Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blood and Lace (1971) - Part 2 of 3

Our discussion of Blood and Lace (1971) continues. You can read Part 1 here(Blood and Lace is available on Scream Factory Blu Ray and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.) When we left Ellie Masters, she was in the hospital after the hammer murder of her mother. She was scheduled to be transferred to an orphanage, but as we saw previously, the proprietors of the orphanage are not above a little murder themselves to keep the place running on $150 per head from the county.

Social worker Mullins escorts Ellie from the hospital (its elaborate signage pictured below) to the Deere house.


While Mullins conducts his inspection of the orphanage, Ellie begins to make trouble with the other orphans. When she learns that the oldest of the "boys," 21-year-old Walt, is the boyfriend of a 16-year-old girl named Bunch, she immediately flirts with Walt and quickly learning that Bunch is not his girlfriend after all.

During the inspection, in a moment of dark humor, Mrs. Deere tells Mullins that three of the children are in the infirmary. Mullins asks what's wrong. "Just a little cold," Tom replies. Mullins and Mrs. Deere then retire to her bedroom to complete the sordid terms of their monthly deal.

At dinner, the teens talk about Ernest's escape. Ellie finds out that kids regularly escape the facility, even though she knows Mullins is under the impression that Ernest was the first escapee.

While the kids are eating dinner, Mrs. Deere speaks to someone offscreen about the difficulty of making ends meet. She can't support this many children on the money the county pays her. We see only her shadow, and the scene is eerily scored with a theremin.

The theremin score returns the next day as Mrs. Deere speaks with Ellie, first about her chores, then about the difficulties of growing older. "I was beautiful once," she says. "And then one morning I looked in the mirror. I was old."

Ellie starts polishing the woodwork but, curious, she makes her way up to the cluttered attic. Ellie appears to be able to move anywhere in the house, particularly the places where Mrs. Deere hides her shocking secrets.

In the attic, Ellie is shocked to find a girl tied to a pipe. The girl's name is Jennifer and she has been locked in the attic for days because she tried to run away. When Ellie tries to get Jennifer a glass of water from the kitchen, Tom stops her and takes the glass away from her.

Detective Calvin Carruthers stops by the house, ostensibly to follow up about the runaway, Ernest. He and Tom exchange words about Ellie; both of them have an interest in her that is not strictly professional.

Calvin talks to Ellie in the kitchen, where she informs him that Ernest isn't the only kid who has escaped. He says he'll keep checking up on her to make sure she's safe, and he gives her a Vic Tayback grin that is at once charming and deeply disturbing.

Ellie immediately takes up with Walt, the oldest resident of the facility. Despite Mrs. Deere's contention that the kids need to work constantly, Ellie and Walt take a long, long walk in the woods, where Ellie tells him she plans to escape as soon as she can. Walt says she can't do that. The other escapees were boys. Only boys can take care of themselves in the woods.

Ellie needs to escape to find her father. "You've got a mother and you've got a father. And you're a little bit of both of them." She wants to know her father because she knows there is more to herself than her mother.

That night, a mysterious man wearing a plaid shirt breaks into the basement of the home. His face is obscured by a mask that makes him look simultaneously like an old man and a burn victim.

The next morning, Tom asks Ellie to come down to the basement with him so nobody else will hear them talking. He hands her his claw hammer, which understandably makes her nervous, even more so than the sight of Len Lesser in a tank top.

Down in the basement, the camera takes the point of view of the hammer again as it is lifted and held close to the back of Ellie's head. She turns around, but sees nothing--not even the hammer. The film has nearly reached the hour mark, and it has now raised the possibility that much of what we are seeing is in Ellie's mind.

Tom finds Ellie in the basement. "If I show you a way to escape," he says, "what'll you do for me?" Ellie replies, "Anything you want."

But his "way to escape" is just a bottle of whiskey. He forces himself on her but they are interrupted by Mrs. Deere. She sends Ellie to her room and fires Tom, but he threatens to reveal her secrets unless she makes him a 50/50 partner. She agrees reluctantly.

Later, Mrs. Deere reveals yet another of her secrets. She moves Ellie to a cluttered shed to punish her for fooling around with Tom in the basement. Mrs. Deere reveals that she is still seeking advice from her late husband, who is preserved cryogenically like the frozen children so he can be revived when medical science advances sufficiently.

Ellie believes this means that Mrs. Deere doesn't care who lives and who dies. Mrs. Deere says she wants to preserve all the children exactly as they are, young and beautiful. Then she leaves Ellie to clean up the shed.

Walt sneaks inside and helps Ellie clean the shed. She stumbles across a familiar-looking suitcase. It is the suitcase Ernest had--the one that still must contain Ernest's severed hand. Ellie says she can use it when she runs away--the script is sober enough not to have her say the suitcase would come in "handy."

In this scene, the filmmakers create nail-biting suspense by keeping the suitcase in frame and having Ellie fumble with the latches but refrain from opening the case. The suspense builds and builds as the audience imagines the shock of finding out what is in the suitcase.

But nothing happens. The suitcase remains closed.

Ellie and Walt continue their conversation from the woods about Ellie's absent father. The only thing her mother ever told her was that the first man she ever made love to got her pregnant. Then she takes the suitcase and goes to her room, hiding the case under her bed.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Deere is having another heart-to-heart with her deceased husband, whom she wheels in and out of the walk-in freezer when she needs advice.

Later at night, while Ellie sleeps, we see one of the most famous images from Blood and Lace--the man in the burnt old man mask holding a claw hammer above Ellie's bed. Ellie wakes up and screams--but there is nothing there.

Mrs. Deere concludes that it was just a bad dream. But then we see the man outside the home, carrying the hammer. Is he real or a figment of Ellie's imagination?

The next day, everything comes to a head when Ellie walks in on Bunch, the younger girl, seducing Walter. Combined with the sight of the hammer-wielding man last night, this forces Ellie's decision to run away. When Mrs. Deere finds out about Ellie's plan, she locks Ellie in her room and convinces Tom to take care of her--"just like our friends in the freezer."

Will Ellie survive Mrs. Deere's plan to add her to her pile of frozen children? Find out in Part 3.