Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday Asia Argento! Trauma (Dario Argento, 1993)


By six degrees of Brad Dourif, I'm finally updating this dusty old blog. Meant to post this on Dario's birthday (7th September) but life intruded and it went on the back burner. But as it's his daughter Asia's birthday today (she's turning 41), seemed an ideal time to finally finish it, with her being one of the stars of course. Spoke about this before briefly as part of My First Moviethon but been meaning to come back to it in depth ever since. So here we go...


The movie opens by showing us some kind of mechanical diorama that I'm guessing is about the French Revolution. What's important for our purposes though is that some poor bugger has got their head chopped off via le guillotine. In a way, it's a curious way to begin (though it does have significance to the plot) and one of many quirky moments to be found throughout that have Argento's prints all over them. Also, it's the first of quite a few instances in which Trauma seems to be riffing on Deep Red


Following this, it's off to the chiropractor's... and also off with their head, as an unseen assailant uses a rather nifty device that mechanically closes a noose of piano wire or something around this poor lady's neck and allows the killer to collect their first trophy. As a side note, this scene also introduces an element that instantly predisposes me to love the movie... that is, it's frickin' pissing it down! And without getting into why (cause spoilers), rain will prove to be very important throughout the film.


Next, we meet our protagonists. David (Christopher Rydell) is driving along a bridge one day and sees a young girl (Asia) climbing over the side. Being concerned at what may be about to happen, he stops and goes over to try and draw her away from the waters beckoning below. With some reluctance, she goes with him and they drive off. And that, dear reader, is the first of many times throughout that Asia's character, Aura, will essentially get kidnapped by someone. Sure it's consensual here but still more than a bit creepy. Seriously though, keep count of how many times this sort of thing happens as the film unfolds...


While getting acquainted at a restaurant, we discover that Aura is anorexic... and also apparently AWOL from psychiatric care. After trying to eat something and quickly having to throw it back up, she leaves David and heads outside... where she's spotted by two guys apparently working for the hospital, who force her into a car and drive away. So yes, within the space of five minutes, Asia has been carried off twice.


They take her home, where we meet her mother (the great Piper Laurie... and there's your second David Lynch connection folks) and father (Dominique Serrand), who are preparing to hold a seance (this apparently being what mum does for a living) and to give us, arguably, one of the film's standout scenes. 


Everything about this, from the returning rain, ominous music (from the great Pino Donaggio) and the way it's staged (dig the slow track in seen above, past a candle flame that's in front of Piper Laurie) and performed is pitch perfect in my book. Part way through the scene, after we hear that the killer is PRESENT, the shit hits the fan and a tree bursts through the window. Confusion erupts and not long after, Aura runs outside, after her mother and father, only to find them decapitated, their heads held up by a shadowy figure who then flees the scene. The frankly dodgy looking Dr. Judd (Frederic Forrest), who we first saw before the seance, sneaking about, then shows up, further startling Asia. She's bundled into the back of a police car but soon absconds again. 


Soon after, she reunites with David... partly to return the wallet she pinched off him but also, of course, as she's now homeless. Cue more dubious goings on (see below) and horrible pop psych discussions of anorexia that sometimes feel like Argento is directing a PSA: "a lot of anorexics die..." and you might want to as well during this scene. Joking aside, even this nonsense is kind of endearing to me after many viewings.



We're also introduced to a sort-of Macaulay Culkin lookalike kid (Cory Garvin), who lives next door to the head hunter and can see one of their trophies staring at him when looking out of his bedroom window.



David and Aura team up to try and stop the killer but they soon hit a road bump when Aura is whisked away, yet again, back to the hospital. And I'll leave it there r.e. the plot...



It's generally agreed that Argento was sliding into a career decline by the time the '90s rolled around... and to a point, I can't argue. Nothing he did in this decade or beyond kicks my arse the way his '70s and '80s films do... but having said this, I'm not knocking the guy. He had an incredible run from '70 through to Phenomena in '85 (love '87's Opera more and more as well) and I think sometimes folks forget this. And while I don't love Trauma on the level I do those older movies, I still have a shit ton of affection for it, warts and all. 


I mean there's no getting round it, there's some daft stuff in this film (like the aforementioned patronising the audience r.e. anorexia) but if you're already attuned to the excesses and indulgences of Argento's work, then this is all part of the fun to be had in watching them. 


One other example springs to mind here in terms of what I'm talking about, which can be summed up in two words... talking heads... oh, and one screaming head. Seven words then. Anyway... basically, there are not one, or two, but three instances throughout where decapitated heads defy the laws of known biology and make some motherfucking noise. Again though, I'm not knocking this... I love it. Especially one instance involving a horror icon. I'll say no more, in case you haven't seen it.



Overall though, what we have is a solid '90s giallo from the master of the form, which, like other Argento film, re-uses and references motifs from his back catalogue.... and as I said before, especially Deep Red (but to get into specifically why might risk spoilers). And while it can't hold a candle to that classic (to be fair, very few can), I think it holds its own against any decent entry from the genre. Stylishly shot (by Raffaele Mertes), suspenseful and containing one of the most brilliantly contrived and ridiculous motivations for a killer I've ever seen, it pretty much ticks all the boxes in terms of what I want from one of these films. Plus, given its vintage and the fact that Italian horror was sadly dying a death at this point, it's even more impressive.


A bit of trivia for you. This was Argento's first full length American film... following on from collaborating with George A. Romero on Two Evil Eyes (and more on "The Black Cat" here) in 1990. Also connecting Trauma and that film is one Tom Savini, who of course provides the effects, and created the ingenious murder weapon, dubbed the "noose-o-matic". Apparently the effects were originally going to be more elaborate but Dario wanted to dial back the gore a bit this time. Also, Savini was meant to have a part in the film but for what ever reason, that didn't happen either.


Supposedly the story was inspired by Asia half sister, Anna Ceroli, who was anorexic. She's the girl seen above and below dancing on a balcony in front of a reggae band (and then to Donaggio's gorgeous song, "Ruby Rain") during the end credits. Tragically, she would die the year later in a scooter accident. And by the way, Asia's other half sister, Fiore, shows up uncredited as the Farraday Clinic's receptionist.




Finally, kudos to the cast, who are all pretty decent I think... especially Asia, who already was showing promise as an actress and Piper Laurie, who is super creepy, as always. Oh, and Brad Dourif, who brings his characteristic intensity to the party but sadly, doesn't get nearly enough screen time.

So if you're sold on gialli and/or Argento and haven't seen this/watched it once and didn't care for it, I'd highly recommend giving it a chance (or another). If nothing else, you'll never look at an elevator shaft (if you have chance to) the same way ever again.