Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Exquisite Corpses

I rediscover Mario Bava every few years. The entire time I was watching Bava's Sei Donne Per L'Assassino, aka Blood and Black Lace (1964), all I could think was: "Wow. Dario Argento has been trying to make this film for decades." This was a huge gap in my horror knowledge. I've seen pieces of the film before, usually on bad prints badly cropped, but this is the first time I've ever seen the whole movie start to finish. I can't believe what I've been missing. I've had this experience before, I should mention, when I first saw a good, uncut print of Bava's The Whip and the Body.

Here, we see the giallo mystery spring forth fully formed. This is the source of an entire cycle of films that still echoes today. This may well be Bava's most influential film, though it's hardly the director's only claim to immortality.

A masked killer is murdering the models at a house of haute coture, at first to cover a crime, then continuing to find an incriminating diary. The identity of the killer is almost entirely beside the point in this movie, and in the finest traditions of the genre this film founded, turns out to have multiple identities. It's not plotless, I should add, but the plot is secondary. It's the set-pieces that matter, the murders. These are arranged like dance numbers in a musical. The material in between is merely the setting for the jewels.

And this is gorgeous, let me tell you. Bava was still using his beloved technicolor and the film is a symphony of shadows and color. Each camera angle and tracking shot is exquisitely rendered. Bava is more overtly interested in the ultraviolence of his later films in this movie, and you could argue that this is a dry run for Bay of Blood. It has the same kind of massacre aesthetic and the same kind of rotten people at the heart of the film. But, really, this doesn't matter. The characters in this film are all fashion plates, or compositional elements if you will, and the film is concerned with how good they look rather than how well they can act. Appropriate for a movie set in the world of high fashion, this is a movie about style. It's the horror movie as pure cinema.

Which isn't to say it's empty. It's not. There's an emphasis on chaos squirming beneath the veneer of beauty. Christiana's House of Haute Coture may have a noble-sounding name, but it's a viper's den. The mannequins the film uses as a leitmotif speaks to beauty as a commodity. Like The Whip and the Body, this is a purely De Sadean movie, in which beauty and pain go hand in hand.

Current tally: 22 films

First time viewings: 21

Around the web:

The Vicar of VHS discovers Argento's Inferno, the neglected middle entry in the director's "Three Mothers" trilogy.

Dr.AC is bound and determined to squeeze every last cent out of his challenge for charity. His latest diary entry covers Jigoku, Finale, and Automatons.

Expelled Gray Matter soldiers on through Red State, Chiller, Dark Angel: The Ascent, and She-Freak.

Mr. Gable's Reality encompasses Screamers (1979) this morning, the Sergio Martino movie, not the Peter Weller sci fi movie.

Rod over at Ferdy on Film takes on one of your bloginatrix's favorite British horror movies, Blood on Satan's Claw.

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