At the dawn of the ‘70s, the MPAA ratings system was a fairly new thing. The ratings board wasn’t as uptight and conservative as it would ultimately become and would let some surprisingly grim and brutal films slip out with deceptively gentle ratings. Blood And Lace is a memorable example of this happening with a horror film. It is rated PG and to be fair, it scrupulously avoids profanity and nudity… but on the other hand, it’s also steeped in violence, bloody shocks and an atmosphere of sleaze as hypnotic and eyebrow-raising as you might see in R-rated films.
Blood And Lace starts with young Ellie (Melody Patterson) sent to a halfway-house for teens and young adults after her mother and a male companion are victims of a brutal claw-hammer that kicks off the film in shocking style. She’s got a lot to deal with — she doesn’t know her father, her mother was a well-known prostitute — but her new home introduces more problems. House mother Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) is a martinet and sadist who lords over her charges with the help of hard-drinking, perverse handyman Kredge (Len Lesser). They’ve got a scheme to kill their young charges, a burnt-faced killer begins stalking Ellie and there’s also an unsavory detective (Vic Tayback) who is trying to solve her mother’s murder — and may have designs on her.
From the opening sequence, Blood And Lace creates an atmosphere of seediness and brutality that rivals films that have more overt adult content. Screenwriter Gil Lasky populates his tale with an array of sleazy characters, most of whom are duplicitous and/or driven by illicit desire. Some people have trouble with the film’s midsection, which gets kind of soap opera-ish, but Lasky pushes the sleazy atmosphere as far as a PG-rated film can go. He also comes up with a real pip of a final reel that piles up the dead bodies and delivers a final plot twist that closes things with a final, nasty gut-punch.
Blood And Lace is also pretty well made for a drive-in quickie. Philip Gilbert’s direction is simple but sturdy, showing some interesting flashes of stylization in the murders (a camera rig that shows stalking from the P.O.V. of the clawhammer is pretty inspired). The film also has pretty strong acting for a film at this level with Patterson making an intriguingly edgy heroine and Grahame playing her villainous role with subtle menace.
However, it is Lesser and Tayback who walk off with the top performance honors. Both men were better known for their work in t.v. sitcoms — Lesser on Seinfeld, Tayback on Alice — but both men are given sordid characters to work with and they relish every moment onscreen. Lesser creates a gleefully nasty and manipulative henchman, using a deadpan delivery and his gangster-ish looks to create menace. Tayback is even more low-key, wisely underplaying his character’s mix of heroic impulses and sleaziness to create someone the audience never quite knows how to feel about. They’re the kind of performances that could have fit into a vintage crime noir and they anchor the film’s grim atmosphere beautifully.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently released this title as a blu-ray/DVD combo set. It’s the first time on American home video for this title and this set offers a fine rendition of it, particularly on the blu-ray. The transfer does a nice job of bringing out the detail and subtle touches of color in this simply-shot film — and those used to watching this title on fuzzed-out bootlegs will appreciate its new level of clarity. Audio for this title sticks to the original mono mix, presented in lossless form on the blu-ray, and it sounds fine for a film of this vintage.
Extras include the film’s charmingly grim/sleazy trailer and the original title sequence (the elements used for the transfer are uncut but present the film under an alternate title, The Blood Secret). The biggie amongst the extras is a commentary track by writer/historian Richard Harland Smith that is densely researched but delivered in a crisp, enthusiastic style He offers up copious biographical and career details for the cast and filmmakers, reveals the interesting history for the film’s main location and provides some interesting contextual details about the film’s place in horror’s wild early-‘70s era. The result delivers a nice mix of facts and food for thought, all delivered with a playful, knowing sense of humor.