John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) is the handsome thirty-something owner of a French fashion house specialising in wedding dresses. John seems to have it all — wealth, a huge house and a job that requires him to be surrounded daily by beautiful models.
There are however two factors that make his life less than ideal — domineering, possessive wife Mildred (Laura Betti) who refuses to divorce him, and the fact that he is completely insane, driven to murder young women on the eves of their weddings. Harrington has largely come to terms with the latter, knowing that his mania has something to do with the brutal death of his mother when he was a child, and that he cannot stop killing until he discovers what. Mildred proves to be such an infuriating tyrant that he gives her a taste of his meat cleaver too; unfortunately she refuses to stay dead — although Harrington can no longer see her, she continues to speak to him and be visible to everyone else.
This Bava favourite is a curious mix of style and tone. The murder sequences are directed with the panache one would expect, showing very little blood but cranking up the tension to the max. The standout scene is the killing of Mildred. Harrington is interrupted halfway through by the arrival of the film’s requisite nosey detective (Jésus Puente) at their house, and while the pair talk at the front door, Mildred lies dying halfway up the stairs, dripping blood ever closer to the detective. The film is beautifully lit and full of striking images, like the room which John populates with mannequins in wedding dresses, or the conversation conducted entirely as a reflection on a knife blade.
The most peculiar aspect is the introduction of the ‘Mildred as ghost’ plot into an otherwise reality-based thriller. Presumably her refusal to stay dead exists only in the fractured mind of John Harrington, but it still lends the film a Twilight Zone-esque atmosphere somewhat at odds with this study of a killer. Still, it does provide the film with a nicely ironic pay-off, and Forysth and Betti have great fun as the vexed spouses.
Other faults are more to do with the film’s era than any judgement call on Bava’s part. The music veers wildly between atonal crashing to ghastly, string-laden sappy goo, rarely finding the right visual to accompany, while the pace lacks the urgency of, say, Bava’s influential slay-fest Bay of Blood two years later.
For the most part though, this is a stylish and entertaining thriller from the then master of the genre. And keep your eyes open for a cameo appearance from one of Bava’s other 60s classics, Black Sabbath, on a TV in Harrington’s house.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.