A Blade in the Dark (1983) aka La casa con la scala nel buio
Dir Lamberto Bava
Written by Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Starring Andrea Occhipinti, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli
Yesterday we looked at Lamberto Bava’s UNTIL DEATH, which turned out to be unexpectedly good. Today, we got an earlier Bava movie, 1983’s A BLADE IN THE DARK, which turns out to be exactly what you’d expect. It’s a 1983 mid-tier giallo, nothing more, nothing less, with all the strengths and weaknesses which come with that designation, although neither in particularly great volume. It tries to differentiate itself a bit with a genial dusting of meta knowingness, but as we well know by this point, you only resort to that sort of thing when you have no choice but to openly admit how formulaic your shit has become. But formulaic isn’t always a bad thing, and while this one doesn’t rise above its familiar tropes, it handles them effectively enough to not embarrass itself. It may not be great, but it’s good enough.
The meta factor here is that our hero, Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti, THE NEW YORK RIPPER, THE FAMILY, THE WHITE RIBBON) is a film composer, currently leasing a luxury villa to get a little solitude while recording the score to a horror movie being directed by Sandra (Anny Papa, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, SWEETS FROM A STRANGER). No wonder Ennio Morricone did so many of these scores, apparently life’s pretty sweet while you’re on the job. Unfortunately, there’s a downside: someone is stalking the grounds, spying on Bruno, and (mostly unbeknownst to our hero) murdering the various women who drop by to get naked and then wander around. There’s always a catch, huh? Seems the former tenant of the house, the mysterious “Linda,” is somehow tied to both the murders and the horror movie. Ain’t life too funny?
It’s a perfectly fine premise, and the winking movie-within-a-movie production is cute enough, with a unflashy but appreciated eye for getting the details right (It’s nice that the movie posits a brassy, competent female director in their fictional horror movie production, even though that’s possibly the most outlandish fiction the whole film considering the 1983 Italian film industry). But while it’s seldom actively bad, the movie is overlong at 110 minutes. Apparently it was originally shot to be a miniseries of four half-hour episodes, a fact which makes a lot of sense in retrospect but wasn’t especially noticeable at the time, save for the perplexingly flabby runtime. It’s not that a giallo can’t push the two-hour mark (THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS is 112 minutes, DEEP RED is 126!) but this is a little too uneventful to justify it. That said, you can’t argue with its delivery of the goods. It offers the full range of quintessential giallo goodies, from the unseen black-gloved knife-wielding villain, to the dozens of oddball red herrings, to the psycho-sexual confusion which provides the motive and permits the killer to indulge in some straight-up heroic mega-acting once revealed. There’s plenty of slashing (including a bravura knife-through-the-hand moment), and the movie’s director is strangled with a roll of film that reveals the killer’s identity, so you can’t really be too mad at it.
|This lady is taking her situation appropriately seriously...|
|But I don't know if this reaction feels as appropriate.|
The production looks nice enough, though not anywhere near as lush as the pairing of Bava and cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia managed two years later in DEMONS. It’s pretty hard to make a gorgeous Italian villa peopled with various mostly naked Italian women look anything but fetching, and at least they don’t bungle a good thing (particularly since nearly the entire movie takes place there, which in one sense imparts a slow-building claustrophobic vibe, but also feels a little constraining as hour two drags on). You’d also think a movie about a horror music composer would have better music; there’s a nice bit at the beginning which is repeated ad nauseum during many scenes, but not much else to speak of (the score is by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who managed to score about a million Italian movies from 1971-2008 without doing a single good one, unless you count YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE.* I’m not saying they deserve to be stalked by a sadistic slasher in a psycho-sexual frenzy or anything, but I feel they could have tried a little harder here given the subject matter.)
All that adds up to a fairly standard giallo which delivers what you want with a wobbly competence, but doesn’t do much more. It’s aided somewhat in the entertainment department by some very silly dialogue which was obviously translated by a fluent-but-not-native English speaker ("Is it possible you're such a vacant nerd? Your satisfaction is to sit like a frog in the sun?") and an appreciably over-the-top finale, but nothing it offers entirely excuses a slack middle section and needlessly bloated runtime. But for what it is, at least it makes good on its modest genre promises. It’s not good enough to distinguish itself from the pack, but at least it’s good enough.
Also, bonus points for giving CEMETERY MAN director Michele Soavi a role where… well, that part you’d probably better see for yourself.
*They did retroactively get a track in DEATH PROOF, I guess. And FASTER.
|Apparently Canada considers a film composer being stalked in a house "a new dimension of terror!"|
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2015 CHECKLIST!
Play it Again, Samhain
When The Lights Go Out, The Knife Goes In. Also for the Canadian video, the somewhat less explicable A New Dimension of Terror!
None. Giallos are formally consistent enough that there was never really a need to indulge in franchises.
DEADLY IMPORT FROM:
BELOVED HORROR ICON
Lamberto Bava, I guess. Dardano Sacchetti co-wrote it, and he probably counts considering how many classic Italian horror films he wrote or co-wrote. And Michele Soavi, of course, in an acting role and behind the scenes as Bava’s assistant. Oh, and look for cute little Giovanni Frezza (Bob in HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) in an uncredited role as the little kid in the movie-within-a-movie.
Don’t think so, though of course with a giallo there’s always going to be a psycho-sexual element.
Plenty of blood, and a nice knife-through-the-hand scene, but despite some generally good kills it doesn’t get too outlandish (it was originally shot for TV, after all)
Yes, both the killer and the creepy groundskeeper have a real thing for perving out on pretty ladies from the bushes. In fact, a lot of the film is in slash-o-vision.
Pretty high, lower-tier slasher.
MORAL OF THE STORY
Being a horror film composer is pretty much like being a rockstar in terms of sweet digs and a constant parade of naked women dropping by.
There is both Blade and Dark, so yeah, it works. In fact, according to IMDB Bava himself prefers this title to its Italian variation, La casa con la scala nel buio, which roughly translates to House of Dark Stairs. Although that would be accurate too.
ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE?