Blood and Black Lace – Carlo Rustichelli
Ditching the customary orchestral approach to horror movie music at the time, in favour of a more raunchy sound, Rustichelli uses the tango to cornerstone this score.
Published on March 23, 2012 | Filed under Audiodrome: Music in Film

With its dazzlingly stylish direction, moodily lit and baroque production design and lavish depictions of beautiful women falling victim to a black-gloved maniac, Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964) formed the blueprint for the Italian giallo movie. For the uninitiated, giallo (plural: gialli) is Italian for ‘yellow’, and the term’s application to a particular subgenre/cycle of Italian genre cinema originates from the trademark yellow covers of pulp murder-mystery books extremely popular in Italy. The cinematic equivalents, instigated by Bava and Dario Argento, boasted exploitative sex and violence draped around whodunit narratives. Bava’s lurid tale of a sadistic murderer stalking the halls of a fashion house with a dark secret is arguably also one of the first ‘body count’ movies. Unlike his prior film, the embryonic giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), the emphasis in Blood and Black Lace – and many subsequent gialli – is purely on the murder set pieces and not the more conventional whodunit aspects of the story.

The soundtracks of giallo films are often stylishly chic affairs that sometimes seem at odds with the violent imagery they accompany. Prior to scoring Blood and Black Lace, the immensely prolific Carlo Rustichelli provided a sumptuous score for Bava’s darkly gothic melodrama The Whip and the Body (1963), excerpts of which would also be used to score Kill Baby Kill (1966). Born into a family of music lovers in Carpi in 1916, Rustichelli studied piano and composition at the Bologna conservatory, before graduating from the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome. Before his extensive film work – he scored over 250 films – Rustichelli composed music for opera and theatre. His score for Blood and Black Lace ditches the customary orchestral approach to horror movie music at the time, in favour of a more raunchy sound. Opting to use the tango to cornerstone this score, Rustichelli deftly accentuates the more erotic, sensual aspects of Bava’s film, with a soundtrack that is by turns refined, elegant, sexy and creepy when it needs to be. The main theme Atelier is reprised in various forms throughout the score, either in terms of its instrumentation, tempo or structure, as evidenced on the track Atelier (Ripresa), which takes the tempo of the main theme down to sultry, hip-swaying levels. Rustichelli mainly utilises a small jazz orchestra featuring solo trumpet, sax, and Latin-styled percussion such as bongo drums. As the body count mounts and characters are whittled out of the story, the music itself is stripped back – becoming more sparse and sinister and usually featuring a lone Hammond organ spookily reciting the main theme, as on L’indagine continua. Fluttering woodwind and insistent kettle drums on certain tracks enhance the creepier moments with a nervous edge.

Tracks such as Inseguimento e morte di Isabella feature ominous strings, sneering brass and faint echoes of the main theme while building tension in an increasingly discordant and frenzied manner, while brass, bass, and organ fuel the more typical horror fare of Brutale Aggressione and Terrore nella casa di moda. Elsewhere Sospetti regurgitates the main theme as a Hammond organ informed dirge, lapped at by strings and sax, and Attacco notturno stealthily stalks out of the speakers before rampaging around with its blaring brass, rumbling piano and stabbing strings culminating in a frenzied orgy of blurry distortion. Perhaps Harry Manfredini heard this before composing the score to Friday the 13th (1980), which certainly echoes some of Rustichelli’s more intense moments on Blood and Black Lace.

As mentioned, Rustichelli was heavily influenced by tango infused rhythms on this film. The tango is a dance rife with metaphorical connotations – notably the saying “It takes two to tango”; alluding to a partnership linked by dubious activity. This is fitting for a story involving the bloody exploits of two killers working in relation to one another, sometimes in tandem, other times in opposition – just like the tango. There are apparently specific male and female roles in tango. Traditionally the male initiates and the female finishes, and both roles require improvisation, intricate communication – and above all, trust. By staying in tune with one another other, the killers in Blood and Black Lace perform a death dance enhanced by Rustichelli’s sultry, luxurious and moody music, the often kinky flavour of which perfectly soundtracks the narrative about terrorized fashion models who discover a secret they shouldn’t have.

With a score consisting solely of variations on what are essentially two themes, some may find this a little repetitive, but Rustichelli’s flair for playing around with tempo and structure, ensure it remains a moody and atmospheric listen. It was finally released in 2004, the same year as Rustichelli’s death, by DigitMovies as a double CD with the score for The Whip and the Body. The company have since released other Bava soundtracks such as Baron Blood (1972), Bay of Blood (1971) and The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

One of my favourite tracks on the album combines a spooky organ solo and cautious strings which replay the main theme, building to a rousing crescendo before upping the tempo for a reprise of the sensual main theme. I present to you, Il volto dell’ assassino (Finale). Enjoy.

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James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series). He currently contributes to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique, and has also written for Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.
James Gracey

  • Christine

    I’m not a huge gialli fan. I’m not sure if we’ve ever discussed this, James. It’s just a genre that I’ve never been able to find passion for.
    That being said, I love gialli soundtracks! And apparently I could go on reading about them for days.
    Amazing stuff (as per usual!).

    • James

      Cheers Ms Makepeace. Also – I’m making you a compilation CD! You NEED more giallo music in your life. 😉

      • Christine