Blood and Black Lacerecommended viewing

Leave a beautiful corpse
Mario Bava
Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Dante PePaolo
The Setup: 
Someone’s killing a bunch of fashion models.

A friend of mine was going through a giallo phase, and recommended this one to me as particularly dreamy and vivid. It is, and it is also largely credited with being among the first and most influential giallos, with its bright colors and slithery camera movements, and is also considered a forerunner of the slasher films of the 80s. So let not a further moment be wasted.

We open with one of the highlights of the film, the credit sequence. It is composed of tableaus of its stars, frozen in character, as their name appears on screen. Only two of them move, and those are the policemen. It’s hypnotic and intriguing, and weirdly, becomes better every time you watch it. You can probably find this sequence on YouTube.

This film is very dreamy, filled with vivid color, and devotes more time to its stalking sequences than it does to actual plot… which may be why I found it so hard to follow. So if the plot seems a little vague as I retell it, it’s because it’s vague to me. First this guy arrives at a haute couture shop, housed in a grand old Italian house, in the dead of night. He is apparently looking for drugs. Then this woman Isabella arrives. She has a long walk through the woods to get to the house, and is strangled on the way. Inside, the house is both a showroom and workspace, housed in large, incredibly gaudy interiors filled with vivid colors. There are red [no, I mean, RED] mannequins sprinkled throughout, and you’ll notice that these people arrange their books by color. Inhabiting this environment are a bunch of models, Cristina, the owner, some male second-in-command, and inspector Sylvester, who visits to tell them of the murder and investigate. You’ll notice that only one of the models cries at the news that Isabella is dead, and they all gasp upon learning that Isabella kept a diary. What secrets of their own are revealed inside? For the time being, one of the models takes the diary, promising to deliver it to the police the next day.

Now the murder sequences start. They all feature long buildups, steadily stalking camera movements, half-undressed victims, and take place in wildly ornate rooms. The killer is eventually revealed to be a person in a long raincoat and fedora, with a flesh-colored stocking over his face, giving him a creepy anonymous appearance. He looks like Rorschach from Watchmen, only without the ink stains. One woman’s eyes are gouged out. One woman’s face is pressed into red-hot coals. And so on. All of them are trying to get their hands on the diary [we never find out what’s in it] to rip out pages or otherwise hide their secrets.

There is one sequence that stood out with me. The model in possession of the diary has it in her purse. She attends a fashion show and places it on a table while she goes back to get dressed. In a very tense, clever sequence, we see that everyone has their eyes on the purse, and keep cutting back to it just sitting there, waiting for the inevitable moment when we cut back and it isn’t there.

Eventually the killer is revealed [rather early on, too] but the plot is hardly the point. With this movie the style IS the substance, and that is hardly meant as an insult. This film becomes a hypnotic series of moods and technical setpieces, and too much plot would only distract from that. As it is, it becomes almost abstract and post-modern as it seems that the stalkings and murders exist not as part of any story that must be told, but simply for the feelings and sensations they evoke. Tension, violence and eroticism for its own sake, reducing the horror film to its sensations and removing the reliance on plot, always a flimsy pretext anyway. The further I get away from this film, the more it looks like a highly advanced masterpiece.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it’s very advanced and influential. Don’t worry if you’re not following the plot.