Making a movie that’s so bad that it’s good is impossible to do on purpose. It’s been tried and it has always failed. The only ambiguous entry in this very particular kind of film is The Happening, which seems so outrageous that I cannot fathom that it is not at least a bit tongue in cheek… then again maybe I’m overestimating Shyamalan. Finding a film that works on this level of absurdity is a rare treat, and last night, I think I discovered my new favourite “so bad it’s good” film; Blood and Lace (1971).
How did I find this film? During an aesthetics course, our teacher showed us the film’s opening sequence as a demonstration of a POV shot. What is so unique about it is that the scene is played out seemingly from the POV of a hammer… yes an inanimate hammer. It only gets better when the “brutal” murder begins and we see the hammer meet the flesh and red paint ooze out from the various wounds on the two people’s faces. A fire is then set and the killer escapes. This is all we were shown, and as captivating as all this was, we could never imagine that the film could live up to either the ridiculousness or the strangely crude artfulness of the opening sequence, luckily we were wrong. It turns out this entire sequence is a dream, when a young girl awakes in a hospital bed screaming.
She is remembering the night of her mother’s murder, which haunts her. The young woman is now an orphan, because she never knew her father. She is twenty but is placed in the care of a deranged older woman who runs something of an orphanage in an old and creepy mansion.
What makes the film exceptional is how absurd and unique all the characters are. To run things down;
Ellie Masters: Her mother, an old whore, was brutally murdered by a hammer. Though between 18-20, she has to go live in an orphanage. She has a lack of respect for the rules, and is too curious for her own good. All men who meet her fall head over heels in lust for her. Afraid of hammers.
Mrs. Deer: Older woman who takes care of these children as a means of keeping her old home. She is a widow, but still receives council from her dead husband who she keeps in a meat cooler, along with the corpses of the children who tried to run away. She seems to have a deal with the state, funded by sexual favours, to sends more kids her way. Mrs. Deer believes that one day science will be able to cure her husband from death, which is why she keeps him preserved. She is a sadist, and a bit of a loonie.
Calvin Carruthers: A police officer who used to run a movie theatre, he seems to have an invested interest in Ellie Masters that goes well beyond his concept of safety and justice. Though all men seem to be captivated by her beauty, he seems obsessed by it. He is also a potential rapist.
Mr. Mullins: A social worker who seems to care nothing for his job, except for the sexual favours it affords him. He is a weak willed man who is easily manipulated.
Blanche: The sixteen year old sexually precautious roommate of Ellie, she desperately wants to get with local heart-throb Walter, who is more interested in Ellie. She instigates most of the teenaged melodrama, but she’s actually one of the most interesting characters in the film. She is just so sassy and has so many great lines, my favourite being;
What do you know about what a man feels?
Not much but I’m willing to experiment!
Pete: The most 70s kid imaginable; he is skinnier than any runway model, has the hair, the jeans and doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. More than anyone else, he seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tom Kredge: UNCLE LEO! Vincent Gallo look-a-like who is a murderer, alcoholic and potential rapist. He assists Mrs. Deer as a handy man on her grounds and seems to have no control over his impulses. He is also quite dumb.
Walter: Local hottie who is Mrs. Deer’s little pet, he does not seem to like wearing shirts and in no conceivable world is he a believable twenty year old.
Back to the plot, Ellie is trying to find a way out of this place so that she can find her real father. She is still haunted by nightmares and visions of the night of her mother’s murder. The film seems to be littered with a lot of hammers and hammer imagery that instigates “episodes”. Along the way, she finds a suitcase that has a dismembered hand, almost gets raped by Uncle Leo, finds a dying girl in the attic who is being punished for running away, and has visions of a Freddy Krueger-like murderer who yields… you guessed it, a hammer! Did I mention this film also has a cat fight? Well… it does.
The film also uses the most absurd stock soundtrack I’ve ever heard. Most of it sounds like re-used sound from science fiction films, while others sound like a strange precursor to John William’s iconic Indiana Jones score. The film ends with one of the best twists ever, probably because it’s like three twists in one, each more absurd than the last. This is a film that has to be seen to believed. So much of it’s entertainment, comes from the filmmaking itself, even beyond the opening POV shot, you have a lot of zooms and strange, even creative cuts. The acting ranges from good to terrible, but all of it is entertaining in a high-camp kind of way. Despite my claim that the film is so bad that it’s good, it has a lot of great ideas (most of which are simply badly executed), and I would not be surprised if it was influential on quite a few 1970s horror filmmakers, especially John Carpenter. Who knows, you might even find it scary !
The film has some of the worst day for night I’ve ever seen.