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With the prerequisites of giallo cinema firmly in mind, it is clear that Mario Bava's
Blood And Black Lace is the seminal model for this particular genre.
In Bava's film, numerous killings are perpetrated but it is the motivation behind these murders that is more character revealing than the violence itself. The victims are guilty of only one salient crime - being voluptuous, attractive women and thereby providing the catalyst for a hideous display of male paranoia and frustration, as encapsulated in the misogynistic killer. The murders are hung around one of those convoluted penny-dreadful type scenarios, which so often haunted Bava's career but, if anything, the drug abuse and petty jealousies of haute couture models at a fashion salon in Rome only serves to complicate the plot, interrupting Bava's lyrical mise en scene with intrusive, police procedural sequences.
A forerunner of the modern, anonymous assassin, the serial killer wears a white gauze mask during the murders, and this faceless aspect is particularly disturbing as it poses the alarming theory that the killer could be anyone, and no real attempt is made rationalise the killer's actions or explain his motives. Just as the appearance of the faceless killer recalls the eerie, swathed lovers of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, so the presence of drugs and fashion accoutrements draws attention to the fetishistic elements contained in the film. There is a paradox of having characters with a craving for illicit drugs, whilst the killer exhibits a craving for the illicit pleasures or 'fix' he gains from sexual arousal followed by killing - providing him with his own perverse orgasm/ relief. This is a fascinating parable for modern times where both sex and drugs viewed as forbidden, and where sex can prove as addictive as a drug - and where, ironically, both could be viewed as the height of fashionable behaviour throughout the trendy, image-conscious 1990s.
Bava's orgy of violence displays a disturbing amount of sadistic zeal as one girl's face is pressed into a red hot stove, another has her head bashed repeatedly against a tree trunk, whilst a blade-lined mask is slammed onto the face of another victim (shades of Black Sunday?). In another moment of delirium one girl is strangled whilst another is found drowned in her bath. Bava's restless camera also serves to highlight the visceral nature of the killer, although very little actual blood is glimpsed during the killings. Instead the roving camera takes in an accumulation of strident red subjects ranging from the crimson drapes, telephones and diary to the elegant dresses and the model's finely manicured fingernails. Urbaldo Tersano's striking cinematography advances rhythmically over omnipresent fashion mannequins, a creaking sign buffeted by the wind, and a fluorescent water fountain silhouetted against the night sky, while all around shafts of incandescent light reveal furtive figures in the strobe lit neon netherworld of violent criminals and decadent beauties.
Bava's work here has undoubtedly influenced a whole generation of filmmakers, from the obvious names like Dario Argento, to the more obscure such as Piccio Raffanini (Obsession - A Taste For Fear, 1988), and Carlo Vanzina (Nothing Underneath, 1985) - both films inhabit the fashion world milieu of Bava's picture - whilst Michele Soavi's superlative Stagefright, and Lamberto Bava's above average Le Photo di Gioia (both 1987), feature scenes with grisly still life tableaux of dead bodies a la Blood And Black Lace. The longevity of the film's themes and its stylistic devices proved the most poignant comment on its undeniable quality.
(a longer version of this review appeared in Necronomicon 2)