Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Blade in the Dark

The second feature from Mario Bava's son, Lamberto, takes a stab (sorry) at the giallo, a genre which his father had dabbled in a few times.  The protagonist is a composer by the name of Bruno, who becomes suspicious that murders have taken place on his property, but nobody seems interested in listening to his suspected mistaken ramblings.  There is no mistake, however, and murders are most definitely taking place as a string of women visit the property for various reasons.  Bruno thinks that the answer may lie in the reel of a film that has been kept hidden away by its director, but getting to see the contents is not as easy as he'd like.

Almost all of the activity here takes place in an Italian villa, with the killer prowling around the site and becoming increasingly violent each time a woman shows up.  It plods along slowly (running almost an hour an fifty minutes) and would have benefited from some trimming here and there, but overall this is quite a solid offering to the crowded giallo arena.  It moves along almost carefully, possibly in effort to give the murders more impact - admittedly they are quite brutal and sadistic, with a couple of bits quite hard to watch even by today's much more violent standards.
I've previously seen this on VHS, and watched the Anchor Bay DVD a few times over the years.  88 Films' Blu-ray (part of their lovely Italian range) frames the film at 1.66:1, which I believe provides a little more breathing space at the top and bottom while being more appropriate for a European film from the era of A Blade in the Dark's making (1983).  There is omnipresent grain though I don't feel that it is overly intrusive.  Edges are fairly soft, while detail fluctuates from scene to scene - one has to remember that this was shot in 16mm so it will never be especially sharp in any format.  Colours are not particularly vibrant but as I grew accustomed to the visual style of this new presentation I found it to be pleasing viewing, and possibly closely representative of the source (something we will never actually know until another Blu-ray appears for comparison).

Previously it was not possible for English speakers to enjoy the Italian language version of this film, so it is highly appreciated that 88 have supplied the option to watch in either English or Italian with English subtitles (although please, 88, start allowing us to switch languages mid film without having to go back to the main menu!).  Personally I think Blade plays much better in Italian, but at least the option is there whatever your preference.  Audio is DTS-HD MA (mono) either way, and very clear throughout.

Extras consist of a fifty minute low video quality Q&A session with the director, a twenty minute interview with the cinematographer, and the Italian opening/closing credits.  The cover of the case is reversible (with original Italian title (La Casa con la Scala nel Buio)/artwork on the other side) and inside the case is an extra piece of film art on a slip.

I'm not sure about the running time because it appears to be a minute or so shorter than what I believed the film ran to on the Anchor Bay disc.  However, the gore/murder sequences seem to be intact so I'm not sure if there is anything missing without going through frame by frame.  Even if that proved to be the case I think the benefits of this new edition outweigh anything else, and the 88 Films release is now the definitive edition (until someone else gives it another shot on Blu, but they'll have to put some effort in I think!).

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