Wednesday, October 24, 2018
With Halloween just around the corner I had no choice but to write about a horror film this week. After all it is the season. Fortunately VCI is releasing their version of the Mario Bava classic BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. I was concerned about what their version would be like since Arrow Video released the film earlier this year in an amazing edition. It turns out they’ve done an admirable job with a 2K restoration of the film from original film materials. The look of the film is comparable to the one Arrow put out but without a side by side view it would be difficult to say which is better.
The film opens with the murder of Isabell, a model who works in an haute couture fashion house on her way home on a dark and stormy night. Her body shows up the next day in a studio closet. As the police begin to investigate the number of suspects grows rather than dwindle. It seems most of the other models had some reason or another to fear Isabella. The owner, the studio’s manager, friends and other co-workers as well.
A diary that Isabella kept is also discovered but before it can be taken to the police it is stolen. The woman, another model, who stole the diary is tortured and also found murdered. Each time we see the murderer he/she is clothed in a black coat, black gloves and a full face mask. The identity of the murderer as well as who will survive are not revealed until the end of the film. Yes, the story can seem fairly simple. But the twists and turns presented in the backstage issues among the cast make it as much a melodrama as a near perfect giallo film.
For those who don’t know what giallo is it is a genre of Italian film named so because they presented whodunits, murder mysteries that were similar to the style of writing found in books published in that country that were published with a bold yellow border, giallo meaning yellow in Italian. Those books which featured the writings of Edgar Wallace, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and more were quite popular. The films were mostly whodunits as well but had several items that became running themes, among them a killer whose face is not seen who wore black gloves. The amount of violence was also fairly extreme for the time and was a noted feature.
So what makes this one stand out? The director of the film was Mario Bava, a noted Italian director who came from a cinematographer background. For Bava the look of the film was as important as the story being told if not more so. It shows in this film. The colors used here virtually leap from the screen. Bava used extremes in color to highlight various scenes with the murders taking place in a highly stylized use of lighting and color that I’ve not seen before. It helps the story rather than hinder it. It catches your eye and makes you watch just to see the images on screen.
It was also one of the first of the giallo films, some calling it the very first made although there were a few others that qualified. While it was released in 1964 it holds up to today’s standards. Younger viewers might think it is ripping off any number of slasher films they’ve witnessed but the fact is it was there long before the rest. The film led the way for directors that followed, including the most famous of these other than Bava, Dario Argento. Having worked with Bava the influence he had on Argento is obvious.
It’s hard to describe just how amazing this film is visually. I keep raving about it but it really is that great. From the opening credits my eyes went wide watching what was on the screen. I kept asking myself how I had never seen this movie but then I thought what sort of condition would it have been in had I seen it years ago?
The big differences between this release and that from Arrow are the packaging, price and extras. The price is a little less, about $8 less on amazon. The packaging features the original ad artwork. The extras here are extensive for a VCI release and include a 2018 commentary track by Kat Ellinger, editor-in-chief and author at Diabolique Magazine, a 2018 commentary track by film historian David Del Valle and director/writer C. Courtney Joyner, a video interview with Mary Dawne Arden, an archival interview with star Cameron Mitchell with David Del Valle, the original American theatrical trailer plus Italian, German and French trailers, bonus trailers of other Bava films, an extensive photo gallery, alternate original Italian or original US theatrical main titles, a bonus music track by composer Carlo Rustichelli, a video comparison of the American version cuts/Euro uncut and a 2 sided cover with alternate cover art.
If you’ve never seen the movie this is the best time to do so with either of these greatly restored versions. Due to the extras on each I would suggest fans pick up both for their collections just to get them all. The movie is a masterpiece of horror and if you’ve not experienced make a point of doing so.
When I first began watching ARIZONA I wasn’t crazy about it. I’ve never been a huge fan of actor Danny McBride. Looking through his list of credits I found 2-3 movies of his that I enjoyed, neither of which featured him as the main star and at least 2 movies I consider two of the worst films made in the past decade. Needless to say my expectations for this film were not high.
But at about 30-45 minutes in that changed. Not due to McBride’s performance but because the movie actually began to get funny. Not in a laugh out of your seat type funny but that dark humor fueled comedy that I am a particular fan of.
The movie takes place in 2009 just after the housing crisis. A small newly built community in Arizona lays near empty and realtor Cassie Fowler (Rosemarie DeWitt) is doing her best to stay above water. Recently divorced after her husband Scott (Luke Wilson) began sleeping with Kelsey (Elizabeth Gillies) she lives with her daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson) in one of the communities she sold houses in. Unfortunately the bank is about to foreclose on that house since she hasn’t sold much since.
Cassie works for Gary, a jerk of a realtor played in a cameo appearance by Seth Rogan. As he chastises her for being late to work and makes some crude comments about her appearance in storms Sonny (McBride). Sonny is visibly upset about the house Gary sold him promising a huge return on investment. Now he too is about to lose his house. When Cassie moves to the next room to take a phone call she watches through the window as the pair argue on the balcony before Sonny pushes Gary over killing him. When he sees her through the window he knocks her unconscious.
Waking in another house Cassie is confronted by a bumbling Sonny who seems to think now is the best time to hide his face. He escorts her on a tour of his home showing her the various upgrades he asked for and talking about how his ex-wife always told him how stupid he was before leaving him with their two sons. As he is about to free Cassie he realizes she lied about being married and his issues with those who lie stop him. At the same time his wife shows up and after a heated argument he knocks her unconscious too.
From there it becomes a comedy of errors with Sonny killing people one after the other without intending to do so at first. But it becomes apparent that he can’t leave any witnesses to send him away. As the body count escalates so does Sonny’s insanity. What began as an accident move towards premeditated murder, not just one but five with two more on the way. If Cassie can survive and protect her daughter Morgan it will be a miracle.
So a movie about murder may not sound like a laughing matter but it actually is a pretty funny film. But it is the situations and the responses to those situations that make the film humorous. The absurdity of the moment, the situation that all of them are thrown into is tragic focusing on the housing crisis but the responses each takes toward the situation and the compounding actions of Sonny because of it are what make the movie funny.
Most of the actors on hand here feel like they have minor roles with the exception of DeWitt and McBride. As the frustrated divorcee trying her best to survive and make a new life for herself and her daughter she is quite believable. In spite of the tactics she uses to sell houses you still have sympathy for her. McBride almost achieves that same level of sympathy in the character of Sonny but he falls back on the one thing that he seems to always do in so many roles he plays.
It’s as if McBride can’t go one minute without swearing and his favorite word begins with F. Don’t get me wrong I know the word is used often but I don’t know of anyone who uses it this much. It gets to the point where it becomes distracting. My guess is that this is not the fault of the writers here but of McBride himself since it seems to be is modus operandi.
The end result is a movie filled with coarse language but that has some laughs in store for adults who find humor in the darkest of comedies. It is so dark that eventually it changes from humor to seriousness by the end of the film. It still makes for a movie more interesting than one would think or expect.