Entirely unsung in the modern circles of mainstream artistic conversation, the delight to be found in the works of director Mario Bava are worth exploring. He toys with genre and influence often, never afraid to experiment with something that may be a complete disaster. His relative obscurity to the average punter looking for a bit of entertainment is no fault but his own. Blood and Black Lace, for instance, looks to form the early years of the Giallo horror with its pairings of intriguing, layered mystery and violent horrors. He is caged inside of the Edgar Wallace inspirations, and his mid-60s offering is admirable.
But admirable does not equate to quality, not in some cases anyway. For Blood and Black Lace, it certainly does, and the two styles swing through the lush surroundings Bava has to offer. Taking place inside a Roman fashion house with a variety of models and characters on display, Bava utilises his surroundings just as well as his characters. They cling to the walls and rooms with fear, which hangs from the darker corners of this looming, architectural monstrosity. There is a sense of loathing and jealousy among these characters, and when layered on top of one another, it is either an accident or sheer genius to display such exceptional atmospheric building. They are sturdy and somewhat rugged, but they are the tools Bava has to work with.
There’s a resolute atmosphere to how Bava frames these shots. It’s a frankly better-looking film than other works in his filmography. Watching through the Arrow rework delivered an exceptionally crisp image, one that brings out the colour and flair so clearly present throughout the films he would craft. He is lavish and admirable in his composition and variety but does not quite ascend the Giallo style. Bava does, however, have a keen plan for reaching the top of the Giallo genre, or near enough. It is up there with the likes of Suspiria regarding not just its craft and quality, but of its impact and style. With that, though, come the detractions of the genre as well.
A strong cast paves the way in a film dominated by icy stares and cold-hearted glares. A series of murders come to light and we traipse through a surprisingly traditional murder mystery style plot. Here, Bava experiments and uses his time wisely. He is admirable and courageous, as all artists should be. The impact on genre is remarkable, but its effect on me is less than stellar. Not something that has stuck with me, but that is an issue for Giallo, rather than Bava, who here has demonstrated a tactful use of the camera and colour so synonymous with Italian horror. It is easy to say this within a contemporary analysis, one of a film that went on to influence stylish choices found in the films of Martin Scorsese. But therein lies the highest and lowest point of Blood and Black Lace. It is the films it is credited as influencing that now outshine this initially unsuccessful discovery of the Giallo genre. An engaging, flagging, entirely compelling piece that is a must-watch for those interested in the creatives it inspired down the line.