Blood and Lace (1971)
Proto-Slashers: Looking at the flicks that paved the way for Halloween and the heyday of slashers.
“Lurid”. What a great word. It promises the taboo and the gruesome. And it’s the perfect word to describe “Blood and Lace”, the 1971 picture from AIP. In fact, the sleaze factor is a key element in this sick little flick’s success.
Not to be confused with Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace”, “Blood and Lace” follows almost-21-year-old Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson from TV’s “F-Troop”), as she’s placed in an orphanage after the murder of her mother, the town tramp (It’s fun to watch as more and more male cast member reveal their trysts with the deceased). Unfortunately, the childrens’ home is run by the sadistic Mrs. Deere, played by Gloria Grahame (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Bad and the Beautiful”) who routinely tortures her non-compliant charges and has them killed when they attempt to run away. In order to make sure she continues to receive cash from the county for the dead kids, Mrs. Deere freezes their bodies, only taking them out of the walk-in when the inspector comes to count heads.
Adding immeasurably to the sleaze level is a couple of great character actors. Len Lesser, known to millions of sitcom fans as Uncle Leo from “Seinfeld”, is on hand as Mrs. Deere’s drunken assistant who’s also an ace with a meat cleaver, and Vic Tayback, Mel from TV’s “Alice”, is an overly involved detective who wants to make sure that no harm befalls Ellie. Add to that a hammer-wielding psycho with a burned face who is lurking around the orphanage, and you’ve got yourself a prime example of an exploitation flick from the genre’s Golden Age.
Do any research about “Blood and Lace” and four key references continually pop up. The first is the quote attributed to Michael Weldon in his invaluable “Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film”, wherein he calls the flick “One of the sickest PG-rated films ever made…” A second point of interest is the casting of an incredibly young Dennis Christopher (“Fade to Black”, “Breaking Away”) as one of the orphans. Thirdly, you’ll find claims that the crispy-faced psycho is a forerunner of Freddy Krueger, but in my estimation, that’s pushing it. The fourth, and most directly slasher-related note is that the opening scene seems to have influenced the beginning of John Carpenter “Halloween” where Michael spies on his sister and her boyfriend, eventually killing the former. In “Blood and Lace” we enter a house from the killer’s POV, through the kitchen where we pull open a drawer and remove a murder weapon (in this case, a hammer). We enter a bedroom, and a murder is committed from the killer’s POV. From there, the two movies spin off into wildly different territory, but it’s interesting to see this connection. Carpenter’s movie is by far the better work, but inspiration has to come from somewhere, non?
“Blood and Lace” was another of those late shows I caught while I was a kid in the 70’s, it’s plot holes and iffy ethics sticking in my head like its images of hammer-smashed faces, severed limbs and frozen kids. The attractive Patterson makes an affable and engaging heroine, who’s all the more interesting for not always being the nicest kid on the (ice) block. You really get the sense that her character is at the mercy of fate, or at least Mrs. Deere and the always-leering adult male cast members. As Mrs. Deere, Graham is a terrific and creepy case study in quiet insanity.
The only feature directed by Philip S. Gilbert, “Blood and Lace” is a fun and twisted horror flick with a link to one of the pillars of the slasher genre. It’s also a movie that is criminally neglected and currently unavailable on DVD, though it’s a prime candidate for MGM’s Midnight Movie series, as they hold the rights for AIP’s output. I was lucky enough to revisit this flick via a descent grey market DVD-R from one of several companies offering this disc. “Blood and Lace” holds a few more sick surprises than what I’ve revealed here, and if you’ve ever had the urge to see what “The Brady Bunch” would look like if Carol went nuts and kept Mike’s corpse in a walk-in freezer while taking her frustrations out on the kids and Sam the butcher got handy with a hammer, this lurid little flick’s for you!