A BLADE IN THE DARK (La casa con la scala nel buio)
1983, dir: Lamberto Bava
When you think of Italian horror and genre cinema, one of of the first names that instantly springs to mind is Mario Bava. A jack of all trades with a great eye for style and an often even greater knowledge of how to work around a tight budget. A man who is adored by both film fans and those lucky enough to have worked with him. To say his contribution to genre cinema is important, is a severe understatement. A man who when he died, left a legacy that most filmmakers can only dream of. It comes as no surprise that his son Lamberto, would follow in his footsteps and carry on the family name. Of course, Lamberto is remembered mostly for his 1985 cheesiest, Demons and the sequel a year later. Unfortunately for Bava, his career in film only started to really take off as the Italian film industry was starting its demise. That’s not to say he didn’t create some memorable pieces of cinema. Films such as Blastfighter and Macabre are worth your time. What some people often overlook is Lamberto’s television work, and that is why I thought I would take a look at A Blade in the Dark, a giallo which was actually made for television as a four part mini-series with a death occurring at the end of each episode. Does it translate well as a full feature? The answer is yes and no, hear me out.
The films story is a simple one. Andrea Occhipinti (New York Ripper, Conquest) stars as Bruno, a composer who is residing at a lush villa in Tuscany whilst scoring a film for his director friend Sandra, played by Anny Papa (A Night Full of Rain, Camorra). Throughout the film, Bruno is visited by several young women, all of whom wind up being murdered. This combined with the fact that strange things are happening around him in the villa leads Bruno (in true giallo fashion) to take up the role of amateur detective and try to work out what the heck is going on! Could the killer have something to do with the villa’s previous tenant? Maybe it’s the creepy landlord played by fellow director Michelle Soavi (Alien 2, City of the Living Dead)? Does Sandra’s film have something to do with it? Maybe it’s an obsessive fan? You will only know when you watch…. or look it up on the internet…
You can almost tell that this started off as a television mini-series. The pacing gives that away. That being said, if you hadn’t had known that before watching (sorry folks), it just feels like a low budget slasher/giallo. Aesthetically, it ticks all the right boxes for me. It may not be a stylish effort like some of his other work, and you can tell it’s only a feature film because of the violence (which was deemed too graphic for broadcast). That being said, gorehounds may be disappointed as the violence isn’t exactly in keeping with what we come to expect from Italian cult cinema, let alone Lamberto Bava. I will say there is a rather cringe inducing set piece involving a knife through the hand. Maybe I’m just being picky here, and I wish no disrespect to Bava or indeed fans of this film. I just came out of this rather unsatisfied, even though the ending is something that people will love or flat out hate. I would say it’s a well written piece, and the ending did surprise me. Of course, once again, the fact that it’s made to be a mini-series doesn’t really work in its favour as it quite a long film, and drags a tad. I would actually revisit this in the way it was initially intended to be seen. It genuinely works as television series.
Overall, I wouldn’t exactly recommend this to newcomers to Italian cinema, but there are worse efforts out there. It may drag in places, but it’s hardly dull. The concept is great and the twists and turns work. Lamberto has done much better than this, but it isn’t exactly terrible. Give it a shot, you may love it!
A Blade in the Dark is available from Blue Underground.