lørdag 9. februar 2008

Appointment in Black/Appuntamento in nero

Italy, 1990

Directed by Antonio Bonifacio

Cast: Mirella Banti, Andy J. Forest, Mary Lindstrom, Sonia Viviani, Daniele Stroppa, Franco Citti, Rossana Coggiola, Laura Piattella, Marina Frajese, Luca Laurenti, Ann Margaret Hughes, Angela Pacini, Vincent Regina, Giorgio Sessa, Dario Silvagni, Vito Terribile, Piero Villaggio, Matteo Vocale

There’s just something about films that get right down to business from the very beginning. They may not be particularly classy but they are usually pretty enjoyable. Appointment in Black certainly wastes no time as it opens with a brutal flashback scene showing a frightened, defenseless teenage girl being assaulted and raped by some slimy scumbag.

Traumatic flashback rape

Cut to 15 years later, and a brunette in heavy make-up and a slutty red dress is driving in her car – suggestively stroking the gear stick with her hand while looking seductively into the car mirror.

"Sexy", suggestive images

The woman is Angela Baldwin (Mirella Banti - dubbed by Susan Spafford), the now grown-up teenage girl we saw assaulted in the opening sequence. She stops at a softcore sex cinema, where her skanky outfit draws the eyes of the male audience members. Angela heads into the cinema bathroom but not long after she hysterically comes running into the foyer – her dress torn up and her face all bloody after having been sexually assaulted in the bathroom.

Observing Angela in the foyer is a mysterious man with sunglasses, who Angela seems to recognize.

Angela’s husband John (Andy J. Forest), a hotshot diplomat, is none too pleased with his wife having gone to a sex cinema as he worries about his reputation. He hates Angela with passion and is carrying on a steamy, secret affair with her best friend Eva (Mary Lindstrom - dubbed by Pat Starke), a fashion model who lives together with them in their villa.

The deceitful best friend

John wants to marry Eva but worries that a divorce from Angela could ruin his political career. However, Angela’s recent assault gives the two lovers an idea: they decide to follow up on the attack by tormenting Angela with threatening phone calls to make it seem as if a maniac is after her. This way, they can murder Angela and avert suspicion by blaming it on the maniac.

But, of course, everything isn’t quite as easy as it seems. Rosie (Laura Piattella), John and Angela’s nosy maid, is constantly eavesdropping on everyone in the villa, and Angela is contacted by a sleazy scumbag (Franco Citti) who is the projectionist at the sex cinema where she was attacked. The projectionist reveals that he has a peephole to the bathroom and that he saw what really happened that day: Angela faked her attack by tearing up her own dress and violently slashing herself with shards from a broken bottle...

What really went on in the bathroom

There seemed to be a small giallo revival in the mid to late 1980s with glossy, fashion-oriented gialli such as Nothing Underneath (1985), A Taste for Fear (1988), Too Beautiful to Die (1988) and Fashion Crimes (1989) being churned out in quick succession. Appointment in Black, however, abandons the approach of these films and instead draws upon the sexy gialli of the late 1960s for inspiration. It’s quite reminiscent of the gialli Umberto Lenzi made with Carroll Baker – particularly So Sweet... So Perverse (1969), which it shares several plot elements with. The difference is the actual look and feel, which is typically early 1990s, but otherwise Scandal in Black has the same cynical attitude of Lenzi’s early gialli and also contains the same sexy shenanigans, blackmailings and sexual tensions between the various scheming characters. In addition, other staple giallo elements such as the black leather gloves, the threatening phone calls, sexual violence and even a creepy doll make an appearance.

Some classic giallo images

This is a decidedly sleazy and explicit film but director Antonio Bonifacio doesn’t really throw in a lot of flashy killings. There is, however, one startlingly vicious and gory flashback scene where the rapist from the opening scene gets both his hand and his head cut off with a band saw.

A bit on nasty gore spices things up

The only thing that really bogs the film down somewhat are the tired and uninspired sex scenes – of which there are many. There’s nothing wrong with sex scenes per see but here they are used mostly as padding; with the result that they hurt the film’s pacing by bringing the plot to a complete stand-still far too often. Furthermore, the sex scenes (most of them between John and Eva) are rather repetitive and boring to watch. The film would certainly have benefited from trimming some of these sequences.

Some boring couplings

Overall, though, Scandal in Black is pretty satisfying and far more enjoyable than most of the other Italian 1990s thrillers, which were starting to become less trashy and more and more politically correct. Appointment in Black on the other hand is actually quite tasteless and sordid but to be honest this is precisely what makes it so appealing. It’s great to see a 1990s product that actually manages to recreate some of the special charms of the good old days of Euro-trash cinema. Also, Antonio Bonifacio has the good sense to include some nifty film references and humor, such as the clever casting of Marina Frajese, Italy’s most infamous hardcore porno diva of the 1980s, in the role of the cashier at the sex cinema box office.

La Frajese makes a welcome cameo

There are other interesting details at the softcore cinema too. For example, the film being shown is Emmanuelle 5 (1987), while the foyer is decorated with posters for other erotic Euro films such as Beppe Cino’s Fatal Temptation (1988), which features the attractive Ann Margaret Hughes, who also has a small role in Scandal in Black as a reporter who tries to get Angela to talk about the assault. We can also see a poster for Joe D’Amato’s Top Model a.k.a. 11 Days, 11 Nights, Part 2 (1987), on which Antonio Bonifacio was the assistant director.

Emmanuelle 5 poster

Fatal Temptation poster

Top Model poster

Another fresh twist is that the police inspector is actually a woman – played by the lovely Sonia Viviani from films such as Women’s Camp 119 (1977), From Corleone to Brooklyn (1979), Nightmare City (1980) and others. She is, however, portrayed as incredibly clueless and incompetent. Certainly, there have been many dim-witted cops in earlier gialli too but never have I seen one displaying such staggering ineptitude as this one. Perhaps Bonifacio is trying to say that women aren’t cut out to be cops...

The casting is interesting too. The leading role is filled by the curvy Mirella Banti, who is probably best known for her role as Mirella D’Angelo’s sultry lesbian mistress in Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), and who seems to have gained a few extra pounds since that film. Banti does a good job here and proves herself to be quite uninhibited in several explicit scenes. She’s a pretty attractive woman, really, but in some scenes she suffers from what I like to call “the Eva Grimaldi problem”. By that I mean that an otherwise good-looking woman through the use of excessive make-up, very heavy lipstick on pouty lips, and unflatteringly skanky outfits will end up looking more tawdry and vulgar than attractive and sexy - a problem that has always haunted Ms Grimaldi. I like Mirella Banti but that red dress really doesn’t look too good on her.

The lady in red

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. American Andy J. Forest was an enjoyable lead in various action films for Umberto Lenzi but seems a bit out of place here as the unsympathetic husband. One-film wonder Mary Lindstrom (a Swedish actress?) is quite delectable, though, as the wicked mistress. It’s also interesting to see screenwriter Daniele Stroppa in a rare onscreen role but the real treat is Franco Citti (once a favorite of Pasolini) as the filthy cinema projectionist who blackmails and rapes Angela. Marina Frajese’s cameo is also very welcome and it’s fun to see her poking a bit of fun at her own image. At this point, though, she had clearly aged a bit since her glory days and would choose to retire from the porno industry the following year.

This may not be a great erotic thriller but it’s certainly far superior to a lot of other Italian thrillers from the same era, including Bonifacio’s next giallo, the disappointing The Strange Story of Olga O. (1995) with Serena Grandi. Appointment in Black, though, is most certainly worth a look!

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Mirella Banti as Angela Baldwin

Andy J. Forest as John Baldwin

Mary Lindstrom as Eva

Sonia Viviani as Inspector Warren

Daniele Stroppa as David

Franco Citti as Sex cinema projectionist

Rossana Coggiola (???) as Inspector Warren's assistant

Laura Piattella as Rosie

Marina Frajese as Cashier at sex cinema box-office

Ann Margaret Hughes as Simone Virgil, the reporter

4 kommentarer:

Rogerio sa...

Fantastic review, Johan!
I've always thought you should have a blog, mate. ;-) I haven’t updated mine for a while but I'm working on a new design right now, and also a widened focus so as to include horror and (occasionally)other italian genre stuff that I love so much!

Johan Melle sa...

Thank you very much for your kind comments, Rogerio! :)

Oh, yes! Hope you do. I too hope to cover all sorts of Euro films here really - when time permits of course.


Anonym sa...

Good work. Buenas críticas cinematográficas

Johan Melle sa...

Thank you very much :-)