AKA: La Casa Con La Scala Nel Buio
Musician Bruno is doing a score for an upcoming horror film. His director is notoriously secretive about the endings of her films, and as this is Bruno’s first time scoring a horror movie, she wants him to be able to capture the right mood. So the studio has decided to house Bruno in a slightly secluded and spacious (though sparsely furnished) villa. Bruno is perfectly chill with this arrangement. Or at least he is until he starts finding things in odd places, spots of what he’s pretty sure are blood, and two local girls, whom he just met, suddenly go missing. Bruno’s 90% sure something seriously wrong is going on in his temporary abode, but figuring he has little proof beyond his own suspicions he deduces that he can’t yet go to the police. So Bruno decides to take it upon himself to find out if there really is something nefarious going on, or if it’s just a figment of his imagination.
Hint: It ain’t
A Blade in the Dark is a 1983 giallo film by Lamberto Bava. It was actually meant to be a TV mini-series, but all the bloody bits were deemed a bit ‘too much’ and it was readapted as a film. This was probably a blessing, as not only does the viewer retain the gore, but it probably also helped the story move along faster than it would have otherwise.
You see, one of the film’s downsides is its very slow start. Instead of building tension and atmosphere, the first third of the movie just feels plodding and stiff. Bruno spends a lot of time wandering the house and looking around. If he had been staying in a dark, gothic manor it might have been creepy and engaging. But the villa is so modern and downright empty that it just feels like deliberate padding. Not even a chase scene and a bloody death could really liven it up. I can only imagine the drudgery a viewer would have been subjected to if they had had to sit through another hour or more of run time that a TV mini-series could have easily added.
My thoughts exactly
The film’s other major drawback, at least for English speakers, is it’s terrible, terrible dub. Even without any foreknowledge of the Italian script, it’s easy to see that some of the lines don’t match the tone of the scene or even the actors expressions. On top of that, some lines are just…oddly translated. In the very first scene, two boys are teasing a third boy about being a scaredy-cat by not going down into the deep, dark basement. They tease him about being a scared little girl, likely a familiar taught for boys that age. But they don’t tease him about being a girl. Instead they tease him about being a ‘female.’ Judging by the lip movements, the kids are likely saying ‘female’ (femmina) in Italian. So I can’t knock the translators for not being accurate. But that’s not how the English phrasing of the taunt works, so the whole scene winds up feeling very perplexing when it really didn’t need to be.
Thankfully, by the halfway point, the film really picks up and seems to find itself. The mystery starts to deepen and the tone seems to have nailed itself down. Granted, some of the second half doesn’t make all that much sense, but just the fact that the film seems to have found its footing by this point improves the experience exponentially.
By the time you hit the second murder, which is ruthlessly brutal despite being surprisingly bloodless, the film has moved from plodding to being surprisingly fun. And though slasher fans might be disappointed by the small body count, they’re so well done and brutal that it should more than make up for the low number.
Overall, the general plot of A Blade In The Dark is pretty well put together. Even with the horrible dubbing getting in the way it’s still a well handled mystery, at least for a typical giallo. It’s in no way perfect, of course. There are a couple of blunt and crudely added plot elements added later in the film and, like many mysteries, there are red herrings flying all over the damn place. None of this really impedes one’s enjoyment of the film, or prevents an astute viewer from figuring out who the killer is. Hell, most viewers can probably figure out what’s going on before the characters ever do, but it’s all so well done that it still manages to be fun.
As for the characters, they are all surprisingly competent. A couple of them seemed to be actively vying for ‘Most Easily Identifiable Red Herring’, but even with the atrocious dub (I’m sorry I keep bringing it up, but it really is that bad), I still managed to like a couple of the characters. Poor Bruno manages to be a believable ‘every man’ type. He knows something is wrong, but he’s also smart enough to know that his suspicions sound like the ravings of a paranoid loon. I also found myself rooting for his director, Sandra. Not only did she seem like the most interesting person in the film (admittedly not hard with dull Bruno walking around), but she also had the best fashion sense. But that’s likely just a personal preference, as by that time I was really tired of watching Bruno walk around in tasteless sweaters.
Yes, even in a coat 2 sizes too big, she’ll still win best dressed in this movie.
So is A Blade In The Dark worth watching? If you like giallo and slasher films, I’d say yes. It seems to take its sweet time to get going, and could probably have benefited greatly by a 10-20 minute cut, but overall I’d say it does its job pretty well. The characters are engaging, the blood flows freely and it adds a nice little mystery to go along with the slashings. It does ultimately use a sexual trope that I’m not at all fond of for its ending, but thankfully it’s a trope that seems to be quite dead nowadays. If you like giallos this is definitely something you may want to check out. But because of its ending, it’s also a film you’re not going to want to show to your more progressive friends. Just keep in mind that you’re probably gonna want to watch it with subtitles.
A Blade In The Dark is currently streaming on Amazon (though I don’t know for how long.)
It is also available on DVD.