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us title: A Blade in the Dark
italian title: La casa con la scala nel buio
year: 1983
director: Lamberto Bava
composer: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
full details: IMDB
overall score: 65

Bottom Line: Entertaining
Nothing ground breaking here, but a fun time nonetheless.

WARNING: Spoilers Below

score analysis

If imitation really is the highest form of flattery, then Dario Argento must have been grinning ear to ear when he first saw Lambero Bava's A Blade in the Dark. The film is a showcase of everything that Lamberto learned from Argento during his stint as the first assistant director for Argento's Giallo masterpiece Tenebre.

Blade follows the classic Giallo formula with a few 1980s style considerations. The urban location is all but abandoned in favor of the secluded villa which allows Bava to construct some very effective suspense scenes. Bruno, the musician-turned-detective, follows the clues and red herrings amidst the gory and truly squirm-inducing murder sequences until he ultimately discovers a killer who is pretty easy to guess once all the other characters are accounted for. Ultimately the film suffers from terrible English dubbing and a soundtrack that's very reminiscent of the 1979 supernatural horror classic, Phantasm, but pales in comparison and quickly becomes tedious.

What's interesting about Blade is how many unapologetic references to Argento are featured within its frames. Visually the film looks exactly like Tenebre with its modern architecture and cold stone surfaces. The murder of Katia could easily be mistaken for the scene in Christiano Berti's back yard and the gory bathroom murder of Angela is clearly reminiscent of the Jane McKerrow dismemberment scene. 

But Bava also quotes from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage by ending the film with a gender ambiguous killer who stalks the main character's girlfriend with a knife that penetrates the door of her hiding space. And there's even a nod to Bava's father with the shot of the falling tennis balls that harkens back to Five Dolls for an August Moon.

With all of this in mind, Blade seems like a film school project where the grading criteria is to create an effective murder mystery in the style of the Giallo using references to the films of the past and making use of the experience gained on the set. The irony here is that Bava's film features Michele Soavi who also worked as an assistant director on Tenebre and whose directorial debut Stagefright can also serve as an example of a fledgling director clearly influenced by films of his mentors.

Ultimately A Blade in the Dark is an example of a talented director coming of age with an entertaining film that has earned its reputation as an effective Giallo despite its lack of originality.

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score breakdown

Hint: Hover over a score item for more details
Staples : 45/60
Italian Director10 points
Hidden Identity10 points
Amateur Detective5 points
Motivation: Psychological Trauma/Revenge10 points
Avoid Capture: Killed by Police or other character5 points
Director > 15 points
Standards : 17/30
Body Count >= 34 points
Flashback Revelation3 points
Italian Location3 points
Nude Scene >= 13 points
Suspects >= 34 points
Signatures : 3/10
Bathtub Murder1 point
Photography/Glamor/Modeling/Art1 point
Visual Misinterpretation1 point
Total Points : 65/100



This is my third favorite non-Argento, non-Mario Bava giallo. But it may be because I saw it at a relatively young age. It blew my mind...

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Published: 2015-02-09