Lamberto Bava’s 1983 giallo/slasher hybrid A Blade in the Dark. Lamberto is probably best known for being the son of the man who pretty much invented, or at least made some of the greatest, giallo genre movies, Mario Bava. Lamberto has done fairly in his own right creating two of the most memorable horror movies from my childhood Demon and Demons 2. These movies are entertaining beyond words partly due to their disgusting effects and because of the enormous amount of cheese that is present on screen. I remember watching these endlessly when I was under the age 10. Back then, they were more terrifying and disgusting whereas today they’re just purely entertaining. For years all I had was my old VHS copies of both so I was delighted getting the Anchor Bay releases of both only a few years ago. They hold up well and still are amusing.
So I was excited when I finally obtained a copy of A Blade in the Dark. I had heard favorable reviews so I was keen to check it out.
Story starts with three young boys walking through a castle or some dilapidated, medieval-esque building. Two of the boys are teasing the other boy calling him a female and telling him to prove he’s not that he has to fetch this tennis ball from an eerie looking staircase that descends into darkness. After a crying fit (jesus man…come on…if you don’t want to be made fun of mercilessly then don’t cry like a wimp when your friends are giving you a challenge) the boy heads down after the ball. Moments later the other two boys are stunned and scared off when they narrowly miss the now bloody tennis ball being hurled at them.
We find out after a few minutes that what we saw at the beginning was actually a movie and we now are introduced to our protagonist, Bruno. Bruno is a movie musical score creator and has rented a villa in Italy I presume. It could be anywhere I suppose but since this is an Italian movie I assume Italy. To it’s advantage, this movie could be located anywhere. It’s not Italy-centric. So we find out that Bruno is working with Sandra creating the score to her horror movie. Right off the get go, strange things start happening to Bruno while recording. Strange whispers showing up on his tape while he plays, characters show up and disappear without a trace, random blood splatters found inside and outside the villa, creepy groundkeeper Giovanni, and just an overall sense of dread.
He is visited by a friend of the last tenant, Linda, named Katia. Katia arrives in a weird scene where Bruno hears noises followed by finding Katia in a stairwell saying something about being scared of a spider. Bruno says no it's a cockroach. Clearly, it's a spider. Is Bruno slightly retarded? Possibly. I like how Katia and Bruno really don't bother expanding on why Katia thinks it's ok to just enter a home. She can't be that close with Linda if she didn't even know she was leaving. Later when Katia leaves she is the first attacked and killed by our killer. These are the first POV shots akin to american slashers. These scenes are great as Katia is chased, slashed and eventually killed. Her lifeless body is drug for several scenes really brining home the feel of death. I have to admit, the killing with the box cutter was a bit lame. That box cutter would have broke off the first time the killer tried to break the skin. That's just he way box cutters are.
Later, Angela shows up and asks Bruno if she can take a swim as she is use to doing that. I can't remember but maybe she was a friend of Linda's as well. After being perved on by Giovanni, Angela heads in for a swim, recovers what appears to be the killers box cutter and heads inside to clean up before being brutally, brutally murdered. This scene is tough. The killer stabs a knife through her hand into the counter to keep her in place while viciously smashing her into the sink. After freeing her hand she's rewarded with a tub face smash and her throat violently cut. Nasty.
I won't go too much further into it. Bruno and Sandra have a run in with who they think, and so did I at the time, is the killer, Julia. Julia comes to see Bruno and assumes there are people in the house already. We think she's the killer because she's walking around holding a knife in the "stabby stabby" stance. Great suspense here. But alas, Julia is not the killer.
Later, old perv Giovanni finds the Angela and Katia's bodies in the pool filtration system only to be quickly offed by the killer. Sandra shows up again later and is murdered by being choked with her own film reels. This was another crazy scene as the killer laughs maniacally while continuously dragging Sandra's dead body around the floor in circles. Creepy.
I won't spoil the rest but the killer wasn't obvious to me.
This movie has all the characteristics of a classic giallo as well as lots of the characteristics from the popular at the time American slashers. In relation to slashers there’s POV attacks and massive amounts of blood. The thing missing is definitely the body count. Until the last few minutes there are only two kills. But holy shit they’re bloody and graphic. I have to say the suspense in this movie is off the charts. Im seldom kept on the edge of my seat, so to speak, but I was here.
But man, the kills were bloody even when stacked up to a Friday the 13th movie. Really impressive in the make your balls twitch kind of way. Awesome.
I do have to complain about the initial weapon used which was a box cutter. While some of the kills were impressive because of gore, the fact that I know a box cutter would break instead of slashing up a body the way it was played irritated me a bit. Minor but a fucking annoyance. Thankfully the box cutter weapon was dropped fairly early on.
At a full 1 hour and almost 50 minutes, I’m surprised this movie felt the way it did. It breezed through and a good pace and never really itself get bogged down in random, uninteresting scenes or inane dialog. There was a constant build towards the outcome. And for a movie that takes place almost entirely at the villa, I was surprised how engaged I was. Sure, the film sufffered to some degree from containing itself to one location but still, I was never bored with the surroundings.
Some factoid's from IMDB.
- Apparently, this movie was originally going to be a 4 part mini series.
- Original Italian title House of Dark Stairs. I must say, that title sucks.
Direction – 8/10 - The Bava men are a force to be reckoned with. Lamberto doesn’t get the accolades he deserved (or maybe he doesn’t deserve. Check my Macabre review) but his father Mario does cast a mighty shadow. Sure, Lamberto has probably as many duds to his credit as hits but most do. There's a couple of Mario movies that I think are shite but that still doesn't take from his other work. Lamberto will never live up to his father but maybe that's the problem. We're all comparing him to his dad. Or maybe not, maybe he's just made as many turds as he has good ones. I like to think of him positively.
Pacing – 7/10 – I really have no complaints here. I was engaged the whole time. It’s a bit of a slow build hence the 3 points off but I love a slow burner.
Performances – 5/10 - a little less points here. While none of the actors were awful, none were stand outs either.
Script – 4/10 – The script is really basic and hurts it somewhat. It’s really Bava’s direction that picks up the slack.
Effects – 8/10 – Really blood and cringe inducing….in a good way.
Overall 6 / 10 – I wasn’t expecting too much and was really pleased with the movie overall. Definitely has a lot of replay value for me.