I saw this movie a few months ago, and liked it very much—in fact, it is my favorite giallo of all the ones I’ve seen—but the review was lost in the tragic hard drive crash of 2009. But it came to be my pick for movie night, and I decided that my friend should see a giallo, and this was the one. It still holds up—for what it is—the second time.
We open with slow-motion footage of girls biking, the image shifted bright orange, as we have the credits and the lush, emotional theme by Ennio Morricone. We them shift to a couple in a boat, floating down the Thames. This is supposedly all happening in England, but most of it was obviously filmed in Italy, and the actors and their mores [teachers having “relationships” with students] are obviously Italian. The woman, Elizabeth, sees the flash of a knife in the foliage along the shore, but her boyfriend Enrico, who is also her teacher, by the way, doesn’t believe her. Then she sees a girl getting stabbed—right between the legs. “What will you see next?” he asks in exasperation, and after a lot more of his snotty, insulting and dismissive comments, she justly calls him cruel. He goes home to his wife, the severe blonde German Herta, who also teaches at his school. Enrico continues to display what a fucking asshole he is when he barks at his wife to change the radio from news to music, then when she does, shouts “WHY did you change the station?” and turns it back to the news—because they had just begun to report on the murder in the park, where he was with Elizabeth. Do you think Elizabeth is going to get an apology for the uber-dick Enrico was to her earlier, now that he sees she was right? I wouldn’t count on it.
Enrico rather stupidly goes to the murder site, where he catches a glimpse of the corpse, and gets photographed on the scene. That day, inspector Barth interviews the staff of the school where Enrico and Herta work, since the victim was a student there. In a moment alone, Enrico asks Elizabeth to say nothing about what she saw, since it might expose their affair. Herta takes the attitude that he should just come out with it, as everyone knows about the affair, especially her, but he continually says he was no idea what she’s talking about. He also finds out that the murdered girl took an hour to die—meaning that Enrico could have saved her, if he wasn’t too busy being an asshole to Elizabeth.
We now meet the distraught parents of the murdered girl, who want to know if she was raped. In answer, the inspector tells them in a manner of speaking she was, then takes them in and shows them the X-ray of her body, which shows her pelvis with a big knife floating within. It’s a fabulous, haunting image for the movie, but—maybe the parents don’t really need to see it? Then Enrico engages an apartment near the school, and Elizabeth meets him there. She looks around and doesn’t see a bedroom, so she says “What are we supposed to do, make love in the bathtub?” to which he replies “You are a fantastic girl.” Then another girls gets killed, again with the old knife-up-the-snatch routine, and left out in front of this woman’s house who shrieks “Why here? Why HERE?” Then inspector Barth discovers Enrico’s affair with Elizabeth, and swears to keep it under his hat, but Herta overhears.
SPOILERS > > >
Once Elizabeth hears about the other murdered girl, she goes to the staff and tells them she was there at the murder, and caught a glimpse of a man dressed like a priest. Now earlier, we saw a bunch of girls go to the priest, and it will soon become apparent that we actually saw the murderer. Anyway, now that Elizabeth has announced that she saw the killer, well, you know who’s next to die. She just gets an old boring drowning [although you’ll note how the RED cloth over her crotch ups the perceived violence], and probably wasn’t subjected to the old knife-in-das-poon trick because it would have ruined a crucial plot point: That Elizabeth is revealed, upon autopsy, to still be a virgin. Yeah, even though we SAW her naked in bed with Enrico, and even though he joked like “Where are we supposed to make love?” I guess it was all just heavy petting. You just have to go with it.
Barth tells Herta that Elizabeth was a virgin, and although it may be a contrivance, it sends the story in an unexpected new direction—Herta tries to save her marriage to Enrico, and he responds in kind. You’ll notice that Herta is immediately presented in a softer light and from more flattering angles, and is soon appearing in fluffy pink lingerie. They decide that it is up to them to solve the case and clear Enrico’s name, as several little clues point to him as the killer. By now it’s also been revealed that several girls at the school had a secret society, as they seem to in every giallo, and that they all went to the same priest to confess. Who, we now know, may not have been a priest at all.
So as part of his investigation, Enrico follows the trail to this photographer, who tells him that the girls in this society were all doing drugs and having “dates” with older men. But he is told that “None of these girls fool round—not after what happened to Solange.” We’re about an hour and a half in, and this is the first mention we’ve had of Solange, which works because up until now you’ve been wondering when she’ll appear, since her name is so prominent in the title. At home, one of the girls from the secret society, Brenda, leaves a note in Enrico’s mailbox, and—I like the random-seeming nature of this—first he walks right by it without noticing, then pulls out his mail and drops it inadvertently… and finally someone hands it to him. It tells him to go ask some woman, who knows all about what happened to Solange.
Now, here come the serious spoilers, so if you don’t want to know the ending of the movie, which is recommended, why don’t you skip ahead past when the spoilers end?
So Enrico goes out to the lady’s house, and finds it the same house where the second victim was found, the one where the woman who lived there was saying “Why HERE?” And that woman is there in the backyard, scythe up her taco supreme. I like that the movie never verbally acknowledges that it’s the same house, it just shows it and leaves you to figure it out. After this, Brenda tells us what happened: they brought Solange to the woman for an illegal abortion, riding their bikes to get there [which would be the footage we saw under the opening credits]. The abortion procedure is done with a big needle right up the vagina, making a connection to the knife up the cookie most of the girls have been getting. Apparently this girl Solange was permanently screwed-up from the procedure, and someone’s pretty peeved about that.
Then the police decide they’re going to set up a bunch of undercover agents in the park and essentially use the surviving girls as bait. Enrico and Herta are relaxing in the park when suddenly this wan, haunted girl comes by, looking at them. We know right away that this is Solange. She is played by Camille Keaton, here a few years before her legendary turn in I Spit On Your Grave. She wanders off, where she is spotted by Brenda. Brenda follows her through the park in a very tense sequence, right past all the undercover cops, and before you know it, she’s gone. She is taken to a nasty little room and tied up. The killer asks her to describe what happened to Solange—he seems to get off on hearing all the girls’ different versions, and what each one reveals or doesn’t—and this ties into the title. Looks like Brenda’s about to get the classic treatment, but for reasons of plot development, doesn’t.
A slight lead about a book brings Enrico, Herta and Barth to the apartment of Bascombe, head of the school, who has been in the movie all along, but so in the background that I haven’t mentioned him. They’re talking, when all of a sudden Solange appears, and beckons Herta to follow her. She takes Herta upstairs to a hidden room, where they find evidence—and the tied-up Brenda. Herta screams, they all run upstairs, except Enrico, who watches as Bascombe pulls out a gun and kills himself.
Before we leave the spoilers, it must be mentioned that in retrospect, this film represents the Italian Catholic “lesson” that abortion ruins lives and screws people up forever. It’s kind of telling that this occurs amid many implications that it’s perfectly awesome for 16-year-old girls to have sex with older men.
One other thing I should mention in the spoilers, is that in a sec I’ll talk about how this movie starts with one tone and ends with another… what I like most about it and what really provides kind of a hook that makes this movie stand apart from other giallos, is that it goes along for most of its running time in a procedural vein, then, everyone assuming the killer is a sex maniac, then suddenly, in the last 15 minutes, it suddenly turns emotional, and the motivation behind the killings isn’t thrills, but a father’s deep pain, and his daughter’s tragically ruined life. It just gives the entire film additional depth and ties in to some of the passages of lyric beauty parsed out through the film. Although it may be rather sudden and unrealistic, I also really like that Herta and Enrico mend their drifting marriage and join together—it’s unexpected and again provides a surprising emotional angle.
< < < SPOILERS END
This is one of those movies I liked pretty well after I first watched it, but found that it stayed with me for about two weeks afterward. Much of the reason for this is that it spends most of its running time in one vein, then suddenly switches gears right near the end, in an effective way. I also appreciate some of the other surprises it has in store, and the fact that once it’s over, most of it adds up, and one can look back and see all the clues falling into place. And it’s a decent-enough mystery.
It’s also a little more than the sum of its parts. It’s just particularly well-constructed in terms of small details that add to the overall tone and overheated atmosphere, which in this case seems to offer a somewhat tragic picture of young women and their sexuality. For example, it is revealed that the symbol of the girls’ secret society is a pin, which is of course used for penetration, and has echoes of the real murder weapon, and the instrument that the murder weapon is a version of… so there’s a lot of thematic resonances that add up to surround the plot in a haze of additional, ill-defined but potent meanings.
When I watched another giallo also starring Fabio Testi, Trauma [Enigma Rosso], the best comparison, due to its lushness and pure humid steaminess, was this film. So Imagine my non-surprise when I found out that it was co-written by this film’s writer and director, Massimo Dallamano. That one contains a lot of thematic similarities, and if you’re a big fan of this film, you owe it to yourself to seek out that one as well.
Yes, it’s a very good giallo with a seamy lushness, emotional center and intriguing mystery.
TRAUMA [ENIGMA ROSSO] is co-written by the writer/director of this, contains many thematic similarities, and also stars Fabio Testi.