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:

  • Chris Rydell comes up to Brad Dourif in the street, on a sunny day. Dourif rejects him, so Rydell walks away. Rydell spots a cop car, which makes sense because the cops have been just a half-step behind Rydell in the investigation, and they also want to talk to Dourif. What does not make sense, however, is that the scene cuts from the approaching cop car back to Dourif, and this time he's walking at night, in the rain! The whole angle with the cop car is simply dropped without explanation.
  • Here is my favorite scene transition. Rydell has just been punched by the pharmacist. He's obviously on a busy city street and many people pass him while he lies on the sidewalk with blurry vision. In his hazy attempts to regain his sight, he spots a bracelet which is important to the plot. He gets up, still in a daze, and walks in the same direction as the woman wearing the bracelet. CUT. Next scene, Rydell seems to be wandering aimlessly through a tree-lined suburban neighborhood, obviously far from the busy urban street where he collapsed. He sees a little kid. He asks the kid if he has seen a woman wearing a black dress and a bracelet. The kid says "no." Rydell says "are you sure?" Obviously withering under this intense questioning, the kid then points to the spooky house next door - the murderer's house! So I guess we are to assume that (1) the murderess just happened to walk by Rydell while he was lying on the sidewalk, and (2) she walked a great distance from there to her spooky mansion, with Rydell somehow following, but not closely enough to see where she was actually going (since he had to ask the kid).

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:

  • Showing the victims from the killer's point of view. "Oh, hi! I thought that was you. What do you have in that bag? No! No! Please don't!"
  • Showing the killer from the point of view of the boy next door, who peeps through the windows from house to house, and whose angle of observation always prevents him from seeing much above the criminal's waist.
  • Showing the criminal's hands in black gloves. (Of course, this also serves as a handy red herring in which we viewers suspect anyone wearing black gloves until we see the grand revelation.)

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.



  • Brand-New Interview with Director Dario Argento
  • Full-length Audio Commentary with Profondo Argento Author Alan Jones
  • Exclusive Special Effects Home Movies from Tom Savini
  • Poster and Still Gallery
  • Deleted Scenes (4:33)
  • Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35, enhanced for 16x9 screens.


Laura Johnson shows her breasts on the bottom of a dark sex scene in the missionary position.

Asia Argento shows her breasts when Chris Rydell accidentally sees her changing.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-. It's actually quite a poor movie with a nearly incoherent storyline, weak acting, and half-baked special effects. I have rated it C- generously, only on the assumption that genre buffs will enjoy the decapitations, and that passionate film lovers will want to see the beautiful, tragic moonlight scene. All others steer clear. If you want to see top-notch Argento at the peak of his powers, watch his classics from the 1977-1987 period.

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