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Blood and Lace (1971)

Made in 1971, this is a late entry in the 'horror hag' cycle of the 1960s (Gloria Grahame's gone-to-seed trampiness is an interesting step down from the faded grandeur of Davis and Crawford) but also an early slasher film. It opens with a POV stalking, hammer held in frame, as someone we could identify fairly easily sneaks into the bedroom of middle-aged slut Edna Masters (Louise Sherrill) and batters her (and her current lover) to death before setting a fire. Ellie (Melody Patterson), Edna's innocent blonde teenage daughter (and, yes, later revealed as her killer – though the film has plenty more up its plot sleeve), is dumped by crumpled middle-aged Detective Carruthers (Vic Tayback) on a local hellhole orphanage. The directress is Mrs Deere (Grahame), a widow who talks to her dead husband (and probably has him stashed around somewhere) and keeps the corpses of a some runaway kids in the freezer, bringing them out every time there's an inspection and passing them off as sick so she can keep earning a monthly $150 a piece for their keep. Completing the weird cast are a clutch of mixed-up, disaffected kids – including a young Dennis Christopher, and nymphet Terry Messina – and gurning handyman Tom Bridge (Len Lesser). Tom has a sinister catchphrase ('you get my drift') and can chop off a kid's hand with a cleaver-throw. The severed hand is stuck in a suitcase and forgotten until, late in the day, the case is opened for a predictable but effective shock. A killer in an all-over burn-mask stalks the orphanage, a girl is tied up in the attic for the sin of trying to run away (Grahame torments the thirsty victim by drinking a glass of water in front of her) and Mrs Deere's cracked backstory gets equal time with the heroine's.

Scripted by Gil Lasky – who had a few odd items on his CV (producer of Spider Baby, writer of The Night God Screamed and Mama's Dirty Girls) and directed by one-shot Philip S. Gilbert, Blood and Lace has bright colours and a staid, swift AIP / TV movie look that tends to present chase-escape or suspense (locked in the freezer) scenes in flat sunlight. Choppy editing gives the extensive gore an almost HGLewisian matter-of-factness, but across-the-board great performances – even the kids are fine, and the use of character types like Lesser, Tayback and (as the orphanage inspector) Milton Selzer is outstanding – lifts this above schlock. The punchline is predictable but depraved: after the tyrants have been killed, the heroine is pursued by the burnface character (the scars are so obviously a mask that dialogue has to raise the fact we're supposed to think he's the lover from the first scene) who reveals that he knows Ellie killed her whore mother, but is willing to forget that if she marries him (!), whereupon he mentions that he was the first man to make love to her mother and therefore (unbeknownst to him but knownst to her) her father. Sick laughter ensues.

First published in this form here.

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