Monday, October 3, 2016

Blood and Lace (1971) - Part 3 of 3

Our discussion of Blood and Lace (1971) continues. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here(Blood and Lace is available on Scream Factory Blu Ray and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.) When we left Ellie Masters, she was trapped in her room while Mrs. Deere and Tom were plotting to kill her and store her body in the freezer so they wouldn't lose $150 per month from the county.

Again, however, Ellie has the run of the house, as her door mysteriously swings open. She grabs the suitcase and opens it, finally paying off the setup of the disembodied hand.

She bolts and runs to the attic, only to find the hammer-wielding man in the mask standing over Jennifer. Screaming, she runs back to her room, where Tom grabs her. He shoves her downstairs to the basement and traps her in the walk-in freezer, where she discovers the teenagers' frozen bodies.

Social worker Mullins chooses an inopportune time to make another inspection. He wants to see the whole house from top to bottom. Mrs. Deere asks Tom to show him the basement, which Tom does, with the aid of a meat cleaver in the back.

The masked man with the hammer returns and faces off against Tom and his meat cleaver.

With the freezer open, Ellie escapes upstairs. She pleads with the other orphans to run or Mrs. Deere will kill them like she did the others. Ellie runs off, but the others just stay in the yard. They have nowhere to go.

Tom takes a hammer blow to the head and the masked man leaves to chase after Ellie. Mrs. Deere drags Tom into the freezer so his body will be preserved. What she doesn't expect is Jennifer, the girl in the attic, to slam the freezer door shut, locking Mrs. Deere and Tom inside.

In the rousing finale, the masked man chases Ellie through the woods. When he catches her, he stands over her with the hammer. "No!" She cries. "I didn't want to hurt you."

It is now made somewhat clear that the masked man represents the murdered man in the prologue, Ellie's mother's lover who was burned to death.

In a flashback, we see that Ellie herself was the hammer murderer who killed her mother and the man, then burned the house down.

With the truth revealed, the man pulls off his mask to reveal the face of Detective Calvin Carruthers. He was using Ellie as bait to see how Mrs. Deere would handle an escaped orphan, but along the way he also pieced together the identity  of the hammer murderer.

"What's going to happen to me now?" Ellie asks.

Calvin says he doesn't want anything to happen to her. "I figure we could...become friends. Very good friends." He wants to marry her. "No one would have to know what I know."


And then the film reveals its final stinger: Calvin says, "I bet your mother never told you that I was the first man to make love to her."

Ellie realizes the implication and starts giggling manically as the end credits roll.

Blood and Lace is a classic work that explores the depths of the human experience. It defies the cliche that an audience needs someone to root for in a movie. Every character he is selfish and desperate. The mother-figure is close to insanity, so disappointed with growing old she wants to stop time through murder and cryogenics. The father-figure, metaphoric at first and then revealed as the literal father, is a sociopath who only cares about himself. The representative of social institutions, Mullins, is just as bad, overlooking the mistreatment and murder of children to sleep with Mrs. Deere. Ellie, apparently the protagonist, is as selfish as the rest of the characters, using her youth and beauty to gain power and try to escape her situation. It reveals the depths of human despair better than any film of its time.

Startlingly, however, the film also has a sense of dark humor. In addition to the references to the frozen children having colds, it also names one of its characters Walt, after famously frozen dead person Walt Disney.

At every turn, starting with its title, it also subverts cinematic expectations. Blood and Lace must be a reference to Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace. It imitates the structure of a murder mystery, with a murder at the beginning and an unknown killer, but nobody is looking for the murderer, not even the only detective in town. The only crime Calvin investigates is Ernest's escape. There is a man wielding a hammer and wearing a grotesque mask, but he is revealed to be the detective, not the murderer. And the end the film reveals that Ellie was the murderer all along, so an investigation almost seems pointless anyway.

The final twist is shocking and painful to contemplate, presaging similarly disturbing twists in Chan-wook Park's Oldboy and, even more horrifying, a Love Boat episode in which a woman seduces her estranged father for revenge.