BLOOD AND BLACK LACE Mario Bava, director/Arrow Blu-Ray The camera prowls around the gaudy exterior of a fashion house lashed by rain and wind, its sign broken loose and swinging. One of the models, Isabella, is stalked through the stormy night by a masked assailant, who brutally batters and murders her…Sei Donne per l’Assassino/Blood and Black Lace (1964) was Bava’s delirious tale of a masked killer prowling a fashion house, and remains the most influential Giallo ever made. In the UK, the film was sometimes hooted off the screen for the achingly crass dubbing, the besetting sin of virtually every giallo to gain a nationwide circuit release in both this country and the US. But the availability of Italian-language prints have made it possible for viewers to feast on the visual delights afforded by chiffon, marble, and the director’s cat-like camera prowling through the exquisitely decadent production design (the latter clearly as much the loving creation of the director as that of credited production designer Arrigo Breschi). British censor John Trevelyan took his scissors to the exuberant mayhem at the time of the film’s release, creating a cinematic coitus interruptus in which elaborate orchestration of suspense becomes a prelude to frustrating, barely-glimpsed pay-offs. However, the crippling censorship cuts that truncated every murder in the UK have been restored in new prints, and the elegantly rendered tension is now unspoilt. Bava’s calling card movie looks ever more decadently gorgeous as the years pass, and continues to be his most influential film (apart from Antefatto/Bay of Blood, 1971, whose catalogue of grisly murders was the blueprint for the Friday the 13th movies and their many imitations). Needless to say, characterisation is pitched at the most generous level (no nuanced playing here), with the saturated colour, wonderfully excessive production design (redolent of 1950s recreations of Italian verismo opera productions and exuberantly staged scenes of murder maintaining the viewer’s interest rather than any narrative rigour. If the film (and its many successors) possesses a vision beyond the desire to thrill and alarm the viewer, it’s a notably dyspeptic view of human nature in which venal instincts comprehensively outpace the demands of the libido; the beautifully photographed sensuousness of the female victims is a smokescreen (as so often in the Giallo genre) for a single-minded pursuit of filthy lucre. Perhaps the most immediate effect of Bava’s groundbreaking film is on the work Dario Argento, which simply would not exist in the form that it does without this glossy template. The carefully calculated multinational casting ensured the film’s saleability to a variety of markets (American Cameron Mitchell, Hungarian Eva Bartok, a cluster of much-employed Italian character actors, such as the wonderfully oleaginous Dante di Paolo as a drug-addicted red herring). The film has never looked better than in Arrow’s beautifully detailed Blu-Ray.
HOSTAGES Various Directors/Arrow This DVD box set release makes available the complete season one of the compelling Israeli psychological thriller, filmed on location in modern-day Jerusalem. The series made its mark on BBC Four at 9pm on Saturday evenings – the same cherished time slot that enshrined The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, and Prisoners of War. A brilliant female surgeon, Dr. Yael Danon (played by Ayelet Zurer), discovers her family have been kidnapped the night before she is due to perform surgery on the Israeli Prime Minister. The hostage-holders have one demand: “Kill the PM on the operating table or her loved ones die. The tension lies in the contrast of two universally relatable themes – the choice between a very personal dilemma faced by everyday characters, and a greater moral issue of a wide-scale social and national conspiracy – which ultimately makes for addictive viewing.