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"A textbook example of the giallo, Lamberto Bava's A Blade in the Dark is an obvious homage to Dario Agento, the Italian director who (along with Bava's father Mario) served as his filmmaking mentor. Bava worked as assistant director on Argento's Tenebre, shot the year before; that film's influence is readily apparent. A major plot element is lifted from Argento's Deep Red (1975) as well - Blade's story also revolves around a composer who finds himself embroiled in a bizarre series of homicides. But Argento was working with much bigger budgets, longer production schedules, and better stories. Unfortunately, A Blade in the Dark can't begin to compare to its inspirational sources.
Originally envisioned as a limited, episodic series for Italian TV, it was shot with a European theatrical release also in mind. The spare scenario (penned by prolific exploitation scribe Dardano Sarchetti) establishes only the most bare-boned of plots. Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti), a young composer, rents a large, rambling villa in which to work on his latest project, the score for a horror film being directed by his friend Sandra (Anny Papa). To the detriment of Bruno's solitude the house comes complete with a suspicious-acting caretaker (are there any other types in Italian horror?) and some unexpected visitors - Katia (Valeria Cavalli) and Angela (Fabiola Toledo), two attractive women, acquaintances of the former tenant, who live nearby. When the women mysteriously disappear shortly after he meets them, Bruno begins to suspect they've been murdered on the premises... He can't find any bodies, but clues abound. (Knife-holes and bloodstains would certainly qualify in that regard!) Someone definitely entered the villa uninvited and destroyed his latest demo tape, that much is sure. Stupidly, Bruno never once picks up the phone to dial the police.
If our dimwitted hero did the smart thing, however, there'd be no movie. More people die horrible deaths. Meanwhile Bruno wanders about the house and its grounds, poking around and peering into the dark. There are a lot of such scenes in the flick, which will severely test the patience of even the most avid giallo fan. (Rapido, Lamberto!) Obviously this was done to pad out the running time; too many of these sequences are obvious red herrings, devoid of any suspense, or just plain pointless.
Bava does pile on the shocks, though, in the film's two main murder sequences. The stalking/slaying of Katia owes a lot to Tenebre in look and style (particularly the murder of the hotelier's daughter in that film), but Bava ends
the set-piece with an original motif - the victim is trapped behind a sheet of chickenwire through which the killer slowly slashes her to death with a box-cutter - that's guaranteed to get your flesh crawling. The death of Angela, when she's attacked in the villa's bathroom, is a real doozy: a brutal, nihilistic bit of filmmaking that some could easily interpret as an exercise in misogynistic sadism. (Here Bava does for hair-washing in the sink what Hitchcock's Psycho did to taking a shower...) But amidst the unrepentant brutality Bava injects an occasional touch of sardonic humor, most notably when Sandra the horror director is strangled with a spool of her own film - murdered with her own movie.
Aside from the visceral thrills and chills generated by these murder scenes the film is pretty much a misfire. The characters are all uninvolving ciphers. It's not much of a mystery, either; most of the red herrings offered up by the plot are plainly obvious for what they are. As mentioned, an inordinate amount of time is spent following Bruno as he wanders about the villa, checking this room and that - scenes devoid of dialog but accompanied by repetitious theme music that quickly becomes annoying. In one way the dearth of dialog is a good thing... The English dubbing job is poor, featuring ludicrous translations ("You're a female!";"I am not a female child!" etc.) that might be funny in a Godzilla movie, but not one about a sadistic serial killer. At times it seems evident that the translators weren't even looking at a copy of the script - how else can one explain the scene in which Bruno chides Katia over her fear of a spider, telling her with a straight face that the bug isn't even a spider, but a cockroach... at the very moment we're shown a close-up shot of (yep) a SPIDER. Huh???
A Blade in the Dark has fans, no doubt appreciative of its effective, wince-inducing set-pieces. We love gialli, too - just not this one. We'd much rather watch Bava's supernatural splatterfest Demons (1985) for the umpteenth time than sit through this one again.
"Just a case of being a bit overwrought."
Sandra sums up the movie
Anchor Bay does a fine job with A Blade in the Dark considering it's a fairly obscure title here in America. The transfer is letterboxed and anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs; as the film was originally shot in 16mm the picture is understandably on the grainy side. The Dolby mono audio track is serviceably clear. In addition to the theatrical trailer, a short (10 min.), interesting video interview with director Bava and screenwriter Sarchetti is included. (This is in Italian, with easily readable English subtitles. Do not watch this before viewing the film itself. It's chock full of spoilers, including the murderer's identity.)"
Creepy and stylish with shades of DePalma's Blow Out
jeffrey e mcgivney | Ridgewood, New York United States | 05/02/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A composer is hired to score a slasher film and is sent to an old dark house for inspiration. Strange things begin to occur and bodies start to pile up..only to disappear. This is one of the better giallo films of its time and its miles ahead of the typical 80's slashers that were coming out of the US. After working under his famed father Mario, as well as Dario Argento among others, Bava displays great atmosphere in this film as well as some shocking violence. Another reason to own this film on DVD is that AnchorBay is releasing this in its longest, most complete cut (longer than the EC import laser). On a side note, look for director Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man) in a small but interesting role."
jeffrey e mcgivney | 12/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's great that all these Eurohorror obscurities are now readily available. Why Bava would revert from making giallos is puzzling after this...masterpiece? In the beginning we see three young boys, two taunting the other saying he's a female. Now we go the present where a pianist has taken residence in a house inhabited formerly by a "Linda." Brutal murders happen in this house, and it is investigated. The ending reminds me of Psycho.Beautifully choreographed murders. I was sure I figured out who the killer was until the final moments when the red herring was finally ruled out. This has an intriguing storyline also. I would highly recommend this for horror buffs, and also fans of Argento, Fulci, Mario Bava and Lamberto Bava. Lamberto Bava is an underrated director, though the proof comes in this brilliant film that is because his films are of varying quality. I want to seek out more of Lamberto, then eventually Mario. Long live horror!"
Sacchetti did it!
jeffrey e mcgivney | 11/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The most interesting aspect of the film is the bizarre screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, the prolific writer who worked with Bava Jr. on several pictures, notably DEMONS and DEMONS2, and also created the main stories for a number of Lucio Fulci's successful films, including THE BEYOND (1981), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and ZOMBIE (1979).The screenplay is excellent (that is, if you like extremely twisted and creepy story lines with haunting if unnatural dialogue).Lamberto Bava's direction is quite good: the Gothic Southern atmosphere is played to the hilt. Acting is off-the-wall.Photography is also very good. Lots of interior shots. effective lighting. Good art direction.A MUST for any fan of the Italian "Horror" genre."
"From the opening sequence with the bloody tennis ball to the grotesque and surprising ending, A Blade in the Dark is never short of suspense, style, or shock. Next to the Demons movies (which are nothing like this), this is Lamberto Bava's finest work. An eerie soundtrack, interesting characters, and murder with an Exact-o knife make this truly disturbing film well worth one's while."