"Lamberto Bava piles on the terror in his viscerally shocking"A Blade in the Dark". Set in a villa, Bruno a young composer sets out to write a score to a horror film. Sandra (Anny Papa) is the director of the picture, and refuses to let even Bruno see the final reel for mysterious reasons. Women begin appearing at the villa and just as suddenly start disappearing for reasons that seem to be related to the movie that Bruno is coring. All of this seems to have something to do with Linda a former occupant of the villa ..."
Lamberto Bava's A BLADE IN THE DARK was originally intended to be a four part TV series (which explains its somewhat pedestrian look), but the TV executives baulked at some of the on-screen violence - especially the infamously bloody bathroom scene. Deemed too gory for TV (even Italian TV!) it was re-edited to film length.
A composer, Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti), is booked by Laura (Fabiola Toledo), a female horror film director (surely a first in Italian genre history!?) to score her latest scare flick. She has hired him a sprawling, isolated villa; hoping that the echoing corridors and creepy ambiance will push him to create the right sound for the movie. All he has for company is Giovanni (an unfortunately named Stanko Molnar), the beardy and shifty handyman (are there any other types?), who seems to have a special fondness for porno, garden shears and cutting out stories from the newspapers about recent murders … Not a recipe for domestic bliss, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Considering the relative isolation of the villa it comes as quite some surprise that seemingly every five minutes a young Euro strumpet comes tumbling out of a closet (and in one case, quite literally). It seems that before Bruno moved in, the villa had been rented to a mysterious woman called Linda, who, according to the real estate agent Tony (Michele Soavi) left under a cloak of secrecy. Katia (Valeria Cavalli) is the first to put in appearance, ostensibly looking for Linda – but that doesn’t stop her flirting with Bruno, “I adore musicians – they’re really good in bed. How are you in the feathers?” However, Katia doesn’t appear to stick around to find out, as she is attacked in the grounds at the hands of a box-cutter wielding assassin.
Bruno begins to wonder if something sinister has happened to Katia – especially as he keeps finding splatters of blood around the villa! He also discovers her diary, complete with the cryptic entry: “I’ve discovered Linda’s secret; it’s terrible – terrifying!”.
Taking the sting out of Bruno’s sleuthing, his actress girlfriend Julia (Lara Naszinsky), turns up and finds his seeming paranoia incredibly tiresome. However, her ire is misplaced – as another young lady comes a cropper in the bathroom at the hands of the killer …
To say that Lamberto Bava has had a checkered history would be understatement – to put it mildly. For every DEMONS (1985) there seems to be ten like GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987) (surely the nadir of Italian horror, along with Fulci’s execrable CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990)). Less charitable souls have accused Bava junior of riding on the coat-tails of his famous (and far more talented) father Mario (who gave the world several bone-fide gialli classics) – and of piggybacking on the talent of Dario Argento with DEMONS. Whilst it’s tempting to write off Lamberto as a hack who got lucky in the nepotism stakes, it’s only fair to say that he’s made a few semi-classic genre flicks in his time – like MACABRE (1980) and this especially brutal giallo.
A BLADE IN THE DARK certainly doesn’t win any prizes for originality. By 1983 the giallo's popularity had faded from its heyday in the early 70s. In fact, Bava’s film perhaps had its genesis in Argento’s successful reworking of the subgenre’s rules with the previous year’s TENEBRE (1982). True to form, many of the scenes echo similar ones in that film (not to mention familiar riffs on other Argento films: the composer recalls David Hemmings in DEEP RED (1975), and the mysterious whispers Bruno hears on his recordings recall SUSPIRIA (1976) (not to mention Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT (1981)).
Another similarity A BLADE IN THE DARK has with Argento’s TENEBRE is the symbiotic nature of the giallo and the American slasher flick – both influencing each other with a seemingly voracious appetite. Certainly, by 1983 the conventions of the slasher movie would not have escaped the likes of Bava. If A BLADE IN THE DARK has any distinguishing features it’s the brutal nature of the murder scenes (again perhaps influenced by the splatter epics emanating from the States), especially the notorious (and often censored) bathroom killing; which is practically guaranteed to get you squirming.
A BLADE IN THE DARK is also perhaps one of the first post-modern gialli, in-so-much as for some of the running time it clearly isn’t taking itself too seriously. Like many dubbed (often badly) Euro thrillers it has that somewhat stilted, comedic effect – but surely no screenwriter could have expected such deliciously cheesy bon-bons of dialogue such as, “I can offer you tea, coffee or yoghurt”, or “Linda was obsessed with balls – tennis balls”, to be taken especially seriously.
The film is also slightly notable for featuring that seemingly omnipresent Italian blonde moppet - Giovanni Frezza (surely the male version of the similarly ubiquitous Nicoletta Elmi - who admittedly usually appeared in a higher class of schlock). In what turns out to be a film within a film (and the one Bruno is scoring), he is teased by friends because he hesitates to investigate a darkened cellar, with the nasal chant “You are a female! You are a female!”. Naturally, in the grand tradition of loopy jumps of logic this unlikely chant provides one of the lynchpins for the film's central mystery.
A BADE IN THE DARK shows Bava has talent of his own, when he chooses come off autopilot - and wasn't his last foray in the genre: he followed the film with the lesser (though certainly not bad) examples YOU'LL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (1986), DELIRIUM (1987) and BODY PUZZLE (1991).
BODYCOUNT 6 female:4 / male:21) Female slashed and has throat cut with box-cutter