Trauma (Enigma Rosso)

The U.S. Government Does Not Practice Roller Coaster Torture
★★★
☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Alberto Negrin
Starring: 
Fabio Testi, Ivan Desny, Jack Taylor, Christine Kaufmann, Fausta Avelli
The Setup: 
Someone’s killing students at a girls’ school. Seriously, is that ALL that ever happens in Italy?
Discussion: 

I had been watching altogether too many “good” movies, which I’m sure you know can be so dreary, so one night I had to eschew everything I had from Netflix and reach for my 50 Drive-In Movie Classics budget set, which, as usual, did me right.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting in for, but immediately upon discovering that it was a giallo, I knew a certain amount of cheesy goodness awaited me. We have a nice opening as we see a car parked out in a misty wooded park—then pan down to see a girl’s head encased in a plastic bag. The body gets thrown into the water below, then we cut to a young woman shoplifting. She gets caught by a guy, and the next thing we see, they’ve run off to screw, then he has to leave. This is police inspector Gianni, and—is THIS how he punishes crime when he finds it? If so, I gotta get to Italy and pinch a few items. Anyway, he’s called in to investigate the case of the girl we saw thrown into the water at the beginning. She was 16, and her torso was ripped open with a blunt instrument, after her body had been raped. Her mother comes in to identify her and has a huge hysterical scene, and we meet the girl’s 10-year-old little sister. She takes an immediate liking to Gianni, and informs him that her sister was part of a group at school called “the inseparables.” I swear, does every girls’ school in Italy have a secret society of pretty girls who love to get in trouble?

After a short scene in which a man buffs his car with a large tool to the accompaniment of funky music, we see the girls in question, playing volleyball, and you’ll notice that in the supposed hubbub of noise they’re making, we keep hearing their names repeated over and over. They then, as is their wont, run into the showers while pulling their tops off and reveling their nubile young bodies, as women in giallos seem to be unable to get enough of. Gianni comes in and meets the staff of the school, then the young sister of the victim, who seems to have a little crush on him, and gives him her sister’s diary. He notices that it has a particular red cat drawn on the page for every Saturday. It must mean something!

Then one of the girls is out horseback riding when some nefarious stranger blows a dart to hit the horse, causing it to throw her. Soon after detective Gianni barges in the house of the girls, and we follow him all the way upstairs to rouse some nude blonde girl out of bed, demanding “Who killed Angela Rosso?” [the first victim]. When she says “I don’t know,” we follow him back downstairs as he asks this question of everyone he sees. This guy has some unusual methods. Like, I guess people are more apt to confess when they're roused out of their sleep at three in the morning? Then one of the other girls goes out for a motorcycle ride, encountering someone in a car who wants to take her out, chases her, til she ends up suddenly bouncing off a car in front of her. The police find a blood-spattered note on her that says “run toward the black shadow, death will come to meet you” and is signed Nemesys. Soon after this Gianni wakes with his house on fire, goes downstairs, and suddenly finds himself in this ginormous butcher shop. I guess that was right downstairs. Soon he is boffing a police woman, and upon leaving her, she informs him that she won’t be there when he gets back. “Thanks for telling me, see you later,” he says.

If some of this isn’t exactly running smoothly together and making perfect sense, it’s because it’s not entirely clear to me, either. Part of this is because the film is unusually lush and intensely pulpy, even for a giallo, in a very intoxicating way. It really gets that hothouse environment where young girls are nubile and naughty, police detectives are gruff and will sleep with anything that moves, and in the midst of it all someone is killing people in very gruesome ways. It’s a little like What Have You Done To Solange?, but somehow even more intoxicatingly steamy.

SPOILERS > > >
After more police work by Gianni—who apparently can only afford one outfit on his salary—we join one of the girls, Ginny, as she is brought in for an abortion. At least, I THINK it’s an abortion, it’s kind of hard to tell, although there’s a doctor and a nurse and he had a forceps in his hand. This is all intercut with all of the girls in some sort of orgy-type affair, where someone is wielding a dildo across this girl’s chest [this movie will never pass up an excuse to show breasts, and obviously is trying to up the sexual content by showing us what it can get away with—in this case, a dildo]. Then Ginny is having a bad time with her abortion, and this is intercut with someone getting some rough penetration with that dildo [apparently—all we’re seeing is screaming faces and a hand poking with ye olde plastique phallus]. Ginny and friend return to the school, and in the middle of the night Ginny gets up to visit the loo, and ends up felled by the ol’ marbles-on-the-stairs trick! Who could be so devious? So dastardly? So doggone demented?

Now a lot of this has centered on this dry cleaning business. Gianni and his boss go in to meet the owner, who lives upstairs, and has a young lovely upstairs who—wouldn’t you know it?—just happens to be shirtless at that moment. They give him some pretty harsh interrogation, but let him off. Then another girl at the school obviously wants to talk to Gianni, but is prevented, then Gianni goes back to cleaner dude’s, takes him to the amusement park, and forces him to ride a roller coaster while being interrogated! Apparently cleaner dude is afraid of heights but gee, what a fabulous form of torture! This movie is the first time I started to have the thought “Gee, wouldn’t it be fun to live inside a giallo?”

Then cleaner guy goes home and calls someone and tells him that Gianni subjected him to the much-feared amusement park torture of death but he didn’t spill any secrets, and while this is happening someone else is in the house and gives him an impromptu tracheotomy via scissors. The next day he is found wrapped up in plastic and in the dam, where the first body was found. Only this time he’s got a toy surprise inside—a Pirates of the Caribbean collector’s cup! And the file on this old police case, in which Gianni’s supervisor got this fellow everyone assumed to be guilty to go free.

Well, are you ready for the sudden wrap-up? I only wish I understood it well enough to fully convey it to you, but you probably wouldn’t get it all either. It seems that Gianni’s boss, cleaner dude, and other guys were in on setting up this ring for young schoolgirls to provide kinky favors to rich older men. It seems that the murders were spread out among those involved—for example, Gianni’s boss killed the motorcycle girl—but they have no idea who the notorious marble killer is. Then it looks like Gianni’s boss slips on a marble and falls off the dam to his death, but I rewound it and found that he actually killed himself, only you can’t tell with the fucking bizarre editing.

While this is going on, we’re intercutting with Emily taking the bus to see Ginny in the hospital [she survived the marble incident]. We see her on the bus so much one starts to think something terrible is going to happen to her, and this will be the climax of the movie. She goes in to see Ginny, and has brought her chocolates, which Ginny is FUCKING PSYCHED to see, and tells Emily something to the effect that this was a nice thing to do despite the fact that Ginny has always considered her to be a little brat! Well, she might not feel so positive once she has Emily’s scarf around her neck and the little girl is trying to strangle her! Yes, little 10-year-old Emily is the mystery killer! The one who unleashed all the marbles! The MARBLE MANIAC, if you will. Gianni stops her from killing Ginny, then takes her out in the park for a little talking to. She wonders if he’s going to turn her in, but he just smiles and ruffles her hair, and they walk off together in a friendly, parent-and-child way, his arm around her shoulder. Brutal, premeditated killing: it’s just a phase! Seriously, if it gets to be more than ten victims, that’s when a parent has to worry. But five or nine? Just good childhood fun. They’re just getting their aggressions out!
< < < SPOILERS END

This one was a tiny bit more giallo than most gialli. It’s just pulsing with emotion, very slow and languorous at times, jam-packed with sexuality, and really thrilled with its own violence. This one is suffused with a viewpoint that worships men, considers them desirable and in control, and holds women as just on hand to get fucked and murdered. Gianni is the main erotic source of interest here, and he receives several adoring close-ups as he sleeps with the shoplifters he catches, pulls nude women out of bed to question them, loves and leaves some generic ladyfriend, and plays mentor to little Emily. She is treated as only too delighted, in a pre-sexual way, to gain the attention of this big studly police hunk, and the movie can’t seem to believe her luck. The women, throughout, are treated as these interchangeable throwaways who are essentially all sluts underneath the surface—not that the movie finds anything wrong with that! If you’ve followed the recent news about Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, and his alleged wild sex parties with young women, and is wife’s public tirades against his unrelenting womanizing, and the way the Italian public just finds all of this so deliciously amusing, you’ll know that the viewpoint espoused by this movie doesn’t exactly just spring out of nowhere.

As a movie, it is ultimately just a middling giallo that will remind most of What Have You Done to Solange? Except in the end it’s nowhere near as good or coherent. As noted, this one seems just slightly more humid, more lurid, and with a stronger emphasis on men’s sexuality and power. Which I didn’t mind, for what it is, but somehow I doubt it’s going to be Gloria Steinem’s favorite movie. In any case, there are lots of gialli that are much more worthy of your time, but if you’re desperate a need a new one with lots of emphasis on a hunky hero, here you go.

Should you watch it: 

It can’t hurt, but there are many better gialli you should watch first [although, in retrospect, this one just just goofy and lurid enough for me to remember quite fondly].