Horror Bites - Fashion House of Death


Mystery killers with black gloves seem to appear everywhere from the Giallo violence of Deep Red to the farcical mysteries of A Shot in the Dark, but tracing the roots of the Giallo body-count mystery genre seems to point to the films of Mario Bava. Here we'll take a look at one of the most striking early examples Blood and Black Lace (AKA Six Women for the Murderer). It certainly brings a particular level of Italian style to the proceedings with its 1960s garish colour scheme being mixed with plenty of dark shadows and sinister lighting. So let's put on the leather and get down to business.

In terms of the aesthetic, there's a whole lot of neon lighting here. While Bava has done some great things in monochrome (Mask of Satan) it's the most noticeable element, and in general this is a visual movie first with the whodunnit elements come second. The detective story is less important than how the deaths come about and how they're staged. Set in a world of models and fashion there's no excuse not to focus on this of course. There are lots of swooping camera movements showing off the outfits as well as a lot of eerie mannequins. I don't think they're usually painted bright red like this but it's a heightened reality -- in the whole place none of them are actually being used to display any clothes.

There's a great intro sequence using all of these elements, in which each cast member is shown standing mysteriously next to these kinds of props. It's hard to image why at the time it was replaced for English speaking audiences, but interfering studio suits saw it necessary to change it and use something more shocking. The atmosphere is lost as is the jazzy music. Of course that's not to say the intrigue levels are quickly ramped up after the credits finish, and there are plenty of reveals with the models taking drugs and having affairs, while other characters are involved in blackmail and various questionable activities. What a scandal.

With everyone acting so suspiciously it adds a lot of mystery and as you'd expect things quickly get complicated as the body count rises and various red herrings come and go. One major element is the discovery of a dead girl's diary which soon gets the attention of most of the characters when it threatens to reveal their secrets to the police. They wanted to veer away from the usual detective procedural elements, but you still get all the usual arrests and line up scenes.

While the period design and lighting definitely adds to the experience, the same can't be said of the soundtrack as a whole. The constant drum beats do at times lend it a certain amount of personality but in some scenes it's pretty distracting. Luckily this is a minor point and the rest of it holds up pretty well instead of feeling dated. It's been mentioned elsewhere that this has influenced many later directors, and it's easy to see why. So many elements are striking from the fashion house interior to the sinister killer's faceless mask and black outfit.

While it's a film noted for it's inclusion of increased levels sex and violence it seems tame by modern standards, particularly in comparison to horror from the decades immediately following this. The fashion models aren't dressed that thinly and most of the kills aren't really that shocking. But it's not always about the amount of gushing blood, the mood and the tension are more important. The final motives feel a bit like an afterthought, but for a good mix of atmosphere and murder mystery thrills it's a great example of this kind of story. For fans of this genre during it's later 1970s evolution it's an essential.