Blood and Lace (1971) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • After her prostitute mother and her john are beaten to death while they are asleep in bed, teen-aged Ellie Masters is sent to an isolated orphanage run by Mrs. Deere and her handyman. Taking an avid interest in her welfare is detective Calvin Carruthers. Taking almost no interest at all, is social worker Harold Mullins who is completely under Mrs. Deere's thumb. Lots of unpleasant surprises are in store for Ellie, not the least of which is the fact that Mrs. Deere and her handyman are both brutal sadists, who run the orphanage like a concentration camp and the strong possibility that her mother's hammer-wielding killer is now stalking her.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film opens as an unseen assailant enters a dark house, removes a hammer from a kitchen drawer, and walks though the house to the bedroom of a sleeping man and woman. The killer uses the claw of the hammer to beat the woman to death, and the man is bludgeoned as well, his face mutilated. Then the murderer sets the room on fire. The man in the bed tries to crawl to safety, flames burning his face.

    Ellie Masters (Melody Patterson) wakes up screaming in bed, the opening incident being the subject of her nightmare. The murdered woman was her mother, Edna, who was a small town prostitute. The man in bed with her was her latest john, and his body has apparently not been recovered. A social worker named Mullins (Milton Selzer) has Ellie temporarily housed in a hospital, but Ellie wants to leave and go in search of her estranged father, whom she has never met. Mullins refuses, since Ellie is still a minor and technically a ward of the state, and Mullins says if she leaves, he will have to report it to the sheriff. Ellie does pack a suitcase and makes a run for it, but a mysterious man follows her in a car. He reveals himself to be Calvin Carruthers (Vic Tayback), a former theater performer and now a detective working for the county Sheriff's department. He tells Ellie he knows who she is, and that he will look out for her, and he takes her back to the hospital. Later, Calvin meets Mullins for a drink in a bar and asks about his intentions regarding Ellie. Mullins says he's placing Ellie in the Deere Youth Home, an isolated orphanage run by a recently widowed woman named Mrs. Deere (Gloria Grahame). Mullins accuses Calvin of having a prurient interest in Ellie, and Calvin admits that he'd like to make Ellie his wife because he considers her good "breeding stock". Mullins tells Calvin that Ellie could never be interested in him because he's too old for her, but Calvin cuts him off by revealing that he knows Mullins has an unorthodox "business arrangement" with Mrs. Deere where he sends certain orphans to her home. Mullins leaves in a huff.

    At the Deere home, a young man named Ernest attempts to escape but is interrupted by Tom Krege (Len Lesser), a sleazy looking handyman who slaps him around. When Ernest hits him back and makes a run for it, Krege grabs a huge cleaver and pursues him, eventually cutting off the boy's hand. Ernest manages to hide in a bush, and Krege assumes he escaped. Krege collects Ernest's suitcase and repacks it, placing the severed hand inside too. Back at the home, Mrs. Deere accosts Krege for allowing the boy to escape, accusing him of being drunk. She orders him to "get the infirmary ready" because Mullins is bringing Ellie that day. The 'infirmary' is the way Mrs. Deere explains the absence of three children who have run away from the orphanage; they were each hunted down and murdered by either Mrs. Deere or Krege, and their bodies are kept in a large walk-in freezer in the basement. The infirmary is a place to keep their bodies so Mrs. Deere can claim they are "sick" and have Mullins peek in on them and hopefully believe they are alive. When Krege is transporting one body, he tells Mrs. Deere that her business arrangement with him is inadequate, especially when she tells him she gets $150 a month for each child in welfare payments.

    Later that day, Mullins arrives with Ellie, and right away Mrs. Deere stealthily reveals that her late husband, who died only a year before, was a customer of Ellie's mother. When Mullins tries to perform a head count of the children at the orphanage, Mrs. Deere distracts him with sexual favors. Meanwhile, Ellie attempts to get to know the other children in the home. First she meets Bunch (Terri Messina), who says she is 16. Ellie sees a hunky older boy working across the yard, and Bunch tells Ellie his name is Walter (Ronald Taft), also claiming he is her boyfriend. Ellie flirts with him immediately and reveals Bunch's lie when she asks Walter directly if he and Bunch are a couple, and Walter denies it, obviously attracted to Ellie.

    Ellie soon discovers that Mrs. Deere runs the home like a concentration camp, rationing each child's meals and forcing them to perform hours of labor in order to "pay their way". She bluntly tells Ellie that her time there will be strictly managed and that the children are constantly working, except for Sundays. Mrs. Deere reveals that her husband strayed after she "wasn't beautiful" anymore, and she hates people who are young and beautiful, and her cruel attitude toward the children seems to be spurred by this. At dinner, Ellie overhears the other children talking about the boy who ran away, as well as several others. When Ellie tells them she saw three children in the "infirmary", all the kids deny that this is possible, saying they're all accounted for--except for the runaways, whom they were told never returned. A boy named Pete (Dennis Christopher) tries to steal a dinner roll by stuffing it in his shirt, but Mrs. Deere comes in and catches him, hitting him and telling him he won't eat the next day because of this. Later, Ellie discovers a girl imprisoned in the attic named Jennifer (Maggie Corey), one of the runaways who was recovered. Jennifer is weak and delirious, moaning that she is thirsty and wants water. Ellie goes to get her a glass, but is caught by Krege, who makes a vague but ominous threat about her getting involved.

    Carruthers visits Ellie at the home and frightens Mrs. Deere by telling her he would like to search the entire house to look for the runaway Ernest, but he allows Mrs. Deere and Krege to talk him out of the idea. Ellie has a private conversation with him where she tells him about the other kids who have run away, but Carruthers tells her she has to stay because her mother's murderer may still be after her, and being hidden away in an orphanage is a great place to hide. Mrs. Deere goes into the attic with a glass of water and torments Jennifer, drinking the water right in front of her and abandoning her in the dark.

    Ellie and Bunch get into a conflict over Walter, who repeatedly dismisses Bunch as "too young" while spending time courting Ellie. Ellie tells Walter about her suspicions regarding Mrs. Deere and her sociopathic behavior, pointing out several truths to him, but he stubbornly refuses to believe anything is the matter. Krege lures Ellie into the basement by telling her that he knows a way she can escape, but when she agrees to meet him there, he tries to rape her instead. Meanwhile, Walter sees them and goes straight to Mrs. Deere and tells her. Mrs. Deere interrupts and "saves" Ellie, promising her she'll be punished, but she also confronts Krege and tries to fire him. Krege, however, blackmails her into splitting her ill-gotten welfare gains 50/50, which Mrs. Deere is forced to do when Krege promises to go to the police otherwise. Mrs. Deere "confides" in her dead husband, whose body she is keeping in the walk-in freezer, and she acts as if everything she does at the orphanage is under his direction. When she sends Ellie to clean up the shed, she tells Ellie that she thinks one day medical science will advance to the point where people who have died will be "restored", although Ellie doesn't realize yet that she's keeping dead bodies in the freezer. When Ellie is alone, Walter comes in and admits that he was the one who ratted Ellie out to Mrs. Deere, and for some reason Ellie confides in Walter that she is planning on running away. She even finds Ernest's abandoned suitcase (which still contains his severed hand), and she keeps it in anticipation of making an escape (without looking inside first, though).

    Meanwhile, a bizarre figure begins to lurk around the orphanage, a lumbering bald man in a plaid shirt and with a face that appears to be deformed or burned. As Ellie sleeps, she awakens to see the man hovering over her bed, brandishing a hammer. When she screams, Mrs. Deere and the others come running but the man is gone. Mrs. Deere tells Ellie she just had a nightmare, but Ellie insists it was real. The next day, Bunch arranges for Ellie to catch her seducing Walter in the shed, and Ellie angrily storms off, telling Walter she's leaving the orphanage. Walter goes to Mrs. Deere and tells her that Ellie intends to escape, and Mrs. Deere confronts Ellie, who tells her she'd rather leave the home than stay and be murdered by the hammer-wielding madman. In turn, Mrs. Deere locks Ellie in her room and plots with Krege to kill her by locking her in the freezer. Their plan is foiled by Pete, who accidentally sees Krege kidnapping Ellie and putting her in the basement freezer. Once inside, Ellie discovers the bodies of the runaway children hanging from meathooks, and she faints. Pete tells Bunch about what he saw, and convinces her to investigate with him, but Bunch doesn't hear anything in the locked freezer and leaves.

    Suddenly Mullins shows up and demands to search the home, having learned about supposed runaway children from Calvin Carruthers. Mrs. Deere and Krege lure him down to the basement, where Krege strikes him in the back with a cleaver and kills him. They open the freezer to put him inside and are suddenly attacked by the grotesque stranger, who fights Krege with his hammer. Ellie revives and escapes, although Mrs. Deere sees her at the last minute and tries to stop her. Ellie runs outside, where the other kids are working, and tells them what happened to her. Walter becomes furious with her, screaming at her about how she is overreacting, but Pete confirms what she says. Ellie runs off, encouraging everyone else to do the same. Pete wants to join her, but all of the other kids just stand there and stare. Walter points out that they have no place to go.

    In the basement, the disfigured man strikes a death blow to Krege's head and runs off after Ellie, leaving Mrs. Deere alone. It seems as if Mrs. Deere's problems are over, now that Krege has been mortally wounded and Ellie has the madman chasing after her. Mrs. Deere drags Krege by his legs into the freezer, where she tells him she intends to leave him, to "save" him. He begs her not to leave him in there to die, but she tells him "Why Tom, all your friends are here!" But before she can leave, Jennifer appears in the doorway of the freezer, staring at Mrs. Deere, who screams in horror as Jennifer slams the door, locking her inside the freezer.

    Outside, Ellie is running through the woods with the madman close behind. She attempts to hide in a bush and discovers Ernest's decomposing body. Her screams summon the madman, who runs up to her brandishing the hammer. Ellie suddenly screams at him that she didn't mean to hurt him, she only meant to hurt her mother, revealing that Ellie herself was the one who murdered Edna. Knowing that she herself was the killer, Ellie thinks the disfigured man is Edna's john who was in bed with her that night, badly burned and out for revenge. But the man removes the grotesque face to reveal Calvin underneath. He reveals that he caught on to the truth about Ellie when he discovered the real john's body within crawling distance of the burned house. He just wanted to force Ellie to confess to him that she was the killer all along. Ellie is confused when he says he doesn't want to arrest her, he wants to marry her. "If you were my wife, I couldn't turn you in, it wouldn't be loyal." Ellie balks at first, due to their drastic age difference, but she relents when Calvin threatens to arrest her if she doesn't comply. Defeated, Ellie smiles at Calvin and says "Well, my other always told me that older men make the best husbands." In a final twist, Calvin tells her, "I bet your mother never told you that I was the first man who ever made love to her." Ellie collapses in shock and hysterics, realizing that her own father has deliberately sought her out, not with the intention to 'rescue' her but to marry her and have children with her.

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