We're back with another installment in our Italian thriller feature series, this time with an often overlooked little 1983 gem from Lamberto Bava. If that name sounds familiar, it should: Lamberto is not only the son of horror icon Mario Bava, who arguably kicked the giallo genre into high gear with his incredibly stylish Blood and Black Lace, but since then he's developed his own cult following thanks mainly to the success of the Demons trilogy, produced by Dario Argento and featuring some of Italian horror's most surreal set-pieces and gruesome makeup effects.
Before Demons, Lamberto was honing his craft on giallo fare, including uncredited work on his father's final film Shock in 1980. Shortly following Mario's passing, Lamberto helmed his first film Macabre, an oddball psychodrama inspired by Roman Polanski's Repulsion. That one has its fans, but it was really more of a practice run. In my view, he entered his element with the follow-up A Blade in the Dark, which drew more than a little bit of visual influence from Argento's excellent Tenebre (released the previous year), but with some eccentric touches that would become Lamberto's trademark.
The story involves film composer Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti, from Fulci's The New York Ripper), who rents a gorgeous villa to work on his latest score for a giallo film, the final reel of which is being kept under wraps by the director (Anny Papa). That reel, which is hinted at throughout the film, apparently involves a young boy who witnessed a horrific murder, and may be the key clue to a crime perpetrated by one of the main characters.
While the killer's identity will probably be apparent to anyone familiar with giallo films and their rampant use of red herrings, the film is still effective for two reasons: first, in the way it employs elements of filmmaking into the mystery (the incriminating final reel; the accidental capture of the killer's voice on Bruno's recording equipment), and second, some really nasty death scenes. The most brutal scene in the film involves strangulation, drowning, stabbing and throat-slashing – all in the course of a single murder!
A Blade in the Dark didn't get the same kind of love fans lavished on Tenebre, and it's not as memorable (or outrageous) as Argento's film, so it was overlooked for many years. DVD releases didn't help matters much for future giallo fans, with no Blu-ray news in sight... but Blue Underground has at least packaged a pretty decent DVD in a “Midnight Movies” triple-feature set along with Macabre and Shock.