Wednesday, December 9, 2015

BLOOD AND LACE (1971) Blu-ray Review

Blood and Lace (1971) d. Philip Gilbert (USA)

After her loose-morals mother is brutally murdered in bed with an, ahem, customer, 17-year-old Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) becomes a ward of the state and is sent to live at Deere Youth Home, an orphanage run by the stern and strange Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) with assistance from resident slimeball handyman Tom Kredge (Len Lesser). There is concern on the part of detective Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback) that the claw-hammer killer may still be after Ellie, fearing that she might have witnessed the crime, but one gets the impression that our local dick may have a more prurient interest than simply preventing future criminal behavior. And speaking of crime, we quickly learn that Mrs Deere isn't above torturing and killing her underage residents, holding them on ice to keep the government checks rolling in!

Easily one of the darkest, sleaziest PG-rated movies ever to slink across the drive-in screen (it has been since re-rated for home video release to a more age-appropriate R), this is a heady stew of hag horror, pre-slasher-wave masked killer hijinks, and innocence interrupted storytelling. With hammer murders, dismemberment, dead kids in freezers, attic torture sessions, blackmail, pedophilia, and a whiff of Electra complex to cap things off, there's so much going on with so few sympathetic characters that it's equally surprising and understandable that this low budget exercise never really caught on with the horror crowd upon its original release. I personally came across it via bootleg at the behest of horror mentor Jon Kitley with a "You kinda gotta see this" disclaimer beforehand. Under the radar for many, many years, it eventually surfaced on Netflix's streaming service without fanfare a few years ago, and now makes its DVD/Blu-ray debut thanks to the good folks at Shout! Factory.

Director Gilbert unveils a few flourishes, with the opening hammer-cam potentially seen as a harbinger of the POV/subjective view that would become the hallmark of the slasher movement, but for the most part he lets producer/writer Gil Lasky do the heavy lifting with the unseemly subject matter and off-putting characters. (Lasky also produced the Jack Hill cult classic Spider Baby and the bizarre religious thriller The Night God Screamed.) All the adults are thoroughly despicable (Grahame and Lesser are quite the pair) and the kids aren't much better, with perpetually hungry Pete (Dennis Christopher, Fade to Black) and trampy jailbait Bunch (Terri Messina) the star pupils.

Tayback brings a gruff gravitas to the proceedings, but it's clear that his intentions are scarcely honorable. Even our ostensible and attractive heroine is far from wholesome, wearing interchangeable shades of pushy, bratty petulance when she's not being bullied or threatened.

For its silver disc debut, Shout! Factory does right by the flick's fans by recruiting knowledgeable and enthusiastic film historian Richard Harlan Smith of Turner Classic Movies' Movie Morlocks blog to handle the audio commentary chores. While he leans a little heavy on the IMDb references, he has clearly had firsthand experience with many of the films and TV shows referenced and brings an avid fan's perspective to the party.

Smith provides worthy background info on pretty much everyone involved, from Grahame's sad descent from Oscar-winning actress to lesser fare, Tayback's and Lesser's memorable TV work (Alice and Seinfeld, respectively) to the fact that F-Troop regular Patterson's voice was dubbed in Blood and Lace's opening scene by none other than June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. (Apparently, the young actress had laryngitis, but the tight shooting schedule could not wait for her to recover.) He also points out that the oft-intrusive musical score is comprised of stock library music cues assembled by music editor John Rens, and tosses in the FBI factoid that "500-600 people are killed by hammers every year." The more you know....

Other extras include the film's alternate opening title sequence (as The Blood Chillers) and the theatrical trailer.

Blood and Lace is available now from Shout! Factory in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack and can be ordered HERE


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