In 1980, Mario Bava's son Lamberto directed his first feature film: Macabro...a tale of love gone way too far.
After working as an assistant to Dario Argento on Tenebre, he followed up his debut three years later with this successful giallo. Mixing the inventive camerawork and colorful imagery of his father with the shocking and pounding pace of Argento, Lamberto Bava provided us with another fun slasher piece a la Italian style.
Three little boys are playing a game in which two of them dare the third to fetch a tennis ball from a dark cellar. "You are a female, you are a female," they taunt him (We're not quite sure if this is just a sloppy translation from the Italian!)
The frightened boy goes down and doesn't return. Instead, the ball is tossed back up the stairs, covered with blood. The two suddenly not so brave friends run away from the scene.
This sequence is part of a movie, a murder-mystery that Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) is composing for in collaboration with Sandra (Anny Papa), the filmmaker. It's his first thriller and he's aprehensive about the subject matter. Sandra tells him he should be sufficiently inspired by the huge villa he'll be staying at while working.
At night, someone is lurking inside the house as Bruno sits at the piano. He finds a photo of a naked lady that has been shredded with a razor blade.
During a search, he comes across a girl hiding in one of the closets. Katia (Valeria Cavalli) is a neighbor who wanted to meet the handsome man who is renting the place. Unsatisfied by her explanation, Bruno is momentarily distracted by a phone call from Tony Rendina (Michele Soavi), the owner of the villa. They plan to meet the next day.
Katia disappears and Bruno finds her diary in the closet. There is an entry that talks of a woman named Linda. "I've discovered her secret," she wrote. "It's really terrifying, terrible...but at the same time it's fascinating. There's nobody I can tell it too." Unable to decipher the meaning behind those words, Bruno goes back to work.
While walking to her house, Katia is faced with a blade-wielding psycho. She's cut in her face and hand - but manages to make it to the basement of a nearby house. Her luck runs out while hiding behind the mesh wire of a dilapidated wall.
Trapped, the killer pokes at Katia through the wire. She screams but is killed by a strategic slicing of her stomach. (A very sloppy kill, we might add!) The body is dragged up the stairs and out of the home.
During a playback of his music, Bruno hears a whispering voice on the tape. It sounds as if someone is talking about the secret involving Linda. "No one must know," the voice says. Bruno goes out for a smoke and narrowly avoids seeing the body of his dead neighbor.
The phone rings and he answers it. Nobody is on the line...but Bruno notices a speck of blood on his pants. A search of the grounds turns up more blood - and yet no corpse.
Bruno's girlfriend Julia (Lara Naszinsky) surprises him with a visit. She's an actress and she thought she'd spend some time with her lover after her performance was cancelled. She stays for the night...and the following morning, Bruno tries to explain what happened.
Julia is uninterested and jealous that a strange girl was in the house. Believing that Katia is dead, Bruno guesses that she had an appointment to meet the killer in the house. She must have known something about the murderer - which he didn't want anyone else to find out. Julia tells him that Sandra's horror films are starting to get to him and leaves.
Tony arrives as Bruno tries to open one of the locked closets. He tells the composer that a previous tenant's belongings are stored in it and offers to move them. Bruno declines the offer and asks about Katia and Linda.
Tony tells him that the things in the closet actually belong to Linda. Unable to explain what occurred, Tony says that Bruno should talk to Giavanni (Stanko Molnar), the groundskeeper.
The phone rings and someone threatens to kill Bruno. It turns out to be Sandra playing a joke on him. She wants to meet with him to talk about the project.
Katia's roommate Angela (Fabiola Toledo) shows up looking for her. Bruno lets her go for a swim in the pool, something Linda often let her and Katia do.
After doing a few laps, Angela goes into the bathroom to wash up. She is not alone. An intruder in the kitchen picks up a huge butcher knife and follows her. The stranger appears to be a woman wearing bright red nail polish.
As Angela washes her hair in the sink, the perpetrator slams the knife down on her hand, pinning her. The killer then covers the girl's head with a plastic bag and slams it several times on the edge of the sink.
Finally, she puts Angela's head over the bathtub, takes the knife and slashes her neck. After this extremely violent attack, the killer panics and tries to clean up the mess.
Bruno sees that one of the knives in the kitchen was misplaced. He also finds some pearls in the bathtub and blood near the sink. He decides to make a recording of himself talking about the unusual events...in case something should happen to him.
Sandra listens to Bruno's story and tells him she believes that the bodies could be hidden somewhere on the premises. They go to the closet with Linda's belongings and find it open.
Inside are boxes containing books and a chest filled with tennis balls! Sandra realizes she knows this person and tells Bruno that her film is partially based on the woman's traumatized childhood.
They hear something above. Someone has entered the house and the two believe that person is Linda. We catch a glimpse of a woman wandering around, holding a large knife. It turns out to be Julia...who is holding the weapon out of fear because of Bruno's theory about the murders.
When Sandra leaves for the night, Julia lets it be known that she's jealous once again. She also tells Bruno that her show was closed down for obscenity reasons.
Bruno finds a tennis ball in his bed and wonders if he (in fact) knows who his girlfriend really is. In the morning, he wakes up to find Julia is gone. Giovanni hasn't seen her and tells Bruno about her unusual habit of walking around the cottage each morning.
Julia is asked about this by Bruno...but she scoffs and tells him she is tired of his suspicions and obsession with the disappearances of the girls.
Sandra phones Linda to tell her she hasn't betrayed her. She says she used her story for the film but invented the rest. Linda doesn't respond when Sandra offers to meet and talk about it.
Linda breaks into Sandra's editing room and destroys the last reel of her movie. When Bruno tries to view it, he finds the film in shreds.
Giovanni discovers the bodies of Katia and Angela while working in the basement. Linda finds him and bludgeons him to death with a wrench.
Bruno watches what is left of the film. In the final reel before the one that was ruined, a woman appears who was not in any other part of the movie. Bruno thinks the clue to the murders lies in this character.
Sandra arrives at Bruno's house and finds the weapon used to kill Giovanni. Not quite dead yet, he jumps out at her from the entrance to the basement. Frightened, Sandra backs away from him. Linda wraps a film reel around Sandra's neck and chokes her to death. She then drags the body around in circles, laughing maniacally.
Julia comes upon the body hidden under mounds of tape reel. As she tries to leave the house, Linda traps her inside and shuts off most of the lights.
While trying to find another way out, a bunch of tennis balls are dropped on her. (Tennis anyone?!) Julia hides in a closet as Linda torments her by sticking a knife through the door.
Bruno storms into the house, calling out his girlfriend's name. Julia hears him and tries to make a run for it but Linda is right behind her. Before Julia can make it to safety, Linda jabs the knife through her back.
Linda then lunges at Bruno, who knocks her in the head with a brick. It's too late to save Julia...so Bruno goes over to check on the killer.
It turns out that Linda is actually a guy. The killer has been Tony all along...an alter ego. The transvestite recovers and comes after Bruno with the knife - but Bruno manages to stab him with the weapon.
In a Psycho/Dressed to Kill final moment, Bruno explains Tony/Linda's repression and its connection to the murders of the women. We see the final shot of Sandra's film: the little boy who was teased with the phrase "you are a female" is wearing a wig.
Believe it or not, this gory giallo was originally shot as a TV movie to be aired over four nights in 25 minute installments! It was shot on 16mm and later transfered to 35mm for theatrical release.
Lamberto Bava recalls, "We only had one movie camera lens and our cameraman borrowed others from a friend of his! We used the producer's house and three or four young, unknown actors...making the film was a sort of bet and established my reputation as a director who made films quickly and cheaply."
A Blade In the Dark is a fun slasher. While it doesn't stray from the basic conventions of the giallo mold, the younger Bava directs with assurance and creates some very shocking murder pieces, specifically the bathroom killing...which is raw, real and stylish all at once.
Of course, these films don't always make the most sense. Perhaps something gets lost in the tranlation (for English-speaking audiences anyway). Still, there's something so comforting about the giallo form and this one is no exception.
A strong, underrated entry from Bava.