[review by JA Kerswell]
Arguably, sex and sexuality is as intrinsically important to the giallo as violence. Certainly, more often than it is for the slasher movie. However, as the Italian genre’s heyday faded by the mid-1970s both aspects were exaggerated to often lurid proportions. Whilst the giallo flirted with - and in some case dove straight into - hardcore pornography, more often than not it settled into something of an erotic thriller rut. Often mirroring - and let’s face it aping - similar territory being mined in the United States. Whilst Stelvio Massi’s ARABELLA BLACK ANGEL falls into the traps of many so-called erotic thrillers - in essence the thrills career to a halt for long passages of not very arousing bumping and grinding - it does still have enough bizarre characters, demented plot twists and sheer what-the-fuckery? for any giallo fan (of the trashier variety) to sit up and take notice.
|There is sex and violence aplenty in ARABELLA BLACK ANGEL, but like many latter gialli of this time the action literally grinds to a halt once the clothes come off ...|
Arabella (or Deborah in the English dub) (Tinì Cansino) is a bored, nymphomaniac housewife whose angry husband Francesco (Francesco Casale) drives her to look for sexual satisfaction elsewhere. Francesco is a best-selling thriller author whose bad temper is not helped by a terrible case of writer’s block. Not to mention that he is confined to a wheelchair after a car accident caused by Arabella giving him a blow job as he drove away from their wedding ceremony some years prior!
Arabella - who likens herself to the character of Jekyll and Hyde - is devoted and dowdy at home, but dresses in fetish gear to attend sex parties at night. At one such event at a derelict mansion, an accordion-playing drag queen, dressed like Liza Minelli in CABERET, guards the door and purrs to her: “I can tell you support mammary glands. Welcome honey! Pay for your sins.” Inside, she witnesses all manner of sex acts - including a spot of pegging that is mercifully depicted in silhouette. She also marvels at two men in posing pouches wrestling and various people being whipped. She starts a sexual liaison with two leather boys - declaring: “I’ll do what you like. Anything. Everything!” But she draws the line when one of them pulls a flick-blade on her. She is saved from this danger as the police turn up to raid the party. Fleeing, she is apprehended by a vice cop (Carlo Mucari), who handcuffs her under the pretext of arrest but then proceeds to rape her across the bonnet of his car. Little does she know that - for some unexplained reason - a private detective (Giose Davi) has followed her that night and has been recording events in every detail.
The cop lets her go, but tracks her down to her home the next day; returning her black patent purse that she dropped during the assault. He tells her, “You’re right, you’re not a whore! You’re a rich, respectable married lady.” He proceeds to blackmail her into sex again otherwise he will tell her husband. Arabella takes him to the toolshed where they proceed to disrobe, but her husband comes to investigate and spies on them. Once Arabella realises that Francesco can see them, she reaches for a hammer and bashes the cop over the head and kills him stone dead.
|The black leather gloves are dusted off once again in ARABELLA BLACK ANGEL ...|
Arabella is relieved that Francesco not only does not berate her for her nocturnal hobbies (or the murder), but her infidelities seem to turn him on and revive their sex life. In fact, he actively encourages her to take lovers. Soon after, a series of murders begin by a black gloved assassin with a pair of scissors; who targets anyone who comes into contact with Arabella and mutilates their genitals post-mortem. Each subsequent murder seems to excite Francesco more and more. So much so that he incorporates them into his new giallo book, which he calls The Black Angel. Arabella takes all this in her stride, but becomes upset when she realises that Francesco has made her not only the title character in his book, but also the chief suspect …
Like many late 80’s gialli, ARABELLA BLACK ANGEL feels more like a pop video fever dream than a thriller set in reality. Although it is certainly less drenched in dry and ice and neon that much of its brethren not one character feels anything more than a cartoonish caricature. But, of course, that’s part of the fun. In one scene, Arabella even hunts a new sexual partner for the night by driving down what the police call ‘Freak Boys Home’, where young men in very little clothing gyrate and look for business. She picks up one guy holding what looks like a dildo on one hand and wearing a boxing glove on the other!
What are dubbed the scissor murders by the press are investigated by Inspector Gina (Valentina Visconti) - who the press dub the most attractive policewoman working in the city (!). It is quickly established that Gina is a lesbian - who is sleeping with her assistant Agnese (Rena Niehaus). Gina confesses to Agnese that the murders disturb her in a personal way, because her own mother chopped off her father’s genitals with a pair of scissors! Agnese, in turn, tells the press in an effort to displace her lover and take over the investigation. When Gina understandably complains, Agnese dismisses her with the retort: “These are typical lesbian thoughts my dear!”. Yes, Massi’s film is hardly progressive - and the blunt suggestion that Gina’s lesbianism is an aberration caused by her childhood trauma would be offensive if the whole thing wasn’t so silly.
|Arabella likes it kinky!|
Men in the film make up the bulk of victims. And, in one case, one poor actor has to lie still as the police study his mutilated genitals. With one oafish cop (Renato D'Amore) telling a visibly shaken Gina: “There’s a lot of blood in here and they cut off this guy’s dong.” However, the killer is equal opportunities (there is both female and brief male frontal nudity), but Massi makes sure to linger over female victims as the killer cuts off their clothes with the scissors and then stabs their genitals. This is even repeated in one character’s dream sequence. Although, in a rare moment of restraint, Massi generally hints at this violence than showing it explicitly.
Giallo veteran Evelyn Stewart plays Francesco’s mother. The actress had appeared in such heyday films as THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (1968), THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL and THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (both 1971). Here she is given relatively little to do until towards the end of the movie, but seems fully invested in the trashier approach. In one scene she walks in on Francesco orally pleasuring Arabella and archly says: “Supper’s on.” German actress Rena Niehaus had a brief run in Italian cinema - most notably Ugo Liberatore’s DAMNED IN VENICE (1978). As Arabella, Greek actress Tinì Cansino is certainly beautiful but struggles to carry the movie. She had appeared in the popular Italian comedy sketch show DRIVE IN (1983-1988), but criticised the behaviour of the male comedians and moved onto low budget sexploitation. For a number of years, there was a rumour in the Italian press that she was Rita Hayworth’s secret niece (who was born Margarita Carmen Cansino). She refused to confirm or deny the false rumour; probably fully aware it added to public interest in her career. Director Stelvio Massi had previously tackled the giallo with his FIVE WOMEN FOR THE KILLER (1974), but gained his greatest commercial success with a series of wildly popular poliziotteschi starting with MARK OF THE COP (1975).
ARABELLA BLACK ANGEL is hardly a classic of the genre, but succeeds through sheer dementedness alone as something of an Italian trash classic.
female: 1 / male: 4
1) Male hit on the head with a hammer
2) Male stabbed in the stomach with scissor and castrated (off screen)
3) Male stabbed in the stomach with scissor and castrated (off screen)
4) Female throat slashed with scissors
5) Male stabbed in the back with scissors