Sunday, 26 April 2015

Blu-ray Review: Blood And Black Lace (Arrow Video)

The fact that Mario Bava did not receive widespread critical acclaim during his lifetime would not have bothered him one bit. Happily, some of those who long championed his skill behind the camera and amazing on-set ingenuity can now witness his work through the medium of Blu-ray which showcases his films to a degree never thought possible in the days of watching 'Kill, Baby...Kill!' and others on a 3rd gen VHS boot. Unfortunately, some of those more ardent supporters such as the Upchurch brothers are no longer with us, but their work and appreciation live on!
The latest instalment of Mario Bava home video releases is Arrow's wonderful 2K restoration of 'Blood And Black Lace' which played an important part in the giallo sub-genre.
The film is set largely in a fashion house, populated by characters who become extremely nervous about a diary belonging to model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), whose body has been discovered by boutique owner, recently widowed Countess Cristina (Eva Bartok). Blackmail, drug abuse and abortion are just a few of the skeletons in various closets here, making the bright red journal most desirable for those with something to hide. As the bodies pile up (literally, in one scene), the police, led by Inspector Sylvestri (Thomas Reiner)attempt to shed some light on this darkest of mysteries, and detain five men; each of whom could be the killer. Clad in a black trenchcoat, with black gloves and a white faceless mask, this haut couture assassin inspired a whole slew of similarly attired deranged murderers, and more than 50 years on, has never been equalled. The killers in this outrageously brutal series of films each have his/her own back stories and motivations. Here, the killer could be any one of five or six people, from Cameron Mitchell to Luciano Pigozzi's fashion designer, but there's also another important participant to consider. If the soundtrack to Dario Argento's 'Suspiria' can be viewed as an additional oppressive cast member, then the use of colour in 'Blood And Black Lace' could possibly be termed a central character, teasing, unsettling, making us gasp at times.

It's a beautifully shot film, with inventive lighting and bold primary colours leaving us in no doubt that Mario Bava was an absolute master of his crafts. The murder scenes are gruesome, yet oddly compelling, and turn an every day place of work and what should be secure dwelling places into houses of malice and death, recorded by an unflinching camera that glides and then settles on the killers prey.
The cast are all excellent, from Arrianna Gorani; Mary Arden (whose character Peggy procures the incriminatory journal); Danti Di Paolo's drug addict to Cameron Mitchell, Bartok and Lea Krugher (Lea Lander), and the score by Carlo Rusticelli is one to savour and replay. The film alone makes this one of Arrow Video's choicest cuts, but that's just part of this story.

The restoration for 'Blood And Black Lace' comes from the original camera negative, scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan at Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. The film was graded on the Baselight grading system at Deluxe Restoration, London. The end result gives us the opportunity to view this film in its correct aspect ratio, and to experience the full effect of Bava's colour scheme. It's a flawless transfer, and a real eye opener for those of us who thought they'd really seen this film. Prepare to think again!

The supplementary material begins with a commentary track from Tim Lucas, author of 'Mario Bava: All The Colors Of The Dark' and editor of 'Video Watchdog' magazine and who also assisted with the grading on this release. Tim covers an enormous amount of ground here, talking about the colour schemes (dresses, telephones); the Krimi films and 'White Face'; how the murder scenes were shot to increase the victims vulnerability and of the director's ability to create something out of nothing. Tim also delivers valuable information on cast members (including his late friend Harriete Whie Medin)and makes a multitude of astute observations. One of these is what he terms "the angel in the wreckage', referring to Bava's placement of statues next to scenes of crime and of the lighting used in those moments leading up to and after death. No-one should die alone, and Bava's choices suggest he agrees. Maybe someone or something was there at the end to guide them on the final stage of their journey. A commentary track you'll surely return to.

The next item for your attention is 'Psycho Analysis'; a 55m 8s feature-length documentary on the origins of the giallo, featuring crime novelist Carlo Lucarelli; screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi; writer Steve della Casa; Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava and Roberto Curci. Amongst the many topics discussed are film censorship, classic detective stories and Mario Bava with Argento recalling the work he did on 'Inferno' and son Lamberto remarking he'd watched so many films on Italian TV and discovered his father had done the effects and photography on many of them. It's an informative and revealing documentary which amply rewards the time invested by the viewer.

'Helen Cattet and Bruno Forzani'. An appreciation of 'Blood And Black Lace' by the creative team behind 'Amer' and 'The Strange Color Of Your Body's Tears'. The pair talk about Bava's career; the erotic elements of the genre and agree that Mario is"The father of the giallo'.

'Yellow' (26m 2s)
A crowd-funded, award-winning neo giallo from Ryan Haysom and Jon Britt, which is set amongst the neon lit Berlin where a serial killer is at large.
Driven by a suitably atmospheric score, 'Yellow' follows an old man on the hunt for the murderer who commits his bloody crimes in time-honoured giallo fashion. This compelling short is well paced, manages to cram some interesting set pieces in it's short running time and begs repeated viewings to fully appreciate.
There's a 3m 24s trailer for 'Blood And Black Lace' up next, which is followed by 'Gender And Giallo' (38m 1s); a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie (whose brother David did the encoding for this disc). Michael explores the giallo's relationship with the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s; defines exactly what constitutes a giallo; analyses scores, costumes, the preoccupation with social mores and looks at the M-giallo and the F-giallo.
The commentary is accompanied by clips from the likes of 'Death Walks At Midnight', 'Lizard In A Woman's Skin', 'Short Night Of The Glass Dolls', 'The Fifth Cord' and others. It's an extremely informative piece that fully justifies it's presence on this disc.
'Blood And Bava'. (11m 21s) This is an audio panel discussion with Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava and Steve della Casa recorded in 2014 at Cour Mayeur film festival. Stories include Bava's work on 'Inferno', a Bill Friedkin/Alfred Hitchcock anecdote and how a drunken Sacha Pitoeff was dealt with on the set of 'Inferno'.

'The Sinister Image' (56m 25s) This contains 2 episodes of David Del Valle's TV series that were devoted to Cameron Mitchell. This really is worth its weight in gold as Cameron holds forth on some of the director's and fellow artists he's worked with, which resembles a who's who of a golden age of cinema. He recalls having to leave a theatre at the age of 12 during Bela Lugosi's portrayal of 'Dracula'; the time he had to shoot Miriam Hopkins in the back; his role in 'Death Of A Salesman' play and feature ("it was never meant to be a film") and offers generous praise for British actors. The interview includes clips from 'My Favourite Year', 'Gorilla At Large (with Cameron and David donning 3D glasses), 'Blood And Black Lace' and 'The Offspring' amongst others, and Cameron explains why he held Mario Bava in the highest regard amongst all the directors he'd worked with. I was left with a genuine sense of regret when the interview ended as I could hav listened to another couple of hours in the company of two men who have earned the highest respect in their respective fields.
The extras conclude with the 1m 56s US opening, which is an imaginative alternate credit sequence, created by Filmation for US release. It was sourced from Joe Dante's private print and scanned in high definition.

We're not quite finished yet, as there's a booklet containing writing by Howard Hughes, Alan Jones, David Del Valle and Anton Bitel. 'The Glamour House Of Horror' by Howard Hughes notes the additions to the Krimi formula, goes into the history of some of the locations used and notes the exteriors were often "worthy of "Jack The Ripper" victoriana".
'Whodunnit: The Usual Suspects' follows, giving the lowdown on the cast members in the frame for the murders in 'Blood Adn Black Lace', and includes career resumes. Two fine pieces, and make sure you install Howard's books on your 'must buy' list .
Next up is 'Joe Dante Remembers The Genius Of Mario Bava', which is an Alan Jones Shivers magazine feature from November 2000. Joe remembers the first Italian Horror film he saw was 'Black Sunday'; explains why he travelled long distances to see classic horrors at the cinema and of inserting a long homage to Bava in the middle of his first film (Hollywood Boulevard). This was written for the revised and expanded version of Troy Howarth's 'The Haunted World Of Mario Bava' book.
'Bava's Avenger' by David Del Valle takes a look at Cameron Mitchell's film and TV career, from 'The High Chaparral' ( a series my wife and I both watched in different countries during our formative years)to his work for Bava.
There's also a short piece on 'Yellow' from Ryan Haysom and a review of this film by Anton Bitel which explores the films influences and places it as "casting a modern eye back on the old school" which is a beautifully observed comment.This booklet contains some great colour stills from the film, and there's also notes on the transfer and disc production credits.

'Blood And Black Lace' is available to buy now. It's region A and B, and also comes as a beautiful steelbook.

Early days to be thinking about best discs of the year lists, but the film, and it's remarkable restoration and quality extras is destined to be one of the best packages of the year.

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