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Written and Directed by Dario Argento and starring his daughter, Asia Argento. This horror thriller tells the story about a young woman who escapes from a psychiatric clinic and meets a young man who wants to help. She is caught and returned to her parents, who are soon beheaded by a garrotting stranger making the rounds about town, apparently striking only when it rains. The orphaned young woman and her new lover launch their own investigation and are endangered when a link is discovered with the victims and a particular operation performed years before.
Trauma was director Dario Argento's big crossover attempt at combining the Italian giallo genre with the American stalk 'n' slash. His fans may debate whether the result was a complete success, but the film certainly put his name in front of a wider international audience. Essentially the story is a psycho-murderer-mystery, with the audience made to piece together clues towards the identity-revealing denouement. The movie comes alive as a result of suitably intense performances, even while the characters die.
Piper Laurie and Brad Dourif supply atypically explosive cameos. The leads are contrastingly subdued for the most part, no doubt because of their characters' involvement with drugs. Asia Argento (the director's daughter) is an anorexic who witnesses her parents' decapitations among a series of similar murders by the notorious "Headhunter". Christopher Rydell plays the ex-junkie who takes her in and helps track down the killer. Backing them up are some even greater performances from Tom Savini's eye-boggling special FX. With the aid of a motorised garrotte, the beheadings are gruesomely real, especially the one that leaves a head still able to talk.
On the DVD: Trauma comes to disc in full 2.35:1 widescreen, though this isn't the clearest of transfers (plenty of artefacts present). The sound is in an unspecified Dolby mix. An interesting selection of extras almost makes up for the lack of a commentary. There are filmographies of Dario and Asia, a gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, and trailers for the movie Phantom of the Opera and several more in this series of releases. More interesting are the text features: interviews with Asia on her memories of the shoot and with renegade horror director Richard Stanley surreally recalling his long-term fandom of everything Argento. Most fascinating, there's a mini-essay on what was cut and why by the BBFC for the original UK video release. --Paul Tonks --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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His daughter Asia makes her starring debut later to be excellent in THE STENDAHL SYNDROME.
A good film but Tom Savini has done better with his SFX
There are a few very subtle references to Les Miserables and the French Revolution (most pleasingly in a shot of Piper Laurie in front of a window with the curtain drawn aside to look like a guillotine blade) thrown in along with other half-developed ideas, but even the seemingly foolproof sequences are executed in a haphazard and workmanlike fashion, although there is one nicely inspired moment of improvisation when a killer who only strikes during rainstorms has to despatch a victim in a hotel room on a clear day. Argento's former visual prowess is little in evidence, the mastery of color that was such a feature of his earlier films reduced to a bland palette, but unfortunately many of his old weaknesses are all too apparent. Chief among them is a lot of really terrible acting: between Piper Laurie's tiresome histrionics and Frederic Forrest's Dwight Frye School of Overacting mad doctor, this may be one of the few films where Brad Dourif seems comparatively grounded. Neither of the leads, both played by the children of directors, can compensate, with Christopher Rydell faring only slightly better than Asia Argento, whose offscreen commitment to the role never translates onscreen.
If you're an Argento completist there's probably a bit more here than for the casual viewer, but it's thin stuff, though Anchor Bay's Region 1 NTSC DVD is fairly generous on extras, including four scenes deleted from the US version (two of which are minor plot points somewhat confusingly directly referred to in the US version).
(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.
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