Trauma (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Today's screening marked the first time I've ever
seen the "Minneapolis Argento" movie, and I learned something from it.
I had always assumed that the poor acting in Argento's movies was
directly related to the absence of live sound during the recording
process. I was wrong. Trauma, his only full-length American film,
was recorded with live sound as per the standard American procedure,
but the acting is just as bad as ever. Chris Rydell did a reasonably
good job in the lead, and Brad Dourif provided a couple of good
moments in an extended cameo, but the rest of the cast was either
completely amateurish (Dario's young daughter, Asia), or gave
performances inspired by the Shatner school of acting (Piper Laurie
and Frederic Forrest). I suppose the sad fact of the matter is that
Dario simply has no idea how to get realistic performances from his
actors, either during filming or in post-production. I wonder if he
has ever re-shot a scene because an actor misread a line or
delivered the wrong interpretation. I would tend to doubt it. I
don't think he would notice. Dario seems to be so absorbed with his
camera movement that he considers the actors either part of the
background or a necessary evil.
I do have to give Asia Argento some props for this film. She had almost no grasp of English at the time, and she couldn't act worth beans, but nobody can say her heart wasn't in it. She worked her ass off to get the part right. Literally! She pulled a Christian Bale. Playing the part of an anorexic, she starved herself for months to get the right look, according to a Dario Argento interview on the DVD. Her legs, in particular, make her look like a stick drawing. Have no fear, flesh lovers. Even when starved, she still had an impressive chest!
The script isn't a lot better than the acting. It is a classic Halloween-type slasher movie in which we follow sympathetic characters through danger while a lunatic commits a series of murders around them, and the murders seem to be somehow related to them. It all leads up to the final revelation of the murderer and the motive. The logic of the film is strange. In fact, it gets downright surreal. After one of the serial decapitations, Rydell is the first person to arrive on the murder scene. He sees the body. He sees the head. He then does what I think any of us would do in that situation - he gets down on the floor and starts to question the decapitated head. But that isn't even the weirdest part. The truly odd thing is that the head answers him!
Oh, yeah, and then there are the inelegant scene transitions, which seem nearly random. Some examples:
When you get right down to it, the so-called plot and character motivations are basically as irrelevant to Argento as the actors. He doesn't really care if it all makes sense. His "giallo"1 movies basically consist of a vaguely connected but nearly random series of grisly murders, which eventually end at some random time. In the process of getting to that random time, Argento presents the murders in a highly stylized fashion, using wild camera movement, creative visuals, graphic splatter, strange atmospheric touches (like close ups of animals or their body parts), and odd points of view.
Argento frequently uses various tricks to disguise the identity of the criminal while actually showing the crimes explicitly. In this case the tricks include:
The film doesn't show much of Argento's usual sense for music. Neither Goblin nor Ennio Morricone did the score, and the final product sounds like some folk songs rejected from an Enya album.
The only really cool thing about the film is the murder method. The killer saws off the victims' heads with a custom-designed band saw that draws a sharp wire tighter and tighter around the neck until it produces the desired effect. Just think of it as Popeil's Pocket Decapitator. These crimes are committed while the victim is still alive. (And, as noted in an example above, at least two of the heads continue consciousness even after being removed.) Even this has its problems, because I wasn't very impressed by Tom Savini's special gore effects. The close-ups on the severed necks clearly reveal that we are seeing something other than human flesh.
The good news is that the DVD restores some of the footage which has been deleted in previous R-rated releases. Some deleted scenes are in English, but others are in Italian with English sub-titles - I suppose the original English footage has been lost. The deleted scenes do not include every one listed in this IMDb article. Of the eight scenes listed in the article, numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7 are still missing. According to the IMDb article, the regular foreign print (106 minutes) plus every deleted scene (7 minutes) would add back to 113 minutes. The DVD runs 106 minutes and the deleted scenes run 4:33. There is about thirty to sixty seconds of overlap between the two, so all the available DVD footage runs about 110 minutes, indicating that the total running length of the five missing scenes must be about three minutes.
Although this film is neither a very good horror film nor a very good giallo, there is one scene in Trauma which is absolutely beautiful. Rydell comes home late at night to find a note from Asia Argento which says that she has gone to be with her mother. Since Asia has already tried to commit suicide by drowning, and since Rydell thinks the mother is dead, he assumes that Asia has tried to drown herself in the pond behind his house. He then dives into the pond and searches for her frantically, while the camera shoots in the exact direction of the full moon, catching Rydell floundering in the shadow of the moonlight. While Rydell continues his increasingly desperate search, the Enya impersonator (Laura Evans) sings a haunting song called Ruby Rain. That heartbreaking scene alone, although suited more to a tragedy than a giallo, makes the film worth renting.
1 Footnote for newcomers: I suppose I shouldn't toss around unfamiliar foreign terms like "gialli". Sorry. "Giallo" is basically the Italian equivalent of the American term "pulp fiction." "Gialli" is the plural, roughly translatable as "pulp murder stories." The sensationalist male-oriented pulp stories which were so popular in the pre-TV era, filled with as much sex and violence as the law would allow, appeared in the United States in a familiar paperback format with lurid covers painted by Frank Frazetta and others. The equivalent Italian stories, most typically murder mysteries, looked similar to their American counterparts, but the covers typically had a yellow background. Literally translated, "giallo" is just the Italian word for yellow. When referring to films, "giallo" means the genre of stylized, ultra-violent Italian movies inspired by the stories in those paperbacks. Here's the Wikipedia entry, which shows some sample covers from the publications and references many films inspired by the stories.
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