Considered by Bava fans as one of his classics, Blood and Black Lace has something of a reputation to live up to when seen for the first time. The story takes place in a fashion house where young models are being killed at an alarming rate. The local police chief suspects virtually everyone in the company and a game of cat and mouse (set off by an incriminating diary belonging to one of the models) must be played out before the killer is apprehended.
Utilising several actors from Bava's film The Whip and the Body/What! made a year earlier, much of Blood and Black Lace now comes across as risible with some awkward acting and dreadful dialogue. This is a shame because the opening tracking camera shot, that floats the viewer towards the entrance to the fashion house, promises much. All the characters are one-dimensional and, although some of the attacks by the masked killer still manage to be pretty violent, you don't really care who gets it next, provided they get it in a suitably gruesome manner. But this is really all Bava is attempting to do with Blood and Black Lace. Everything is geared around providing shocks and blood in a variety of settings and in a variety of ways. Clearly influential (not least it seems to Dario Aregnto's body of work), the film makes no apologies for being an exploitative and voyeurisitic ride. Despite this there is no sense of misogyny that crops up in many similar films made subsequently. Bava's trademark visual flair here is full-on, with all the mid-sixties trappings adding to the effect immensely. Different walls in a single scene are bathed in contrasting primary colours, clever roaming camerawork creates some memorable moments of visual artistry and the fashion backdrop gives the director the opportunity to incorporate a number of great costumes.
It is only in the final 15 minutes that the film truly comes good to its opening promise. Concentrating on two key characters (who fortunately are also the two best actors - an on-form Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok) means that the tension really mounts. It also enables Bava to exploit several plot twists and red herrings that writer Marcel Fondat has deliberately placed throughout - and some are still quite effective. When the experience is over, you are left with a strong impression of Bava's undoubted talent but having to sit through an hour before, which simply doesn't live up to the finale, is too serious a flaw that undermines the entire work.