US / Italy
Director: Giovanni Pianigiani
Story & screenplay: Bruno Di Marcello, Giovanni Pianigiani
Produced by Joe Zaso for Cinema Image Productions, Gothic Produzioni, Rosecalypse
Music: Marco Werba
Cinematography: Alex Birrell
Production Design: Oriana D’Urso
Art Direction: Antonio Laino
Cast: Yassmin Pucci (Roberta Parenti), Fabrizio Croci, Leandro Guerrini (Sandro), Raine Brown (Dora Miller), Joe Zaso (Derek), Riccardo Calvanese, Alfredo Arciero (the Inspector), Eileen Daly (Elanor Maynard), Timo Rose (Roberta’s attacker), Valeria De Vivo (Anna), Iacopo Di Girolamo (Mark Miller), Bruno Di Marcello (the Professor), Antonio Orlando (a barman)
Darkness Surrounds Roberta is an Italian and American co-production, shot in 2008 in Italy, which attempts to revive the moribund giallo genre. Unfortunately – and despite the fact that a number of reviews on the internet seem to be suspiciously positive – it doesn’t remotely succeed.
The script is a hodge-podge of borrowings from previous giallo movies. Sandro (Leandro Guerrini) is a Roman cop who is investigating a series of brutal murders along with his blind, partner Derek (Joe Zaso), an American detective who has some experience in dealing with serial killers (as well as super-sensitive hearing and smell, natch). Meanwhile, another psycopath also seems to be at work in the city, kidnapping women with some kind of special talent – a writer, a ballerina etc. etc. – holding them prisoner and then killing them. Could the two cases be connected? Well, you’d be dumb to bet against it.
The central character in the narrative is Roberta (Yasmin Pucci), a lauded artist who had given up painting after being raped by a couple of angry life models (!?!) Now she’s trapped in a loveless marriage with her wannabe politician husband (Fabrizio Croci) and – traumatised and bored – gets her kicks from occasionally working, along with her good-time-girl friend Dora (Raine Brown), as a prostitute and thief. As if she hadn’t got enough issues to deal with, in the course of events she becomes the latest target of both killers.
This is an extremely low budget production, shot on DVD, and it certainly looks it. In terms of production values, it’s only just a step up from a home movie and, despite the cameraman’s attempts to throw in some interesting visual compositions, it looks flat and generally shoddy. The script is utterly ludicrous, making even less sense than some of Dario Argento’s recent films (which is saying something). The characters are almost entirely unbelievable, the dialogue cranky and the acting is generally laughable.
This was made by Cinema Image Productions, an American company who specialise in zero-budget, straight to DVD releases shot in Europe. Way back in 1996 they made another homage to Italian thrillers, 5 Dead on the Crimson Canvas, and other releases include Barricade (2007, shot in Germany), Red Midnight (2005, shot in Italy) and Nikos the Impaler (2003, Germany again). Cinema Image Productions were actually founded by Joe Zaso, an Italo-American who also acts (badly) in most of their films, and other performers featured here – the remarkably talentless Raine Brown, Eileen Daly, Pucci – are also regular performers for the company.
I’d like to be more positive about this film, and am all too willing to give Zaso merit for being a truly independent modern day producer of low budget films, a kind of modern day Fred Olen Ray or Charles Band. But, unfortunately, Darkness Surrounds Roberta is no Death Steps in the Dark, let alone a Tenebrae or Deep Red.
Here’s the trailer: