Blood and Lace (1971)
Directed by Philip S. Gilbert
Written by Gil Lasky
Starring Gloria Grahame, Len Lesser, Milton Selzer, Vic Tayback, Melody Patterson
Blood and Lace is the only credit for director Philip Gilbert, possibly because future potential backers knew about it. If you’re the sort who appreciates a trigger warning, consider this your chance to bail. This film ups the offensiveness every ten minutes or so, managing to miss only a very few sensitive areas. They don’t show any necrophilia, for instance, although it’s admittedly possible that some of that was going on off screen.
The premise is straightforward enough: when her mother is killed with the claw end of a hammer, Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) is placed in the Deere Youth Home. The potential for her mother’s killer to come after her has to take third seat threat behind the murderous corruption of the orphanage and lecherous advances from the ephebophilic1 detective investigating the homicide. Detective Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback) is so blatant in his aim that even the other slimeballs in the movie think he’s gross. Even the handyman2 loathes Carruthers, and he tries to rape Ellie.
I did say “trigger warnings”.
The orphanage is a standard-issue criminal enterprise. Food is meager, as funds from the county go to kickbacks and profit. Runaways are killed, or bound in the attic if they’re less fortunate. Bodies are kept in the freezer for head-count days. Details like this barely scratch the sleazy surface of this movie. It’s as though in every scene writer Gil Lasky pushed himself to be more vile and horrid. The movie stands as a testament to determined tastelessness, and it’s amazing to behold.
What’s truly startling is how many working actors agreed to be in this. Len Lesser, Milton Selzer, and Vic Tayback were prolific character actors before and after Blood and Lace, and Gloria Grahame wasn’t exactly in a slump. One wonders what Lasky and Gilbert had on them. The result is worth it though. All of the key adult roles are filled by experienced actors. In fact the overall production values far exceed what you might expect in such a venture. Even the severe burn makeup is acceptable for the time and presumably low budget. It’s evident that some actual care and workmanship went into this, which somehow elevates it above the over-the-top script.
If you’re okay with an implacable escalation into weird depravity, this can be a pretty fun movie. It even has some astoundingly human moments. At one point, when Mrs. Deere and her handyman are busy elsewhere, one orphan urges the others to run for it. Nobody moves, and one boy finally asks him “Where would we go?”
1. Look that up at your own risk.
2. Len Lesser, in a role that will disgust you.