Friday, October 12, 2012

#20: Trauma

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 6: Side A

A jazzy, incongruously upbeat score plays over the opening credits as we see the body of a teenage girl dumped from the trunk of a car into a river. Police inspector Johnny Di Salvo (genre-lifer Fabio Testi) is put on the case when the body is discovered, washed up on the riverbank.

“Her lower abdomen has been torn apart by an instrument that was anything but sharp,” the coroner informs him. “Her face is composed, which suggests she was unconscious before being butchered.”

The perpetually unperturbed Di Salvo hardly reacts to this disturbing bit of news. Then again, maybe this unflappability doesn’t come from the character, but rather Fabio Testi himself, who had already starred in a number of violent Spaghetti Westerns and Euro crime films, as well as the classic giallo What Have You Done To Solange?, which, along with this film and What Have They Done To Your Daughters?, forms the loose, somewhat sleazy--no, hugely sleazy-- “Schoolgirls In Peril” trilogy. In other words, by this point in his career Fabio Testi had seen his fair share of torn-apart abdomens. 

So jaded is Testi--er, Inspector Di Salvo--that, upon discovering the dead girl is sixteen year old Angela Russo, he visits Angela’s mother and younger sister Emily (Fausta Avelli) at the cemetery. Yes, rather than call the family down to the station for questioning, he decides to show up, unannounced, at Angela’s grave and grill the family right there. His methods may be unconventional, but dammit, he gets results. Young Emily tells Di Salvo Angela had a small, very close-knit group of friends at school who might know something about Angela‘s murder.

“They were called the Inseparables,” says Emily.

Intrigued, Di Salvo decides to visit the school, where he’s introduced to the ridiculously suspicious teaching staff, including the shifty-eyed math instructor and the zonked-out, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing Latin professor. The movie is suddenly like a game, lining up the suspects for us in the simplest, most unimaginative manner possible. Really, it’s like some incredibly seedy version of Clue: The burly, swarthy-looking, probably-pedophiliac gym teacher Mr. Riva did it in the girl’s locker room with the wrench or the menacing-looking reverend who’s only included in the cast for some half-assed attempt at exposing the hypocrisy of Catholicism did it in the confessional with the candlestick.

Then again, maybe the teachers had nothing to do with Angela’s murder. Di Salvo runs into Emily again, who gives him her sister’s pocket calendar and points out the Inseparables to him. Inside the calendar, Di Salvo finds some cash tucked between the pages and a cryptic drawing of a cat on each entry for Saturday. Later, he sees the same symbol on a roadside billboard for a local jean shop, which he quickly learns is the center of a teenage prostitution ring, to which the Inseparables are charter members.       

Soon Di Salvo finds himself the target of Angela’s killer and from there things get pretty convoluted. Still, Trauma--also know as Rings of Fear, Red Rings of Fear, Enigma Rosso, Virgin Killer, and probably fifty or sixty other alternate titles as is the custom of Italian genre pictures--is worth watching, if only for the sheer ludicrousness of scenes like the one where Di Salvo breaks his typically unruffled exterior and barges into the boarding school in the middle of the night. 

“Game’s over girls,” he tells the Inseparables, kicking open the door to their dormitory, turning on the light and hovering over their beds threateningly as they huddle in fear in their nightgowns. “I want you to tell me the truth,” he bellows. “Get it through your heads your friend was raped and murdered, and that the same thing could happen to you unless you tell me everything you know.”

Still later, Di Salvo busts into the home of Michael Parravicini (Jack Taylor), the head of the prostitution ring. He drags the sick bastard out, tosses him into the car, then drives him to a local carnival, where he forces him onto a roller coaster in an attempt to scare a confession out of him. It’s completely nonsensical stuff like this that makes Trauma an interesting watch, even when things start to get a bit rape-y and unpleasant, like the filmmakers' profoundly bad decision to inter-cut footage of an orgy gone wrong with shots of an abortion. How many serial killer movies stop for a trip to the amusement park? Imagine if The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was set at Six Flags and you might have something like this little oddity.

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