Film Review: Blood and Lace (1971)

There’s a bit in an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where the characters on the series serial-numbers-filed-off version of Saturday Night Live are working on a sketch for Thanksgiving where the turkey spurts absurd, Army of Darkness levels of blood when carved. The bit is not shown, only talked about – with one of the characters commenting about the Prop guy thinking the level of blood is unrealistic with the comment”If it’s just a realistic amount of blood, then it’s… extremely disturbing…”

That is, perhaps, Blood and Lace‘s greatest strength, and its weakness.

The basic premise of this film is classic fodder for exploitation films of the giallo and giallo-inspired/influenced variety. A girl’s mother (who is a prostitute) is murdered along with her john, with the killer using a particularly gruesome weapon (a clawhammer in this case). The daughter (Ellie Masters – played by Melody Patterson) secretly witnesses the murder making her the person who can put the killer away. The daughter is then sent to an orphanage run by super skeezy people (Mrs. Deere and Tom Kredge, played by Gloria Grahame and Len Lesser respectively), while the killer is also on the loose. Can she survive the killer while also surviving her new caretakers? Can police detective Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback) find the killer before it’s too late?

Where things get disturbing for the good – and ill – is in the execution of this premise. The abuses of Grahame and Lesser’s characters generally feel all too real, fitting the descriptions of some of the abuses performed by parents and foster parents that one could theoretically find in the newspaper – beating their charges, locking them up in the attic (or basement) and denying them food and water, that sort of thing.

However, as a consequence of this, when their conduct slips into more conventional exploitation territory – murdering those of their charges that try to flee, keeping them in the freezer in the basement, and stuffing their bodies in the infirmary when social services does a headcount – things become more absurd. Their plan turns into one of those plans where they start planning to kill everyone who notices that they’re killing people, which Girl Genius lampooned incredibly early into the series’ run.

Also, like most giallo and giallo-influenced films, the film’s narrative is filled with a whole bunch of skeezy sub-plots. The handyman Kredge is blackmailing Mrs. Deere for a larger cut of the scam. Mrs. Deere has herself become unhinged and envious of the beauty her female charges have. One of the girls in the orphanage has the hots for the oldest boy there, and when she considers Ellie to be her rival, she’ll do absolutely anything to drive her off, and if it means that Deere and Kredge have Ellie murdered, then she’s fine with that. Carruthers has the hots for Ellie, even though she’s underage, and he’s old enough to be her father.

This leads to a film that is too skeezy for the stupidity to make it fun, and too dumb to make for an enjoyable sleazy thriller. The film has received a Scream Factory release with an audio commentary, which I would be interested in listening to, but I’m not sure if I’m interested enough in listening to it to want to buy it.