Even with my recent embrace of Italian horror, one of the big holes in my film knowledge has been the works of Mario Bava, who’s held up as one of the Big Three directors of the genre (the others being Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci). So when the Belcourt offered up a double feature of Bava films, it seemed like a no-brainer for me to knock out two of his films with one shot.
That being said, despite its fame, Black Sunday may not have been the one to start with. Make no mistake: Black Sunday is beautifully shot, embracing the gothic nature of its story (which involves the resurrection of a medieval witch who wants vengeance on the family that killed her originally) and then some, using its black and white cinematography to incredible effect, and giving out some beautiful framing that I was in awe of. Yes, Black Sunday undeniably showed me the style that Bava brought to bear, and gave me a sense of what he would do once he threw color into his palette of tools. But as a horror film, Black Sunday moves at a snail’s pace, feeling far longer than its 87-minute running time might suggest. There are some incredible moments, and a (somewhat) surprising amount of gore, all done with style to spare and a gloriously gothic mood that you know I’m up for (I am, historically, very pro Gothic films). But from a story point of view, it’s a drag, stretching out every reveal to a point of tedium, and overexplaining every moment (at least in the English dub that I saw; perhaps the original Italian version is stronger there). Still, if you can get past that, there’s little denying the beauty of the film on display, nor the obvious talent behind the camera. It’s just the pacing that drags it down. Rating: ***
Luckily, though, the next film was all I hoped for and then some. Often held to be the origin of the giallo genre, Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is a blast from its opening moments (a gloriously stylish set of posed opening credits that finds every actor striking a pulp noir cover pose next to their name), and that holds true through to the end. The film is pure giallo, with its gloved, behatted figure murdering (mostly) beautiful woman in stylish ways, for reasons that only sort of make sense by the film’s end. Not that that really matters; for all of its soap opera plotting, Blood and Black Lace is an exercise in style – and what style it is. Adding color into his toolbox, Bava delivers an incredible experience, with the standout being a thrilling sequence set against the backdrop of blinking green lights that give us only glimpses of the killer stalking his prey. Yes, Blood and Black Lace spends a bit more time on its labyrinthine story than the typical giallo film (complete with some gloriously soapy confrontations), and that definitely results in a few draggy sections along the way; that being said, the horror elements are so good – tense, sure, but also executed with such style and visual craft – that you’ll find yourself forgiving the film for any shortcomings. Rating: ****