John Orrichio’s low-budget indie “Black Ribbon” offers a “Twilight Zone”-worthy tale of a less-than-jolly writer who wins a vintage typewriter in an online auction. Although he pays a hefty sum for the antique machine, he genuinely doesn’t realize the price of his purchase. It seems the typewriter was originally owned from a 19th century Satan worshipper who kidnapped and killed nubile young women before meeting a gruesome fate. Needless to say, the spirit of that Victorian bon vivant finds its way through the typewriter into the writer’s unsuspecting existence.
“Black Ribbon” is highly entertaining B-level horror, thanks in large part to Orrichio’s taut direction and writing. The film literally has no body fat – it is a lean and extremely mean venture that balances its sex, violence and cruel mind games with equal parts of titillation and dread. Orrichio is also wise enough to play the material straight – there’s no wink-wink camp to wreck the growing terror surrounding the doomed central characters.
Special due is deserving for Tony Rugnetta as the doomed writer. Appearing smug without becoming emetic, Rugnetta creates a chilling character whose self-assurance is systematically stripped away and replaced by something far beyond his imagination. His transformation from obnoxious pen-pusher to pure evil is among the more memorable horror flick performances of this year.
Also worth noting is the unlikely appearance of the offbeat TV talk show legend Joe Franklin in a rare acting role (he’s fine, even if he never shakes his “Joe Franklin” persona) and the beautiful Bernice DiPiazza as an Italian housekeeper who gets trapped (in more ways than one) within the malignancy that permeates from the evil typewriter.
If the film has a wobbly point, it’s a subplot involving a mentally retarded adult befriended by the writer. This portion of the script would’ve been more jolting had that character been a child or teen, thus providing a greater sense of dread to the surroundings, instead of being portrayed by an adult actor who is clearly doing a weak job at imitating retardation. But even as it stands, “Black Ribbon” hits the right keys and is an effective little chiller.