An unscrupulous business operating under the guise of a top fashion house with exotic models running sexual favors, cocaine dealings and blackmail, becomes a murder scene – after someone is pushed to the edge. The saga begins when a beautiful model is brutally murdered, and her boyfriend, a known addict supplying her drugs, is suspected of the crime…but is he guilty or is someone waiting in the shadows setting him up?
eyelights: Its classic whodunit vibe. Bava’s creative visuals. Its edge; it’s edgier than its contemporaries.
eyesores: Poor overdubs. The shaky, handheld camera.
If not for my insatiable curiosity with regards to Mario Bava’s work, I probably would never have picked up ‘Blood and Black Lace’. The title and DVD packaging alone made it seem like a cheapo horror film of the genre that litter dustbins everywhere – the kind of crappy knock-off best left forgotten.
But I became intrigued with Bava when the first boxed-set of his work came out, and I actually made a blind-buy of it. There was something about Anchor Bay’s packaging that drew me to it time and time again, whenever I walked into a store that carried it. So I read up on him and his work a little bit, discovered how influential he was, and eventually just had to give in.
While I wasn’t thrilled with everything that I saw, I couldn’t help but pick up the second boxed set when I realized that it featured more films in it for the same price (and some included alternate versions as well). And that’s when I became a fan: although some were dismally bad (‘Roy Colt And Winchester Jack’ comes to mind), I discovered a few gems along the way (‘5 Dolls For An August Moon’ and ‘Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped’) and realized that he was a multi-faceted director.
So, ever since, I’ve been scooping up any film of his whenever I can.
Granted, not all of them are worth the time. I found Schock, for instance, a waste of my time. But the same cannot be said for ‘Sei donne per l’assassino’.
In fact, ‘Sei donne per l’assassino’ was an extremely pleasant surprise: it’s pretty much a classic whodunit, structurally, but with an accent on the murders more so than on the actual police work. It is said that this picture is at the root of the giallo genre in Italy and that slasher films of the ’80s owe everything to it. It has apparently had an impact on a considerable number of filmmakers, despite its commercial failure at the time.
I can totally see why it stood out: despite being filmed on a ridiculously low budget, ‘Sei donne per l’assassino’ overcomes most of its technical limitations by being creative, by being artsy instead of being crude. One only has to look at all the ambitious camera work that Bava pulled off, even though he didn’t have the gear (and hence why it sometimes looks very jittery) to see how he let his vision rule over his pocketbook. His use of shadows, lighting and simple tools such as curtains embellished many sequences well beyond the average murder mystery of its time.
Another notable way in which the picture distinguishes itself from its contemporaries is in its focus on the violence behind these acts of terror. Instead of censoring itself by opting for mysterious demises or disposing of the victims rapidly, Bava decided to drag the conflicts out and make them more kinetic and jagged. Although he made the attacks more realistic, he nonetheless retained theatrical elements (ex: the body language) in these sequences, distancing the viewer from reality somewhat. Honestly, I was surprised by how brutal-looking the scenes were, given that the movie was released in 1964; AIP and Hammer Films were tame in comparison.
The story, meanwhile, was not nearly as ground-breaking or memorable; it’s a generic murder-thriller with a fairly convoluted twist to it. The pieces don’t really come together especially well, and the murderer’s motive stretches the boundaries of reason and credibility; all I could think was:”That was the plan? This is why there was all this senseless killing?”. Having said this, it falls quite in line with this type of film – they often tend to have bizarre twists and slightly nonsensical elements in them. So, taking this into account, fans of the genre wouldn’t really mind its comic book-y approach to plot.
One thing that’s very particular about ‘Sei donne per l’assassino’ is that there isn’t anyone to root for. Since the film’s focus is knocking off one model after the next, we don’t really know who the hero or heroine is; the moment that we get tied to anyone, they end up dying a grisly death. It’s unusual, but it’s not a bad decision at all, because we are left on edge throughout, unsure of who will be next, knowing that it could very well be anyone. If there’s ever a problem with these genre films (or almost any Hollywood production), it’s that we tend to know who to root for and, consequently, who will come out victorious in the end – thereby deflating all tension. In this picture, we soon find out that anything goes.
One of the key problems with the picture is the dubbing. Many European films of the day were made without any sound (to facilitate production, to avoid having background noise ruining the picture). The sound for these films was then re-recorded from scratch in the studio, usually with the original actors doing the dubs. But it wasn’t always the case, and one would frequently get poor voice actors to do fill the void. To make matters worse, since they were often international productions, actors spoke a variety of languages on camera – thereby insuring that much of the dialogue couldn’t be lip-synched.
Frankly, despite its many imperfections, I was quite impressed with ‘Sei donne per l’assassino’. It wouldn’t win any accolades now, but I definitely see how innovative it must have been at the time. It helps that I like both the horror genre and whodunits, but the amount of ingenuity invested in it and its artistic touches made it stand out from the rest. Even if it isn’t the best, it’s a notable picture and I would highly recommend it to horrorphiles and Bava enthusiasts alike; it has everything you can hope for in a decent slasher/thriller.
Date of viewing: September 27, 2012