While Blood and Lace (also known as The Blood Secret) sounds an awful lot like Mario Bava’s classic giallo Blood and Black Lace, the two couldn’t be more dissimilar. 1971’s Blood and Lace, from director Philip Gilbert and writer Gil Lasky, is billed like a slasher film, complete with awesomely ’70s poster art and tagline that reads “SHOCK after SHOCK after SHOCK as Desire drives a bargain with DEATH!”, but it ultimately plays out more like a murder mystery paired with Flowers in the Attic. That’s more of a surprise than one might expect considering the direction of its promotion, and Blood and Lace is a seedy little story that often emphasizes its own lack of a protagonist to root on.
The film opens with an admittedly brutal hammer murder – a gloved killer attacks and kills a sleeping couple, leaving Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson – RIP) an orphan stuck at Mrs. Deere’s (Gloria Grahame) orphanage. The film centers in on the corruption at the orphanage right away, exposing Mrs. Deere and her handyman Tom Kredge (Len Lesser) for the murderers that they are; they get paid for each child, and sometimes, when the kids run away, Tom tracks them down, cuts off their hands, and stores them in the freezer. Then, they hide the bodies from the terribly corrupt social worker Mr. Mullins (Milton Selzer), who is more interested in sex with Mrs. Deere than maintaining a healthy orphanage anyway.
Ellie realizes right away that the orphanage is a terrible place, because she finds a few dead kids in the sick room and then stumbles upon a girl strung up from the rafters in the attic. Still, she’s a bit more worried about wooing Walter (Ronald Taft) away from 16-year-old Bunch (Terri Messina) than the dangers of living with Mrs. Deere, and so even when Detective Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback) comes sniffing around, she’s hesitant to tell him about the bad stuff going down.
Blood and Lace has some very peculiar pacing with direction that often feels beguiling. The opening scene is so brutal and slasher-esque that it’s fairly disappointing when Blood and Lace fails to deliver any other kills later in the film. Instead, Gilbert focuses on Mrs. Deere and Tom, favoring the orphanage’s dark secret instead of the murders that forced Ellie into the home in the first place. The revolving characters don’t help either; both Mr. Mullins and Calvin feel out of place throughout much of the film, and their importance later on is at odds with the screentime they’ve received thus far.
Still, Blood and Lace has a distinctly grim mood throughout that adds to its entertainment value. Lasky’s protagonists are difficult to root for because there really is no good character in the film. While the audience is meant to follow Ellie, she has a few traits that make her unlikable. The first is her constant bullying of Bunch, a younger girl who clearly has a crush on the hunky Walter. While Walter makes it obvious he’s not interested (and he shouldn’t be – it’s called statutory rape), Ellie is, much like her prostitute mother, obsessed with the empowerment of femininity over male machismo. She wants Walter to lust after her just because, and it creates a power struggle between her and Bunch.
It’s an intentional characterization, and an intriguing one. Lasky’s script is able to show the darker feelings that Ellie harbors, like her anger at her mother’s prostitution and her hopes to one day meet her father to figure out who she really is. Walter is also a foil for Ellie; he doesn’t care about his parents, because he’s free to become whoever he wants. These are plot elements that elevate Blood and Lace above a standard boring slasher – because, in all honesty, its slasher elements are forced and often not present.
The film’s final reveal, too, is morbid and exploitative, a pleasant surprise even if the path to it is messy. Even Calvin Carruthers, the kindly detective who saves Ellie from the orphanage, expects something in return – marriage, despite the fact that the two are probably a good thirty years apart in age. It’s gross – and most likely incestuous – and fully embellishes the lust of men and their expectations of something owed to them by women.
Blood and Lace is often too scatterbrained to really capitalize on these elements, though, and more than that, it’s orphanage plot never really picks up. The horror and slasher elements only appear towards the last few minutes, and even those are sort of forced into the plot rather than organically constructed. While Blood and Lace has a smarmy, disturbing story at heart, the plot itself is as sheer as the lace of the title, and most contemporary viewers will find it a slow mystery.
Blood and Lace comes in a special Blu-Ray/DVD package from Scream Factory, interesting because they don’t often provide two formats. The film is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and I really couldn’t ask for a better transfer here. The image looks great, with good contrast and no real drop in quality to speak of. Audio is presented with DTS-HD 2.0 mono track and is also good quality – you can hear all of the classical horror score. English subtitles are also included.
There aren’t very many bonus features on this double-disc set, which is somewhat disheartening. What buoys the release a little bit is the audio commentary from film historian Richard Harland Smith, a surprising inclusion that adds depth. There’s also the alternate title card credits – Scream Factory’s release features The Blood Secret as the title card on the main transfer, but they also include the Blood and Lace title card footage. Finally, a theatrical trailer is included. If there are fans of the film, then Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo is worth the investment. Otherwise, a casual viewer need not pick this up because Blood and Lace isn’t really a vital film for your home theater.