(USA/Italy - 1993)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Technovision)
Theatrical soundtrack: Dolby Stereo
Though often cited as one of the films which signalled a creative downturn in the career of director Dario Argento, TRAUMA is actually a much better entry than its reputation might suggest. Asia Argento (the director's daughter) plays a distraught anorexic whose life is turned upside down when she witnesses the decapitation-murder of her psychic mother (Piper Laurie) at the hands of a vicious serial killer. As in so many previous Argento movies, Asia resolves to uncover the killer's identity, aided by a sensitive TV newsroom artist (Christopher Rydell, son of actor-director Mark Rydell) who's taken pity on her circumstances, prompting a number of other murders and culminating in a Grand Guignol climax, one of the finest sustained set-pieces in Argento's long career.
Despite the fact that TRAUMA is an American film, the style is distinctly Italian in tone and execution: The ultra-wide scope framing, constantly inventive camerawork (including a bizarre shot from the point-of-view of a butterfly!!), ornate narrative structure and eccentric characterisations have more in common with the excesses of European cinema than the formal elegance of most Stateside productions. It's no wonder that some of the supporting American players seem a little disconcerted by the scriptwork and the director's unconventional filmmaking technique (including Frederic Forrest [FALLING DOWN] as a doctor sporting an unexplained neck-brace, and James Russo [DANGEROUS GAME] as a typically hard-boiled cop, always one step behind the film's youthful protagonists).
But the script - co-written by Argento and celebrated fantasy author T.E.D. Klein - adheres faithfully to the giallo template, punctuating its convoluted storyline with several grisly murders (though not THAT grisly, considering the involvement of makeup wiz Tom Savini), and a number of compelling set-pieces: The seance which ends in murder; the mental institution where the killer disposes of an important 'clue'; the room full of billowing drapes (an authentic stroke of genius); and the climactic revelation of the killer's motive, which is so utterly horrific, it almost justifies his/her gruesome rampage. The movie isn't called TRAUMA for nothing!
At least two other versions of this film have surfaced in bootleg video form over the years, one running 109m, the other 113m (at 24fps), and these variant editions plug a numper of gaping editorial gaps in the official 'director's cut' (note, for instance, the abrupt introduction of Rydell and Asia at the beginning of the film) which indicates either distributor problems or a rushed post-production schedule. This may also explain why Pino Donaggio's half-hearted score sounds like it was written and recorded before completion of principal photography and subsequently tailored to match the finished product, rather than the other way around. Of the cast, only Asia fails to impress, portraying the same joyless harpy she's played in all her collaborations with Argento to date (including THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), leaving Rydell to shoulder most of the film's emotional burden in a hugely sympathetic role as a young man who learns to accept Asia's flaws whilst simultaneously falling in love with her (few) virtues. Frankly, she doesn't deserve him! Piper Laurie (THE HUSTLER) dominates proceedings during her limited screen time, and Brad Dourif (the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) makes an unlikely cameo appearance as a former doctor whose guilty conscience comes back to haunt him in the worst possible way. Watch out for former "Falcon Crest" star Laura Johnson in a brief but creepy performance (her final scene is genuinely chilling) as an ambitious TV news anchorwoman who tries to stake her claim on Rydell in no uncertain terms.