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Plot: a police inspector, his wife, her lover. Who’s the criminal?

There’s something of a connection between the German krimi and the earlier antecedents of the Italian giallo despite both evolving independent but parallell from each other. Whereas Mario Bava’s legendary monochrome shocker The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) served as the template and prototype that established all rules and conventions for the giallo the German krimi frequently crossed over with other subgenres. One such crossovers was The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle (1963) that combined the krimi with gothic horror. La morte non ha sesso (that translates to either Death has no sex or The Dead Have No Sex, released in North America as the more noir sounding A Black Veil For Lisa) was shot in Germany under the working title of Vicolo cieco or Impasse and lands at the halfway point between a krimi and a giallo. Everybody’s morally compromised in one way or the other, the women are beautiful, the blade-wielding maniac wears a black trenchcoat and gloves, there’s more than enough sex and high fashion and the plot is certainly convoluted and labyrinthine. However, with the attention squarely on the sleuthing and the investigation this one etches more towards the conservative Anglo-Saxon and German variants.

Massimo Dallamano was one of those workhorse cinematographers of post-war Italian cinema who debuted in 1946 but never really received a great deal of attention or recognition for his work. While his work spans a healthy two decades a mere three titles stand out in his resumé as a director of photography. One is the peplum Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961) and the two others are Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965). He formally quit his position as cinematographer once he made his directorial debut with the spaghetti western Bandidos (1967). A logical choice considering he had spent much of the sixties photographing exactly that for a living. A decade earlier Dallamano co-directed the documentary Tierra mágica (1959) in Venezuela but it got little to no attention. As is often the case Dallamano quickly moved on to more artistically fulfilling projects that he himself was interested in making. In that capacity he directed twelve movies over 18 years between 1968 and 1976. His Venus In Furs (1969) (with Laura Antonelli) was not only earlier than the more popular Jesús Franco one it was also plain better. Where Dallamano truly found his calling was in the poliziottesco and giallo. His ‘schoolgirls in peril’ poliziotteschi duology What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) are legendary for a reason and the Oscar Wilde inspired sleazefest Dorian Gray (1973) (with Marie Liljedahl, Maria Rohm, Margaret Lee, and Beryl Cunningham) is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Other notable contributions of his include the Malicious (1973) imitation Innocence and Desire (1974) (with Edwige Fenech), and the The Exorcist (1973) rip-off The Night Child (1975). In truth, Dallamano was never given his fair due and among the enduring exploitation greats he remains somewhat of a humble unknown.

And who’s Lisa, you ask? Luciana Paluzzi. Paluzzi had debuted inconspicuously as a handmaiden in The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and established herself in Hollywood with the bikini comedy Muscle Beach Party (1964). Her most high-profile (and most publicized) role was that of SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965). For her Bond was a double-edged sword that brought her fame and fortune but at a considerable cost. Its impact was almost immediate and would continue to reverberate through out the rest of her career for many years to come. On the one hand she now was an international superstar and sex symbol but, according to the documentary Bond Girls Are Forever (2002), Bond had damaged, or at least tainted, her reputation. She found herself, by her own admission, shunned by all the respectable domestic directors (Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, and Roberto Rossellini) and was thusly forced to turn to exploitation cinema for a living. Regardless, with head held high and chest proudly thrust forward, luscious Lucy soldiered on. In that capacity 1968 was a turbulent year that saw her star in four productions. First there was the Italian-Japanese counterfeit Space Station Gamma 1 epic The Green Slime (1968), the Eurospy OSS 117 Murder for Sale (1968), this, before playing a genie in the Spanish Arabian Nights swashbuckler 1001 Nights (1968) (with a young Paul Naschy). Her other highlights include the turgid Jesús Franco women in prison ensemble film 99 Women (1969), the Alberto de Martino giallo Exhibition (1969) (opposite of Romina Power), the Fernando Di Leo poliziottesco The Italian Connection (1972), the blaxploitationer Black Gunn (1972), and the Terence Young peplum breastacular The Amazons (1973). After a quarter century Paluzzi’s career came to a halt with the Francesco Prosperi poliziottesco Deadly Chase (1978).

When a series of systematic executions target police informants in the Hamburg criminal underworld narcotics detective for Interpol Franz Bulon (John Mills) suspects that Harry Schouermann (Carlo Hintermann) is behind the recent swathe of assassinations but he has no tangible proof to substantiate his suspicions. Schouermann has been the subject of an ongoing investigation of his and Bulon is pressured by his chief Ostermeyer (Tullio Altamura) to crack the case as soon and smoothly as possible, especially now that key witnesses have been eliminated. Along with his colleagues Kruger (Loris Bazzocchi) and Siegert (Enzo Fiermonte) he takes to interrogating known drug user Marianne Loma (Renate Kasché, as Renata Kashe) and her immediate circle which leads him to cartel assassin Max Lindt (Robert Hoffmann). At the home front Bulon has marital problems to deal with. His thirty-something trophy wife Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi) feels constricted by her geriatric lover’s controlling and possessive tendencies and is prone to flights of fancy just to drive him up the wall. At another crime scene Bulon finds incrimininating evidence linking Lindt to the series of murders. He also finds proof that Lisa is indeed cheating on him while he’s on duty. Hoping to solve two problems at once he traps Lindt and he makes an offer to the young hitman: rid him off his cheating wife in exchange for immunity. Things take a turn for the complicated when Max and Lisa fall in love and Bulon’s less than savory ways of solving crime come to light….

Orbiting around luscious Luciana are veteran British actor John Mills, he of the period costume drama Lady Hamilton's Warm Nights (1968) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970). The other is Robert Hoffmann who could be seen in I Knew Her Well (1965), Naked Girl Killed in the Park (1972), Spasmo (1974), The Old Gun (1975), and Eyes Behind the Stars (1978). Since it was filmed in Germany it was probably stipulated that local talent had to be used. Here that appears in the form of that other redhead, Renate Kasché. Kasché was no Solvi Stubing, Barbara Capell, or Andrea Rau. Hell, she was not even an Ingrid Steeger, Claudia Fielers, Judith Fritsch, or Gisela Schwartz. Kasché was more of Flavia Keyt or Ulrike Butz. She might not have been as prolific as the latter but she did score a few notables like the former. Regardless, Renate can be seen in roles of no real importance in Venus In Furs (1969), The Naked Countess (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971) (with Rosalba Neri), Erwin C. Dietrich's She Devils of the SS (1973), and Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle in America (1977). Tullio Altamura is known around these parts mostly for Samoa, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) and Carlo Hintermann for Eyes Behind the Stars (1978). Mirella Pamphili and Paola Natale both were bit players with the former having a more distinct career than the latter. Pamphili had small roles in the Mario Bava gothic horror Kill, Baby… Kill! (1963), the fumetti Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967), the giallo The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968), the Romina Power musicarello The Gold of the World (1968), the fumetti Satanik (1968), and the art-deco visual treat The Laughing Woman (1969). The only things of significance that Natale did were the giallo Naked… You Die (1968), and the Erica Blanc gothic horror The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971).

In 1968 31-year-old Luciana was at the height of her physical prowess and at her utmost desirable. Like Graziella Granata, Rosalba Neri and Luciana Gilli, Paluzzi was a classical curvy Italian beauty and a very patrician one at that. While her features were more sculptured (very much as her contemporaries Daliah Lavi, Marisa Mell, and Diana Lorys) Paluzzi was blessed with an absolute spectacular body. No wonder that Paluzzi’s picture eventually ended up on the desk of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. While Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri (to name the most prominent two) would reinvent themselves as wanton sex kittens at the dawn of the following decade Luciana never disrobed for just anybody. On the first glance it appears her role as a red hot sexpot is mostly decorative but nothing could be further from the truth. Luciana wields some dizzying cleavage, gloriously fills out every of her many robes, and sports some incredibly skimpy lingerie. Her brown cowgirl suit and the frilly translucent white nightgown are particular favourites among her many costumes. Ever since Thunderball (1965) Paluzzi was never shy about doing nudity. Admittedly, in the fourth Bond film her nudity was implied rather than shown but in A Black Veil For Lisa Luciana lets it all hang out – and it is ever glorious. A Black Veil For Lisa may not have been remembered for much, Lucy’s nudity has certainly aided in ensuring its longevity. If not for her A Black Veil For Lisa wouldn’t have endured the way that it has. While it is no classic, it’s historic for being somewhat of a quintessential evolutionary link between the German krimi and the earliest of Italian gialli while not strictly adhering to the rules of either.

In all honesty, A Black Veil For Lisa is not exactly what you call a classic but it nonetheless was prescient of where the giallo was evolving towards. It tends to date itself somewhat by putting almost all focus on the police procedural and only slightly leaning into the debauched sex-crazy antics of the decadent upper class. The giallo would coalesce into its most identifiable form when director Sergio Martino got involved with his Edwige Fenech cycle of The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971), The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), and Torso (1973) that saw Fenech transforming from promising starlet into international sex symbol. Martino went where Top Sensation (1969) and the early Dario Argento gialli only hinted at. A Black Veil For Lisa also failed to make a giallo star out of Paluzzi the way Edwige Fenech, Barbara Bouchet, Nieves Navarro, Femi Benussi, Suzy Kendall, Carroll Baker, and Ida Galli were. In fact this seems to be the only time she ventured into this particular horror subgenre. It must have impressed at least somebody as Dario Argento protégé Luigi Cozzi refurbished the mainplot for his own and only giallo The Killer Must Kill Again (1975). While oozing with atmosphere and sensuality A Black Veil For Lisa is not nearly sexy and stylish enough to count itself among the more definitive gialli that followed it. Regardless, as a genre piece it certainly is strong and convincing enough. Where Luciana Paluzzi went, others were bound to follow. And that what’s happened.

Plot: kept woman is targeted by psychotic killer in luxury high-rise tenement.

Amidst the mid-80s slasher deluge Mexico contributed an old-fashioned suspense and terror flick in the British and American tradition that feels a decade older than it is. It might not have the sheer weirdness of The Mansion of Madness (1973) nor the brazen insanity of Satánico Pandemónium (1975) or Alucarda (1977) but taken for what it is Terror y Encajes Negros (or Terror and Black Lace internationally) remains enjoyable. Often wrongly described as either a very late giallo or an incredibly mild slasher Terror and Black Lace actually is neither. Boil it down to its essentials and you have a fairly typical Latin domestic melodrama enlivened only by a truly mesmerizing lead actress in the habit of parading around in skimpy lingerie and a thriller subplot amounting to a very tense 20-30-minute conclusion. Above all else Terror and Black Lace echoes The Centerfold Girls (1974) or When A Stranger Calls (1979) in varying degrees and sometimes borders on a Maniac (1980) character study. Hell, it even has a giallo-inspired title, if all of the above wasn’t enough. Next to that, more often than not, it feels like a 90-minute pilot to a very deranged (and unproduced) telenovela.

Luis Alcoriza was a respected Mexican screenwriter, film director, and actor who was born in Spain. He fled the country in 1940 to escape the Spanish Civil War and persecution by fascist dictator Generalísimo Francisco Franco because of his Republican affiliation. He emigrated to Mexico where he wrote 90 screenplays over half a century (1946-1996) and directed 24 films in 29 years (1961-1990). His Tlayucan (1962) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and his Life Is Most Important (1987) was entered into the 15th Moscow International Film Festival. Terror and Black Lace is an offering from Alcoriza’s twilight years and probably not representative for the rest of his repertoire. It’s decent enough for what it is but it’s telling when Argentinian genre precursor The Curious Dr. Humpp (1966) was far more risqué some two decades earlier. Which doesn’t mean that Terror and Black Lace isn’t distinct in its own ways. Unbelievable as it may sound Terror and Black Lace won an Ariel Award by the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas (Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences or AMACC) for Best Supporting Actress (Guzmán) with further nominations for Best Actress (Guardia) and Best Score (Pedro Plasencia). There’s a lot to like in Terror and Black Lace even if it’s more regressive than innovative. But, as always, you could do far worse than this.

Isabel Chabel (Maribel Guardia) is the beautiful stay-at-home trophy wife of overzealous, bovine entrepreneur Giorgio Martinez (Gonzalo Vega). Giorgio is an abusive impotent wretch of a man riddled with petty insecurities and hang-ups. Plus, he systematically fails to treat Isabel with the dignity and respect she deserves. Isabel is a kept woman living her best life in a golden cage of opulence and abundance. The couple own a penthouse in a state-of-the-art high-rise tenement bustling with life where their every wish is indulged by either errand girl Coquis (Claudia Guzmán) or the building manager/administrator (Ángel Domínguez). Isabel spends her days sunbathing on the deck, working out in the health club, and going for shopping trips in the city. On one such trips she meets strapping young man Rubén (Jaime Moreno) and is swept off her feet. Temptation briefly looms for Chabel as she considers embarking on an affair with the young man. When things turn hot and heavy she submits to Giorgio and his terrible mood swings again. In the studio below hers live three party girls (Olivia Collins, Martha Ortiz, and Gabriela Goldsmith, as Gabriela Goldsmeith) and above there’s musician César (Claudio Obregón). When a prostitute (Alejandra Espejo) and shopping mall patron (Leticia Lamas) die under mysterious circumstances the police (Ángel Heredia and Francisco Rolon) are called in for help and start conducting an investigation. One night the girls below Isabel are having an extremely loud party and her phone is out of service. It’s exactly on this night that Isabel witnesses Coquis getting slain by an unseen assailant and the figure disposing of her body. What Isabel doesn’t know is that the harmless looking César is in fact deeply psychotic and obsessed by manes. Coquis was the latest to fall victim to his homicidal proclivities. Trapped in the same building and with nowhere to run – will she survive?

How do you even begin to describe someone as enchanting and multi-faceted as Costa Rican belleza Maribel Guardia? Famous for her long and voluminous black hair and curvaceous figure Guardia is ubiquitous and omnipresent and has left an indelible mark on Mexican popular culture at large. You name it, marvelous Maribel probably has done it. Born in May 1959 Maribel’s initial claim to fame was being anointed Miss Costa Rica 1978, the same year she competed in the Miss World 1978 in in London, UK and Miss Universe pageant in Acapulco where she was Miss Photogenic. Almost immediately Guardia was offered a development contract with Televisa producer Sergio Bustamante. As an actress Maribel was flexible and comfortable doing anything from chorizo westerns and action movies to light-hearted (and more often than not sexy) comedies and dramas. In Mexico By Hook or By Crook (1986), The Scorpion (1986), Cabaret Woman (1991) and Persecuted (1991) are well liked and to the cult world she’s forever associated with Terror and Black Lace. On television she starred in multiple telenovelas (soap operas) and as a singer she released a series of albums in the Norteño music genre on a variety of label imprints. Whether you know her as an actress, model, singer, television hostess, or media personality Maribel was, is, and continues to be, everywhere. Back at home in Mexico she’s one of most photographed celebrities and the domestic media collectively refers to her as 'La Bella' (the beauty, the beautiful). As of 2022, it’s clear that Guardia has been impervious to infirmity and decline and is remarkably well-preserved for her blessed age. At a ripe 63 Maribel continues to effortlessly turn heads and she remains as stunningly elegant as ever.

This being a Guardia star vehicle Luis Alcoriza sees to it that 26-year-old Maribel gets to parade some of the finest haute couture and director of photography Xavier Cruz ensures that her beauty is properly captured for the ages. Alcoriza and co-writer Ramón Obón invent every sort of imaginable situation to have Guardia modeling various dresses, business suits, a pastel-colored g-string spandex during her workout routines, and even some skimpy black lace lingerie. This movie bears its giallo/slasher title for a reason and it makes sure the audience knows too. If that wasn’t enough marvelous Maribel gets to take more than plenty of long, hot showers to satiate anybody’s craving. What other way to describe Maribel Guardia than the predecessor to Salma Hayek and what is she if not the Mexican Helga Liné, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri or, god forbid, Edwige Fenech. Maribel Guardia looks absolutely ravishing in whatever she’s wearing as does Claudia Guzmán in her more casual attire. Surprisingly, guest star Gabriela Goldsmith later became a pillar in Mexican television and cinema despite not being much of a presence here. Guardia and Guzmán both won Ariel Awards for their performances here which sort of suggests that this was a foray into horror light for the award season. Terror and Black Lace is under the mistaken impression that it is a high-brow social realist drama with an important message, something for the elite and the intelligentsia. Clearly it wants to say something, anything, about the role of women in mid-eighties Mexico yet it’s never exactly clear what. Alcoriza and his writers desperately want this to be some grand work of socio-political importance but it’s lost on us what exactly that’s supposed to be. If nothing else, it goes a long way in explaining why Terror and Black Lace never really commits to being horror. It apparently was very progressive for its time as well.

Then there’s the question how much, if at all, it was representative for the state of Mexican horror in the mid-to-late ‘80s. The most obvious and simple answer to that would be a resounding “no.” Rubén Galindo, Jr., for example, released Cemetery Of Terror (1985) the same year and Grave Robbers (1989) a few years later. What’s clear is that we’re a long way from the ecclesiastical horror of Satánico Pandemónium (1975) and the general insanity of Juan López Moctezuma and his The Mansion of Madness (1973), Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) and his magnum opus Alucarda (1977). None of which really takes away that Terror and Black Lace can be an effective, unassuming little shocker whenever it can stop focusing on the telenovela melodramatics and embrace its murkier, sleazier side. Unfortunately, that happens not nearly as much, enough, or at all to work. The best thing that can be said about Terror and Black Lace is that at least it’s interesting from a structural standpoint. Plot wise it nearly isn’t as rigid (or as formulaic, whichever you prefer) as the typical slasher from around this time, neither is it for that matter a carefully crafted slowburn on the model of Maniac (1980) or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). In a post-Maniac (1980) world Terror and Black Lace feels more like an old-fashioned terror and suspense flick in tradition of Wicked, Wicked (1973), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and When A Stranger Calls (1979). Except without any of the tension, atmosphere, or dread. Its closest cousin is probably Pete Walker’s Die Screaming Marianne (1971) and it never gets as vile as, say, The Centerfold Girls (1974) or The Toolbox Murders (1978). Marvelous Maribel makes it worthwhile regardless of what you think of it.