One of the great joys in life is perusing the selections available for Instant Watch on Netflix and finding the same kind of oddball titles and offbeat films I used to dig up in video rental places. Lately, they’ve even been expanding their catalog to add rare and even out of print titles to their racks. As I can’t seem to go through a week without seeing a horror film that I have to check out, I figured I would share them here on what I’m going to call Instant Terror Tuesdays. For the first selection, I chose a film that I’d wanted to see for quite some time, 1971’s Blood and Lace. (Not to be confused with the similarly named 1964 Mario Bava giallo film Blood and Black Lace.) I wanted to see if the film’s reputation for being a progenitor of the slasher film, a twisted thriller, and one of the hardest PG rated movies ever was warranted. Plus, it had Vic Tayback, and that will sell me on any film.
The film opens on a vicious POV murder of a couple by a hammer wielding killer who sets the room on fire to cover up the crime. The scene ends as a young woman screams and Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) wakes from the nightmare that has plagued her since her mother’s murder. Seems like mom was the town whore, and the murder has gone unsolved due to the fact that every man in town would have been a suspect. Ellie fell under the care of social worker Mr. Mullins (Milton Selzer), but now she’s being sent off to Mrs. Deere’s Orphanage despite the protestations of town detective Calvin Caruthers (Vic Tayback) who thinks her life might be in danger from her mother’s killer. What he doesn’t know is that Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame) might be the bigger danger. Wanting to keep every child she can to continue getting paid from the state for their care, Mrs. Deere and her dastardly handyman aren’t beyond keeping a few kids on ice for safe keeping. With danger on all sides, her nightmares intensifying, and a disfigured man with a hammer stalking her, Ellie Masters will be lucky to get out of anywhere alive.
Blood and Lace is one of those films where 10 or 15 minutes in I was ready to look up director Phillip Gilbert and track down everything he’d ever directed. However, when I did just that, I found out that I was watching his entire catalog currently. Released by American International Pictures with a script bySpider Baby producer Gil Lasky, Blood and Lace remains something of a mystery with precious little information about the film floating around out there. Try as I might, I couldn’t dig up any revelations about one time director Phillip Gilbert, but somewhere between his and b-movie cinematographer Paul Hipp’s (Policewomen, The Incredible Two Headed Transplant) vision,Blood and Lace grabs an atmospheric style. The film owes something to Hitchcock, lends something to slasher films, and would be a killer double feature with 1968’s Pretty Poison. By the time the shocking revelations come about at the film’s end, they not only pack a punch, but also manages to be surprisingly satisfying after Blood and Lace’s many twists and turns. The subtitle of this review is a quote directly proceeding the most devastating of the film’s final shocks and leaves the viewer in the awkward state of figuring out the most horrifying of the events before him.
The film is headed up by two familiar faces to folks who’ve watched far too much Nick at Night. The first and most recognizable is the aforementioned Vic Tayback, famous for his role as Mel on the sitcom Alice, but Tayback was a character actor in many films even co-starring with Johnny Cash in Five Minutes to Live. As the town detective with an uncomfortable interest in Ellie, Tayback balances coming off like a hard boiled detective and a skeezy perv. The second TV alum is the object of his inquiries, Ellie Masters played by Melody Patterson. Ms Patterson appeared on 65 episodes of F–Troopbefore going on to bit parts in The Monkees, Bruce Dern’s biker flick The Cycle Savages, andBlood and Lace. She was honestly not the best actress, but she made up for it by selling Ellie’s rebellious streak and looking quite good doing it. Gloria Grahame, far from her early role as the minx who tried to steal Jimmy Stewart from Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life, give a striking and sadistic late career performance as Mrs. Deere, the house mother with some interesting ideas about life and death. Putting the icing on the cake is one last familiar TV face, though the years may prevent recognizing him. Len Lesser, better known as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, is convincingly menacing as Tom, the smarmy handyman in Mrs. Deer’s employ.
Blood and Lace is one of the rare times when my high expectations were actually rewarded with a film sure to take a place on any shortlist of under-seen classic horror. While some may criticize the Hammer style orange-ish blood and some of the more predictable (though perverse) twists as being campy or belonging to the “so bad it;s good” camp, I appreciate Blood and Lace for what it is, a proto-slasher cut from the same cloth as Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Evictors, and Pretty Poison. It’s well worth a watch, and for anyone with Netlfix, it’s only a few clicks away. I hope you folks enjoyed the first installment of Instant Terror Tuesday, and I’ll be back again next week with another piece of dementia on demand. Until then, don’t forget to come back Thursday for the first installment of Thanksgiving with Alejandro (Jodorowsky) and look out this weekend for Movies that Killed, the lighter side of the Lair.