The his­to­ry of Italian gen­re cin­e­ma is full of tal­ents who con­jure up baro­que visions of goth­ic ter­ror but the undoubt­ed mae­stro of this group was the great Mario Bava. This cin­e­matog­ra­pher turned direc­tor could breathe life into the sim­plest sto­ry­li­nes with his impec­ca­ble sense of visu­al design and his gift for sly, macabre humor. Perhaps the best intro­duc­tion to his oeu­vre is Blood And Black Lace, a gor­geous­ly styl­ized who­dunit that is allur­ing and bru­tal by turns. Not only is one of the best Italian hor­ror films, it vir­tu­al­ly set the tone for the entire Italian gial­lo boom that would fol­low in its foot­steps.

Blood&BL-pos1Blood And Black Lace is built on a well-craft­ed sto­ry­line that plays like Ten Little Indians trans­plant­ed to fash­ion scene. It is set in a fash­ion house run by a wid­owed countess (Eva Bartok) and wealthy back­er (Cameron Mitchell) when a mod­el is bru­tal­ly mur­dered by a masked killer, those who worked in the fash­ion house with her dis­cov­ered she kept a diary with everyone’s nasty secrets in it. Seemingly every­one there has a skele­ton in the clos­et that could be exposed when the police get the diary so every­one schemes to get it — includ­ing the masked mur­der­er, who starts pick­ing off the schemers one by one.

The result­ing film main­tains the demands of a mys­tery thanks to a tight­ly plot­ted script spear­head­ed by Marcello Fondato but the real show here is the way Bava chore­o­graphs the macabre action. Each sus­pense set­piece is an intri­cate­ly designed mar­vel, with pre­cise cam­era moves and dra­mat­ic use of can­dy-col­ored light­ing. He off­sets the love­li­ness of the set­ting and the mod­els with cru­el vio­lence, cre­at­ing a mor­bid, fetishized dual­i­ty of beau­ty and bru­tal­i­ty that is hyp­notic and unnerv­ing all at once. He also weaves in the occa­sion­al note of grim humor, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the poten­tial vic­tims are snip­ing at each oth­er.

This approach would be imi­tat­ed by many sub­se­quent Italian hor­ror direc­tors, par­tic­u­lar­ly Dario Argento, but the pre­ci­sion of Bava’s tech­nique ensures it still gen­er­ates fris­sons today. It’s also worth not­ing that Bava gets styl­ized per­for­mances to match his visu­al approach, includ­ing a sur­pris­ing­ly sub­dued turn from Mitchell, and Carlo Rustichelli’s score mix­es the expect­ed sus­pense score with some Mancini-esque lounge jazz touch­es that enhance the over­all style.

In short, Blood And Black Lace is required view­ing for any stu­dent of Italian hor­ror, not to men­tion any fan of the slash­er fare that would bor­row heav­i­ly from the gial­lo film. No sur­vey of Mario Bava’s work is com­plete with­out this clas­sic.