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An anorexic young woman 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. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
A TV newsroom artist (Mark Rydell) helps a distraught anorexic (Asia Argento) to investigate the death of Argento's mother (Piper Laurie) at the hands of a monstrous serial killer.
Though often cited as the film which signalled a creative downturn in Dario Argento's career, TRAUMA is actually a much better entry than its reputation suggests. The victim of spotty theatrical distribution and horrendous pan-scanned video versions - which reduce the wide Technovision frame to a mere shadow of its former self - the film is an exercise in giallo excess, culminating in one of the finest Grand Guignol set-pieces of this director's long career. Indeed, far from providing evidence of 'creative decline', TRAUMA is actually a fine addition to Argento's filmography, and is ripe for reappraisal.
Despite its American setting, the film is defiantly European in style and execution, employing ultra-wide scope framing, inventive camera-work (including a bizarre shot from the point-of-view of a butterfly!!), ornate narrative structure and eccentric characterizations. It's no wonder some of the supporting American players seem a little disconcerted by the director's unconventional approach (including Frederic Forrest as a doctor sporting an unexplained neck-brace, and James Russo as a typically hard-boiled cop, always one step behind the film's youthful protagonists)! And 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 ain't called TRAUMA for nothing!
At least two other versions of the film have surfaced in bootleg video form over the years, both of which plug a number 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 explain why Pino Donaggio's half-hearted score sounds like it was written and recorded before completion of principal photography and tailored to match the finished product, rather than the other way around. The cast is a typical Argentonian mixed bag: Asia portrays 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 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! Laurie makes much of her limited screen time as Asia's domineering mother, while Brad Dourif (the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) plays a former doctor whose guilty conscience comes back to haunt him in the worst possible way. Watch out for ex-"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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