Synopsis: While on a secret tryst with her school instructor, a young girl witnesses a violent murder. Soon, her teacher becomes the prime suspect in a series of grisly sex crimes as a black gloved killer begins offing his students. Is he the sexual deviant the cops have been looking for, or is something way sleazier going on? Yep, sounds like a giallo!
Thoughts: This past week I was sent a bunch of screeners of upcoming releases from Arrow Films , a U.K. outfit that is sort of a poor man’s Criterion (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible) for cult and niche cinema. I’m slowly working my way through all of them and plan to post more reviews here over the coming weeks. First up, the quasi-infamous giallo WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972) starring Fabio Testi, Karen Baal, and, in her first film, Camille Keaton as the titular Solange. Keaton would go on a few years later to cement her place in exploitation lore with I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and after seeing this film, I’m only half-joking when I say I’m not sure which is the sleazier piece of cinema.
Directed by Massimo Dallamano (cinematographer on Sergio Leone’s classic films A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) with cinematography by Joe D’Amato, himself a legend in the sexploitation and schlock horror market, SOLANGE looks like a bizarre amalgamation of the unbelievably framed and lit Leone films and the gross grindhouse crass of D’Amato. What shouldn’t work when you think about it, somehow, miraculously does and I was pretty impressed by how well the picture looks. Even with all the ugly things going on, the framing, cinematography, classic 70’s zooms, pulls, and pans are all on wonderful display. Hollywood would eventually clean all these films up, throw bigger budgets at them, and call them Slashers, but there is a certain charm to Giallo that Slashers can’t pull off in terms of sheer sleaze. These films deal in similar subject matter but are generally far more graphic and throw taste out the window. SOLANGE is no different. From the opening shots, we’re shown a dead nude woman with a foot long knife sticking into her vagina. If that wasn’t enough, the filmmakers have to throw in an X-ray to show the poor girl’s father how far the knife was buried. As the story progresses, we’re treated to voyeurism, subjective camera drownings, and, in one of the most tasteless sequences I’ve seen in one of these films, a forced abortion on a kitchen table while the characters’ friends hold her down in order to preserve their sex club. Throw in a suspected killer priest, every character lying to each other, and adultery, and you’ve got yourself a sufficiently shower inducing giallo.
That’s not to say the film is bad. In fact, even though this just totally ain’t my thing, I can recognize that the film does hold a certain power. It does its disturbing stuff really well for its genre. I’d say it’s one of the best giallo I’ve ever seen even though I have no desire to ever see it again, if that makes sense. These sorts of horror films, that trade in shock and are blatantly sexist just don’t appeal to me as an older, wiser horror fan. When I was younger, watching women get stripped naked and stabbed by a hidden killer in an overtly sexual way would have garnered a reaction more akin to a badge of honor. “Hey man, you think that’s disturbing? Did you see the movie where the killer stabs the women to death in their vaginas??!!!!” Now, it just seems unseemly and I wonder why one would go out of their way to go to bat for a film like this? One of the extras on the disc has a great interview with Karen Baal, who plays the wife of Fabio Testi’s character. In it, she describes how Dallamano was basically a creep on set and treated Camille Keaton awfully, especially during the abortion scene where he literally made her spread eagle in front of all the other actor’s without her underwear. In another tidbit, she recalls how Dallamano screamed at her when her arm inadvertently covered up one of the actress’s breasts during a kill scene. As I watched her tell these sorts of stories from the set, it created this strange dichotomy between the undeniable artistic flair that the film showcases, and a director who, at least according to her, seemed more interested in flesh and shock than attempting to craft anything meaningful. It’s definitely an interesting film and one that each viewer will probably have their own reaction to. Maybe I can sum it up as a great example of giallo, but one that makes you question the entire sub-genre’s philosophy towards women, violence, and sexuality.
There’s no denying a certain subset of horror fans will dig this movie, and indeed, it does have a lot of positives (almost all dealing with the cinematography). Arrow Films has done a fantastic job on the blu-ray. It’s packed with a bunch of extras, including a really good, 30 minute video essay by Michael Mackenzie that explores the giallo genre as well as all three films in the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy and interviews with Fabio Testi and Karen Baal. The image is near flawless and other than some grain, I didn’t notice any scratches. Love was definitely put into a high quality release, so if you are someone who loves this grimy, sleazetastic giallo films, this is one disc not to miss. DVD and Bluray goes on sale here in America on December 15th.