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GREY GARDENS

Year: 1964

Dir: Mario Bava

Gen: Personal Cinema & Documentary

n 1962, Mario Bava’s tale of a young woman becoming increasingly involved in a bizarre murder case, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, was released. Critically lauded, The Girl… was an original piece of horror filmmaking that would come to be seen as a prototype for Giallo by establishing genre tropes such as convoluted plots, tourists in unfamiliar locale, and faceless tormentors. However, Bava would soon

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discredit his first Giallo foray as being riddled with clichés in an attempt to be a Hitchcock picture. After this, the film fell into relative obscurity, as Bava shifted his tone entirely for his follow-up film, Blood and Black Lace, which would set a more sinister tone for future Gialli.

Blood and Black Lace is categorised by Glasgow academic Michael Mackenzie as being part of the f. gialli movement. Literally standing for Female Gialli, this movement focused on the mental turmoil suffered by the female protagonists at the hands of mysterious killers. Sexuality and psychology are explored through performances of women in their formative years that demonstrate a type of hyperbolic hysteria that Gialli would return to throughout its existence, creating terror and campness that build the otherworldly feel of the genre. Blood and Black Lace finds itself as part of this movement through its exploration of femininity and the destruction of beauty directly through the eyes of the hunted models. Bava tells his story through a hyper violent pastiche of the murder mystery genre (which he had admitted to growing tired of) focusing less on the mystery and more on the stalking and murders, which, for having been released in 1963, still stand out as shocking. Indeed, as a direct reaction to the overly convoluted The Girl Who Knew Too Much, the film plays out in a straightforward fashion, and results in one of the easiest Giallo features to follow. The basic plot revolving around a young model’s brutal murder and the fascination of her diary to both the police and her killer is told with efficiency, quickly escalating to climactic twists that rock the viewers perception of what has transpired.

The characters communicate in a melodramatic fashion, increasingly losing their social airs as the masked killer tightens his grip on the fashion house. Its grandiose presentation appears otherworldly, in a direct contrast to the sensibilities of the US detective stories Bava was rebelling against, while adding a surreal edge to the horror. Oversaturated backgrounds, quick editing and a fluidity unseen in conventional mainstream cinema give Blood and Black Lace a unique visual identity that begins to disorientate the viewer as the film progresses. There’s also a hectic pace to the film which would be maintained into future installations in the Giallo movement, with constant twists and red herrings providing depth and making plot predictions difficult.

Bava unofficially worked as cinematographer on all of his projects and displays flair developed through his history in the role. He also hired Ubaldo Terzano to shoot Blood and Black Lace, who had already collaborated with Bava on Black Sunday as cinematographer, and as a camera operator on The Girl Who Knew Too Much. With his distinct vision, Terzano would become a figurehead in Giallo cinema, working in the camera and lighting department for many Giallo classics, including A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1970) and Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1970). Black Lace portrayed the horror within the Fashion House as a form of violent art, and Terzano strived to create an air of wonderment contradicting the repulsion. In doing so he just happened to set the basis of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s nightmarishly saturated presentation of Suspiria.

This distinct look proved to be so influential in its luscious presentation and execution that its influence could be felt well beyond the Giallo genre. Martin Scorcese , Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino all cite Bava as a primary influence upon their later works. Many other modern works owe a massive debt to Blood and Black Lace with a presentation that pays homage while offering a colder, more brutalist update, replacing the consuming colours with piercing neon flares. The garish vision fo Bava and Terzano can be seen in films such as The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016), The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2017), and Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016). Blood and Black Lace created a new iconography within horror and is not only essential Giallo viewing but an essential watch for any horror fan.

Podcast Discussion

Where to watch

Further Reading

Why your favourite directors love Mario Bava by Martyn Conterio, featured in Little White Lies

The Art of Murder: Blood and Black Lace by Leslie Hatton, featured in Everything is Scary

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PATRICK DALZIEL

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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ABOUT NEON EYE

Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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