One of the business models in Italian cinema was that of producing a film in Italy with an Italian cast and casting the lead role with an International name actor. For example Mario Bava did it with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (John Saxon) and Baron Blood (Joseph Cotton), Dario Argento did it with Cat O’Nine Tails (Karl Malden) and Deep Red (David Hemmings) and Dark Bar employs the same strategy. Sadly budgets were probably running low as all they could manage was Richard Hatch, of Battlestar Galactica fame.
Battlestar Galactica had been put into dry dock in 1979 and since then Hatch had knocked around doing episodes of Fantasy Island, Murder She Wrote, TJ Hooker and Dynasty. What had attracted the filmmakers to him? Who knows.
Far more interesting to the Giallo fan is the casting of Barbara Cupisti as Elisabeth. Cupistri, best known to giallo fans as the lead in Michelle Soavi’s Stagefright, got her break with a small role in Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982) but 1987 seemed to be the year where she came to prominence appearing in Argento’s Opera, erotica classic Eleven Days, Eleven Nights and, of course, Stage Fright. Here she is playing the sister of the lead character but gets a good ten minutes of screen time. During which she steals the movie.
It takes a little while for Dark Bar’s story to take shape, it is supposed to be about Anna (Marina Suma) searching for her missing sister. But the film spends a good twenty minutes or so setting up its convoluted plot with the Elisabeth (Cupisti) meeting someone at the Dark Bar (which she scrawls on the mirror in her apartment, obviously running low on post its) dressed in a red raincoat. In this twenty minutes we are introduced to Hatch, a boyfriend who is being given the boot plus a creepy bartender with a Hitler moustache. It came as quite a shock when she was killed, not that she was killed – her days were numbered from minute one, but the method of how she was killed. Strangely for a giallo, Elisabeth is shot in a toilet cubicle. It made a pleasant change, the abruptness of the gunfire in stark contrast to the more drawn out knifing that usually takes place. The requisite black gloved killer rifles through Elisabeth’s bag looking for something, something they don’t find. So the murder is set up and everyone in the bar is a suspect.
Here we go into the regular story of the sister looking for her sister, then when the body is found, her killer. Elisabeth is established as the ‘bad’ sister who is always short of money with Anna the ‘good’ sister who is a successful jazz musician. Their relationship is strained.
Elisabeth’s body is found in the morning when the cleaners are cleaning the bar. No that won’t do. Elisabeth’s body is found in the morning by the cleaner, who is having sex in the next cubicle! As you do. About forty minutes in and every female character in the film has been nude at least once. It’s that kind of movie. It is shot nicely for the most part although the director seems to have a thing for low camera angles. If people can sit on the floor in this movie, they do. Usually in a very short skirt! The filmmaker’s also have this weird tendency to play a whole scene without showing the face of one of the characters, only to end the scene as a reveal of their face. Very strange format for characters that we have never met before.
The movie goes off the rails about an hour in. There is a nice sequence with Anna investigating at a local theatre performance, for which she dons a bright red wig and dresses in a black leather skirt and fishnet tights. Don’t get me wrong, she looks great but it is a bit dressy for investigative work. They also visit the Dark Bar, which is portrayed as a modern Gomorrah with all kinds of freaky activities happening. But mainly it’s sex and face painting.
A second murder is done via a forced overdose. Are we going to get any stabbings in this film? Also there is a twist on the reliance of psychoanalysis in giallo here it is swapped out for tarot cards…
The plot collapses into heavy chunks of exposition dialogue explaining the drug dealing plot and killer revelation but forgets to be a movie! There is a forced chase sequence with some poor editing (one minute he’s right behind him, the next miles away!). The movie ends more like an action thriller than a giallo. It also has a freeze frame ending! Everyone loves those, right? Anna wades out in to the lake, fully clothed. Kneels down and puts her hair in the water then flings it back like she is in a shampoo advert, freeze. Why? Who knows.
Only for the giallo completists.
2 black leather gloves out of 5.
– Adam J Marsh