In the reductive linear narrative of cinema history, it was the slasher movie and the exploitation movie that killed gothic horror as audiences developed a thirst for visceral scares much closer to home than a fog-caked home counties copse.
After claiming a slice of the blood-drenched gothic gold rush being tussled over by Hammer and AIP with Black Sabbath (1960) and Black Sunday (1963), the godfather of the grand guignol Mario Bava took a swerve into contemporary chills with 1964’s Blood And Black Lace – originally released in Italy as Sei donne per l’assassino (Six Women For The Murderer).
Giallo is often seen as a evolutionary flowering on the way to the modern slasher movie, but rather than being the black-gloved strangler of gothic horror, Blood And Black Lace kept the arch melodrama, the disorientating psychedelic wash of Eastmancolor and the decadent sensuality alive in an all-new subgenre that throws consensus out of alignment.
It’s easy to see why all of that has been so effortlessly overlooked. Like Italy itself in the Sixties, Blood And Black Lace feels no need to bury itself in an imagined history of castles and curses but instead comfortably struts through a cosmopolitan new world built upon the peeling paintwork of the past.
It’s a mise en scene fit for a nostalgic Peroni campaign and just as Bava is himself at the height of his powers as a director, his self-assurance is embodied by the world of the Rome fashion house, peopled by elegant young women with elaborate hair and elegant older men with dubious motives.
The whole film is a Blue Steel catwalk of pursed lips and power walks that’s as unreal as it is real, establishing the golden rule of giallo that internal logic may well exist but it’s not deigning to share its rules with you.
Even in death, its characters are fabulous – wide-eyed, makeup perfect save a single theatrical smear of lipstick or scrap of torn silk.
As much as even Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which gift-wrapped for horror the nice guy killer, the set-piece slaying and the simple morality-based diktat that sex and crime equals death, Blood And Black Lace contributes to slasher canon.
There’s a (literally) faceless murderer stalking women through isolated environments, the growing bodycount and Ten Little Indians tally of the dwindling supporting cast, the classic rug-pulling misdirection and shade-throwing suspicions, and the seemingly ineffectual police, who sit themselves down knowingly on the edges of desks, light up their cigarettes and apply pressure in all the wrong places.
Lovelingly restored by Arrow in glowing 2k, the heavyweight extras belay the film’s importance. There’s a fantastic series of interviews with various Italian crime and horror luminaries (including Bava’s successor and protégée Dario Argento) discussing Blood And Black Lace at length, a lovely spot of musing from the directors of the nonsensical but beautiful Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears, an informative but perfunctory “visual essay” on gender in giallo, and more.
Rich, ludicrous, hypnotic and perfect, Blood And Black Lace didn’t kill the gothic horror so that the avuncular master of the macabre Mario Bava could birth giallo – and by extension the slasher movie. No, lash out with your dying breath, rip away the gauze mask and with a suddenly silence scream you’ll recognise your killer – it was gothic horror all along.