CAUTION: This review gets a lot more spoilery than the reviews I normally write, so if you had a grey-market copy of "La Puritana" sitting at home, waiting for an evening when you were in a mood for a revenge story/80s prime time soap opera mash-up, you might want to skip this review. For the remaining 99.99% of my readership, carry on as you were.
The first image of our film--it's pretty much downhill in terms of "Good Taste" from here.
Eurotrash cinema wears many faces. There's the surrealist dreamscape film; the gore-soaked splatter epic; the thinly-veiled, churned-out rip-off capitalizing on a hit film's success; the boobs-a-poppin', pants-droppin' sleaze story. "La Puritana" has its feet planted firmly on the soil of this last type of movie--it's a softcore porn with a revenge storyline and giallo trappings. Produced as it was in 1989, almost twenty years after the best gialli had been made, this isn't an example of the finest suspense cinema Italy had to offer. What it DOES have to recommend it is one of the silliest plots I've seen in a while and characters motivated entirely by their respective ids (even more so than usual).
Lady Lawyer Annabella Allori (played by a dramatically surgically-enhanced Margit Evelyn Newton) arrives in a sleepy Southern Italian town and embarks on a mission to avenge the death of a family who had been misused by... well, by pretty much every other character we get to meet in the movie. Drug addict Gabriele has left Annabella an audiocassette (remember those things?) containing his recounting of his and his mother's abuse at the hands of various wealthy and powerful men. Dispensing with any appearances of subtlety straight away, we learn that the mayor has pimped weak-willed Gabriele and his alcoholic mother to a Count, a drug-dealing pharmacist, the local priest, and a wealthy physician. It's almost as if the movie is making a point about the corrupting nature of power, but I can't... quite... put it together...
We get Teachable Moments right from Scene One, in which Gabriele expires in a hospital bed, occasioning precisely NO RESPONSE from the hospital staff (I got yer socialized medicine RIGHT HERE, lieblings). On the plus side, apparently there are BARS in Italian hospitals, because we're treated to a scene in which Annabella shares a cocktail with Dr. Carlo (played by a rather puffy but still mostly-awesome Helmut Berger), surrounded by a bunch of doctors STILL WEARING THEIR WHITE COATS. "I've got a three o'clock triple bypass; this calls for a J&B, barkeep."
Also, I'm thinking that Italian Law School is pretty darn different from American Law School, because Annabella spends the film clad in an array of eye-popping but not-ready-for-the-courtroom outfits, including her Barbie cleavage bowtie skirt suit. Seriously. This is the kind of clothing that Joan Collins would deem far too loud for her to don. Power shoulders, pulse-quickening prints, and plastic tribal jewelry define the aesthetic of this film's fashions. And that's to say nothing of the nigh-upon-Trojan layers of makeup worn over the lead actress' distractingly nipped-and-inflated features.
I'm tap-dancing around the meat of the story because I feel like it's important to set the scene, but it's high time that I reveal the element makes this movie special. As in: the "Special Education" kind of special. Annabella uses her sensuality to exact her revenge, enticing the scoundrels who participated in the destruction of her friends by having sex with them. Not just flirting, holding out the promise of sex, only to pounce at the last moment with her virtue intact--girlfriend does the deed. WITH ALL OF THE VILLAINS (except the gay one, because our scriptwriter is at least a little bit grounded in reality). But here's the incredible thing--she doesn't actually NEED to seduce anyone! In fact, she could skip having sex with these guys entirely and the plot would still work. But then we'd be deprived of several oily and literal sex scenes that play out like penetration-free moments from one of those "couple's pornos" with the tacked-on plots that can be used to trick unwilling spouses into viewing hardcore sex.
Back to our movie, though! Let me break down for you exactly how Annabella could have avoided having sex with any of these evildoers:
- Annabella discovers that the mayor is taking bribes and seduces him, but... the police already knew that he was corrupt thanks to a series of anonymous letters, and it seems that the crooked senator who set the mayor up was already looking to kill him. Yeah--I know!
- In order to exact her revenge on the Count, Annabella seduces his daughter in a gym sauna with the clever application of warm tea (I don't understand this either--must be some kind of super-secret lesbonic mojo thang), photographs another of their couplings, and then fellates the Count, causing him to have a heart attack and only THEN revealing the photos. You're thinking what I'm thinking--the "blow job" step could be eliminated entirely.
- An amoral pharmacist (played by Gabriele Tinti, aka Mr. Laura Gemser) is selling heroin out of his storefront, and Annabella sends the cops in after him--but only after they have sex in the back room of the pharmacy in order to provide her with "a sleeping aid." *facepalm*
My fave REVENGE moment comes when Annabella reveals her intentions to cause the death of a gay, pedophiliac Catholic priest. Shrieking in terror, he runs out the door of the church and IMMEDIATELY falls under the wheels of a car. I mean, credit where credit's due--Annabella may have questionable reasons for seduction, but her psychic powers can-NOT be beat.
In a genre distinguished by its stupid plots, this Italo-thriller out-stupids most of its competitors. Credit where credit is due--"La Puritana" wears its intentions to show lots of nudity on its sleeve and the absence of tension, directorial style, and common sense don't work against this prime directive. Also on the up-side, even though Helmut Berger is looking worse for the wear here, his ass looks way better than any middle-aged man's ass deserves to look. Gold star for that!
BONUS MATERIALS: above is a shot of leotards, for those of you who are reotarded for leotards. You know who you are.