Monday, October 15, 2007

Trauma (1978): or, Try Not to Choke Under Pressure

I recently finished watching all the flicks on Mill Creek's 50 Chilling Classics set (buy of the century folks! Get one now!), and while I'll be mining it for reviews for months to come, I found myself quite melancholy as the last of the twelve discs spun in my player. After all, where would I be able to find such a treasure trove again? Where would I go for the thrill of discovery, and the agony of disappointment?

Luckily, Mill Creek has put out six or seven more of these packs, and while they can't possibly live up to the Chilling Classics, if this flick is any indication, there's still plenty more b-movie bonanzas to be had. My first exposure to non-Chilling brilliance was on the Drive-In Movie Classics 50-pack, which is off to a promising start with this little slice of Italian Giallo Gouda, Trauma.

Wowee wow wow.

First of all, this is not Dario Argento's Trauma, a fairly well-regarded 1993 film and another chapter in the ongoing lurid saga of a father coming to terms with having sired one of the hottest women on the planet, Asia Argento. ("Daddy, do I have to get explicitly raped in THIS film too?" "No dear, just take your clothes off. That's a good girl. ACTION!") No, this is an earlier piece of Italian cinematic history, originally released in 1978 as Enigma Rosso, or The Red Enigma (aka Virgin Terror, Red Rings of Fear). As usual with giallos that title has more to do with the film tonally than literally, but I'm willing to allow that a lot gets lost in the translation.

This movie starts off with a credit sequence over some nefarious doings that involve a dead body being disposed of in the best sure-fire way possible: wrapped in Bisqueen and chucked into a raging river. There's both visual and text-based silliness here, as on one side we see the body apparently ejected from the car trunk and off a cliff without the intervening of human hands (all it was missing was a cartoon "SPROINNNNNNG!" sound effect), while on the other we see that no fewer than SIX writers dipped their pens for the script. They say the more the merrier, and in this case I can definitively state that the adage holds true.

Further fun is had as we get a corpse-eye view from underwater up toward the cliff, where we see not one but two cars departing the scene in a hurry. I can only assume this was a pick-up shot added in post-production, since the raging river has been replaced by a bubbling fish tank and the cars are clearly plastic models. One of the drivers is in such a hurry that he departs the scene SIDEWAYS, without even turning the wheels! The credits hadn't finished, and already I was agog at the crafstmanship.

Of course the body turns up almost immediately near a dam in the river, and upon its discovery we meet Inspector Gianni De Salvo, essayed with admirable energy by Fabio Testi. The inspector, who seems to have the collar of his trench coat absolutely stapled to the back of his skull, lives up to the actor's surname, as he's doubtless one of the testiest detectives in cinema: his innovatively irritable interrogation techniques will be a source of much entertainment later in the flick. Over somewhat disturbingly languorous pans across the dead girl's naked, plastic-wrapped form we learn that she died of strangulation but was also "torn up inside," meaning in the lower abdominal area, if you get my drift. We also learn that other girls who attend the same school as the victim have been stalked and killed, so obviously we've got a lunatic on the loose here. The inspector's superior, who bears an uncanny resemblance to John Hillerman of Magnum P.I. fame, gives the standard "we're relying on you to solve this case" speech and we're off and away!

Next there's a scene where De Salvo catches a shoplifter in the act at a local supermarket, but instead of reporting her he invites himself to join her in some of the stolen comestibles. It turns out she's his girlfriend, and probably part of some larger subplot one of the writers had in mind that was 86'ed by the rest of the supernumerous creative committee. I guess the main effect is to show that De Salvo is no law-and-order angel, though how heroic any policeman who winks at his friends' lawlessness is certainly open to debate.

Anyway, back to the murder case: the victim was a student at a Catholic school for girls (hey-o!), where the inspector begins his investigation. We meet several suspicious members of the faculty. De Salvo gets nowhere shouting at and bullying the collected suspects, but luckily the victim's little sister also attends the school, a precocious nine-year-old who has been conducting her own investigation and has no shortage of leads to offer our hero. A good thing, too, as she seems to be much better at this whole "finding clues" thing than De Salvo.

It turns out Big Sis was part of a clique at the school who call themselves "The Inseparables," upper-classwomen who don't seem too torn up that their friend got torn up. We get to know these girls extremely well during a completely and awesomely gratuitous post-P.E. shower scene that goes on much longer than it needs to (but who's complaining?). The plot thickens as one of the girls shows signs of illness, collapsing into the arms of her naked friends. No points for guessing she's pregnant, as a couple of scenes later she sneaks out of bed to meet up with an unidentified lover in the school basement. A bit later she's in a clinic having her little problem taken care of, and she has some wild, disturbing flashbacks to some kind of sex party she and her friends all participated in. Everybody seems to be having fun until Big Sis is stretched out on a table and assaulted, graphically, leading to DEATH BY DILDO! Theses scenes are intercut with the girl's abortion procedure to provide one of the most chilling and artfully icky sequences in the film.

De Salvo is still pretty useless without his prepubescent sidekick, though he does follow a billboard clue he recognizes from one of the girl's notebooks to a clothing store where he meets a very slimy shopkeeper. A murder or two later we discover that not only is someone stalking the Inseparables with killing on his mind, but the faculty have been receiving threatening notes from someone calling himself "Nemesis," claiming he's coming for his revenge. Is this the same killer that's stalking the girls, or do we have two maniacs on our hands? Nobody knows, but De Salvo is determined to find out.

The rest of the flick just gets more convoluted and confusing, but we do get some effective scenes in the school where a statue of a nun manages to creep the viewer out and a faculty member is nearly killed when she descends a staircase too quickly thanks to some cat's eye marbles. But the piece de resistance of the wild and weird is when De Salvo questions the creepy shopkeeper by taking him to an amusement park, forcing him onto a roller coaster, and THROTTLING HIM WHILE THE CARS WHIP AROUND THE TRACKS! I don't know if this is standard procedure for Italian cops, but it made the whole movie for me. It's not very effective, however, and a bit later the dude ends up a victim of Nemesis, impaled on broken glass. Yikes.

The ending continues the weirdness, as an out-of-nowhere confession leads to a hilarious out-of-nowhere suicide, and Nemesis is revealed in one of the most shocking and hilarious scenes I can recall in a film of this vintage. I don't want to spoil it, but I was surprised, delighted, and laughing my ass off.

I do have to say that the print on the Drive-In Classics set is pretty horrible: not only are there scratches and audio mismatches aplenty, but the cropping, especially in the early scenes, is really distractingly awful. But let's face it, this thing is never getting an anamorphic transfer. So in the end, I still have to recommend it to fans of Giallo cheese. Wild plot developments, loads of gratuitous nekkidity, a couple of truly disturbing scenes, and a ride on the roller-choker. What's not to like?

2.25 Thumbs. Check it out.

ps--Through a little internet research I've just learned that this is the third in a "Schoolgirl Trilogy" of films that includes the intriguingly titled What Have They Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? all starring Fabio Testi. If the others are as much fun as Trauma, I'll definitely be hunting them down.

1 comment:

brainbug said...

I enjoyed this one quite a bit and enjoyed the other two films in the trilogy even more. You're in for a treat. Keep up the great reviews.

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