tyrant along with her boozy handyman Tom Kredge (Len Lesser, KELLY’S HEROES). With both orphanage operators being sadistic in nature, those who have tried to escape end up dead, and when Ellie arrives, she’s literally entered into a house of horrors, witnessing such ghastliness as a trio of kids who suddenly dissapear from the infirmary and another poor soul left tied up and starved in the attic. A police detective on the outside named Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback, FIVE MINUTES TO LIVE) who was investigating her mother’s murder, is overly interested in the girl's well being. Ellie finds rivalry in her younger roommate Bunch (Terri Messina, SINGLE ROOM FURNISHED) and romance with a hunky boy named Walter (Ronald Taft, THE NIGHT OF THE WITCHES), but has recurring nightmares about a hammer-wielding psycho, and worst yet, creeping around the isolated home is a mysterious flannel-shirted man in a horrifying rubber mask (a silent but unforgettable character when he’s in any given scene).

Deemed “One of sickest PG-rated films ever made” in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, that statement is very much true, and ironically, the MPAA has since re-rated it R for “some violence”. There’s no actual nudity or an abundant amount of graphic violence on display, but the overall nihilistic sleaziness of the film and its unethical characters leaves you with the feeling that you actually saw more than what is shown or implied on screen. There's such disturbing sights as boy running away and getting his hand sliced off against a tree by a flung cleaver (and the extremity later discovered in a suitcase), a trio of frozen green-skinned dead teens tossed into beds as part of a demented facade, and a swollen-lipped girl tied to an attic pole dying for a drink of water (and then being taunted with one by the heartless housemother). It’s hard to believe the film frequently played on TV shortly after its theatrical release (in a slightly edited version) but as early as 1974, it was appearing on such late-night horror movie programs as “Fright Night” on New York’s Channel 9.

Directed by Philip Gilbert like a series of indelible punches and well-written as an edgy psychological thriller by Gil Lasky (THE GAY DECEIVERS, THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED), BLOOD AND LACE is highly enjoyable despite its lurid aura of gloom and lack of any likable characters. A former Oscar winner known for playing “heart of gold” floozies, Grahame is eerily deadpan as Mrs. Moore, not only sadistic but quite mad (her theories of preserving the dead for the afterlife, including the late Mr. Moore, are proof of this). Like the other veterans in the cast, she never goes too over-the-top, despite the stack of overly melodramatic situations at hand. Lesser is now most familiar to audiences as “Uncle Leo” on “Seinfeld”, Tayback from the long-running sitcom “Alice” and Selzer has been on just about every TV show you could imagine. Not only do these guys have distinctive character faces but all three give convincing portrayals, the kind that make you smirk with admiration while watching them, proving that they could play against their usual comic types and raise the B level bar even more. Another familiar TV favorite (“Wrangler Jane” from “F-Troop”), Patterson might have been too old for the role of a would-be teenage runaway, but she plays Ellie with a sense of cunningness despite the character’s victimization cries, so one of the twists at the end (and there a couple) shouldn’t come as much of a shock, given the relentless structure of the film. The aforementioned melodramatic sequences are further enhanced by a deliciously overbearing array of stock music (some of which can also be heard in such films as PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE); the results are ludicrous and brilliant at the same time.

A very young Dennis Christopher (FADE TO BLACK) plays one of the orphans (some of them, like Patterson and Messina, were actually well over the age of 20) who is always scrounging for food, and yes, that is June Foray’s voice over-dubbing Patterson in the opening scene! Copyrighted as 1970 and picked up and released by American International Pictures (AIP) the following year, BLOOD AND LACE represents the true essence of what makes a 1970s drive-in horror exceed its reputation and notoriety, and hopefully this long-awaited digital release will introduce it to legions of fright fans who have never seen it or heard of it, because it is indeed a significant archetype of the modern slasher film.

Although BLOOD AND LACE has had VHS releases in such places as Greece, Spain and Japan, in never surfaced here and was never before issued on DVD. To see it finally issued on Blu-ray and DVD was a long time coming, but certainly worth the wait when the results are this flawless presentation (get rid of all those useless bootlegs!). Shout! Factory has thankfully licensed the film from MGM, doing the transfer themselves from the original elements which bare the onscreen title, “The Blood Secret”. With 1080p HD resolution, the film has been remastered in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and for anyone who has seen it before (whether on film of video), here it’s like witnessing it for the very first time. Colors are crisp and pleasing, detail is vibrantly sharp, fleshtones are spot-on and textures are also excellent. Grain structure is perfect throughout, and the elements that MGM provided were pristine enough for the overall presentation to be extremely clean and free of blemishes. The DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) track boasts clear dialogue and sound effects, and the distinctive library music that’s heard throughout is has an ample boisterous quality to it. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. A DVD portion contains a standard definition rendering of the HD transfer, presented here in 1.78:1 anamorphic ratio with Dolby Digital mono audio and the same subtitle option and and same extras.

Film historian Richard Harland Smith is on hand for an audio commentary, and he starts off by pointing out how the opening subjective shots are very similar to the opening of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN some years later. He shares a lot of information, including why June Foray dubbed Patterson in the opening scene, and talks at length about the cast and their film and television work and various connections, as well as their personal lives. Also mentioned here are some of the alternate working titles (“The Blood Chillers”) and the fact that the real-life couple who played the film’s opening victims (Louise Sherrill and Joe Durkin) where behind the 1968 drive-in film GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE, shot in the same house as BLOOD AND LACE. Harland Smith also offers some intriguing essays on American horror movies made after 1970, and that many of them (such as BLOOD AND LACE) were shot in around actual houses outside the studios, and he surmises that director Gilbert might be someone else using a pseudonym. Rounding out the extras is the alternate title sequence (under its BLOOD AND LACE release title) and the original theatrical trailer, and the cover is reversible, revealing alternate U.S. poster art on the flip side. (George R. Reis)