Blade in the Dark, A (1983)

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2008-03-30 14:45

Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, and Michele Soavi

Reviewed by: Wes R.

“When you’re in the dark, there’s menace in every sound. Danger. There could be monsters, killers. Murderers lurk in the black dark. Sure, it’s possible there’s nothing there; No presence that you’re all alone. Or maybe daylight cancels out the monsters, like nightmares in your sleep. But death is there, always, always watching...and especially in the dark.”

Through the gigantic success of American films like Friday the 13th, Halloween and all of their clones, makers of the classic, Italian giallo knew that they had to adapt to the new marketplace or else be left in the dust. The result was a hybrid of both sub-genres. Though the films were thoroughly Italian, they contained very few elements to distinguish them as a pure-bred giallo, and were much more in line with their more formulaic stalk-and-slash cousins overseas. The result made for some of the most entertaining entries in either sub-genre (and admittedly some of the worst also). One of the earliest examples of this marriage of was the 1983 Lamberto Bava flick, A Blade in the Dark. Only a few years prior, Bava made his feature film debut with the little-seen horror effort, Macabre. Coming from the bloodline of such a genuine master craftsman of the genre, would Lamberto be able to amply fill Mario’s footsteps? In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no.

Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) is film composer hired to create music for a new horror movie directed by the lovely Sandra (Anny Papa). He leases a beautiful, but spooky Italian villa to give him the right mood for the music he is to compose. Soon, two women go missing not long after visiting the villa, and Bruno suspects that they may have been murdered. But, by whom? And for what reason? With no proof, and plenty more bizarre goings-on occurring by the minute, Bruno finds himself ensnared in a murderous game of cat-and-mouse with a deranged, blade-wielding killer. The murders seem to have something to do with the villa’s mysterious former tenant, Linda, and they may or may not also be connected to the plot of Sandra’s new movie that Bruno is composing for. Will Bruno figure out what the murderer wants and who he or she is, before his own life is gruesomely taken?

A Blade in the Dark hits most of the right notes. Though the composer tries to figure out what is going on, there is never an emphasis on an investigation or detectives. Bruno isn’t even sure if there have been any murders committed at all until a little ways toward the end. The film began as a television anthology project, in which there would be a murder committed every half an hour. The pace of the film mirrors this, but it still has a pretty good flow. There is dead time in between the kills, but I was never bored. Plenty enough stalking and mysterious events occur to keep the audience well involved even when it appears that not much is actually taking place. Despite the dubbing on video, the film is pretty well acted. By no means are they master thespians, but they get the job done. Horror aficionados will notice director Michele Soavi (Stage Fright, Cemetery Man) having a small role in the film as Bruno’s landlord and Fulci fans will grin when they see Giovanni Frezza (better known to gore fans as young Bob in House by the Cemetery) show up in the opening film-within-a-film sequence.

Each death scene is committed primarily with a stabbing weapon (box-cutter, large kitchen knife, etc.), so there is a good helping of on-screen blood. The notorious “knife-thru-hand” sequence is a squeamish standout. The non-hesitation to deliver plenty of the red stuff reminded me of Lamberto’s father, Mario. The stalking scenes are also pretty effective, because you know the killer will soon strike, but you have no idea when. The killer’s bizarre whimpering that accompanies each murder is also surprisingly effective. It reminded me a little of “Billy” in Black Christmas. The music of the film is pretty eerie. The synth score that Bruno creates for the fictional film is also used as the score of Lamberto’s and is extremely effective. The haunting piano synth score perfectly complements the on-screen action whether the scene contain horror, mystery, or suspense. I remember trying to watch the film at the tender age of four or five. As a kid, the opening sequence (a couple of minutes from Sandra’s fictional horror movie) used to freak me out, and once the opening titles music started, I dared not venture further. Only now, some twenty odd years later, have I managed to watch the complete film from start to finish. The vast villa is quite a spooky setting for the film and worked great for a slasher movie. One can only imagine how frightening a haunted house movie could’ve been, if set there.

The title of the film, unlike many slashers and gialli, is not a cheat, as we are given plenty of blades and plenty of dark. The mood of the film is quite foreboding and desolate. It provides the perfect atmospheric backdrop for a crazed killer to lurk after victims. One very effective scene was when Bruno left his studio to examine spots of blood on the stairway. Suddenly, he hears the spooky synth theme he’d been working on start back up on the tape recorder. Someone must be in his office! Good setup, good payoff...Quite a chilling sequence. The film doesn’t really have much in the way of flashy style. Unlike the films of his father, Lamberto’s storytelling here is pretty straight forward. Here, we have no crash zooms or splashy colors, only decent acting, a great setting, and a fairly frightening killer. Lamberto didn’t really need a lot of help from added stylistic choices. His film is fairly entertaining enough to stand on its own (not that a little style here and there would've hurt). It’s the type of film that no doubt would’ve made his father quite proud. Seeing his own work reflected through that of his son, I’m sure Mario can rest in peace.

A Blade in the Dark is a moderately effective slasher/giallo hybrid. If you’re looking for an entertaining evening of murderous fun from the shores of Italy, you could do much, much worse. It’s certainly not on the level of Argento’s 80s classics, but it is easily more watchable than some other Italian fare from the period. For an even better Lamberto Bava film, check out the Dario Argento-produced Demons. It’s not a slasher flick, but an altogether more satisfying film for horror fans (especially you gorehounds out there). As it stands, A Blade in the Dark is the type of definite purchase for fans of both slashers and gialli that makes one wish Lamberto were still working within the horror genre today. Maybe one day he will return. Turn down the lights, put away the knives, and prepare to enjoy Lamberto Bava’s fun and thrilling, A Blade in the Dark. Buy it!

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