Three little boys are investigating an old, dark house, two of them intending to dare the other to carry out a feat of bravery by way of initiation. As they creep about the corridors they reach a staircase and one of the children produces a tennis ball which he throws down the stairs and then begins warning the other kid that if he doesn't venture to retrieve it he will be branded a girl. As the two of them chant "You're a female! You're a female!" the object of their derision carries out the dare, but when he reaches the bottom of the stairs, out of sight in the shadows, a bloodcurdling scream is heard...
Ah, but this begining to the film is a bit of a trick, because what we've been watching is the film which the lead character Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) is scoring a soundtrack for. He's holed up in this isolated mansion, putting the finishing touches to his music on his own with his piano and keyboard for company, which although you are not aware of it from the opening has more of a connection to the movie in progress than first appears. A Blade in the Dark, or La casa con la scala nel buio if you were Italian, was brought to the world by director Lamberto Bava, son of Mario Bava and at this stage attempting to follow faithfully in his father's footsteps.
He did so with a collection of (usually) horror flicks, which have their fans but not many would claim his career was as stellar and influential as his dear old dad, though for a filmmaker working under a long shadow of a groundbreaking parent he did manage to work up a degree of entertainment in many of his efforts, if on the trashier side of things. Here he teamed with two screenwriters, Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sarchetti, who were more closely associated with another Italian shocker director, Lucio Fulci, which may prompt you to ponder how he would have handled the material; as it was, Bava was evidently enamoured of sustaining suspense.
He did this in lengthy sequences where the characters would wander around the villa and it environs, often to a tiring degree as you began to grow weary of yet another shot of someone skulking down yet another corridor looking anxious. This was originally a TV miniseries considered too violent for the small screen, and if you knew that you could see the way it had been edited to contain its thrills into half hour segments, fine for something you might tune in to every week but pretty repetitive when strung together in the format of a two hour movie. But most viewers were prepared to forgive the production that kind of drawback - what they had more trouble with was the dubbing.
It has been noted before, but the voiceovers on A Blade in the Dark, if you were watching it in English, were not the best; for example, although whenever anyone bids goodbye they say "Ciao!" untranslated, one artiste pronounces it "See-ah-oh!" which is just ridiculous, unless it was an inside joke designed to lighten the long day at the microphone. Also, the chant of "You're a female!" doesn't sound very convincing and more implemented to match the lips movements of the cast, and when the mysteriously absent and possibly murderous Linda is described as having a dangerous obsession with tennis it's difficult not to laugh. It's original, give them that, but doesn't have much bearing on the usual stalk and slash business. Bruno finds himself visited by a selection of ladies during his stay from his director (Anny Papa) to his girlfriend (Lara Lamberti), among other, poorly motivated characters, but that barely seen figure with the world's smallest craft knife keeps bumping them off. It's amusing to a point, but nobody's going to mistake this for a classic. Music by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis.
Italian director/producer and son of legendary horror auteur Mario Bava. Began working as an assistant to his father on productions such as Planet of the Vampires and Baron Blood, and co-wrote Mario's final film Shock. Made his directing debut in 1980 with the effective chiller Macabre, which were followed by exploitation favourites A Blade in the Dark, Blastfighter, Delirium and two gore-laden Demons movies, both produced by Dario Argento. Bava's subsequent work has largely been for Italian TV, his last theatrical film being 1991's duff Body Puzzle.