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Trauma (1993)

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Directed by: 
Dario Argento
Chris Rydell
Asia Argento
Piper Laurie
Bottom Line: 

I'm so confused! I've been reading mostly heavy internet criticism of Trauma for quite some time now. It's usually accused of being an "Americanised" Argento film and it's often criticised for toning down the use of angles and colours, and the usual high violence levels. However, I don't see it that way at all and I really don't understand the disliking of this movie. Trauma certainly finds it's way into my Argento top-ten. Easily.
The film portrays a love story between an anorexic and suicidal young girl called Aura (Asia) and a recovering drug addict (Rydell). This takes place whilst a killer nick-named the "Head Hunter" is at large, paralysing victims with a blow to the head or top of the spine with a hammer, and then decapitating them with a high-tech garroting device. After the murders of Aura's parents, Aura and David find themselves searching for the killer's identity themselves. There's great chemistry here between Asia and Rydell and their behaviour is often endearing. However whilst both provide great performances, it's Asia that impresses the most with her depiction of the troubled teenager.
It's disturbing to watch people be struck with hammers, and then have their necks being sliced through whilst they're still conscious and a great set-piece death is provided when someone's killed by the use of an elevator. Oddly enough, it's actually Tom Savini's effects that struck me as the weakest component of the feature. Those severed heads look quite poor for such a modern film.
Despite claims to the contrary, the film does feature impressive camerawork and some hugely exciting visuals. Those visuals are quite often seen through the perspective of the Aura character. BTW Have you ever seen a butterfly point-of-view shot before? I certainly hadn't before this and it's those small flights of whimsy from Dario Argento that makes me love his movies even more.
I'm certainly no giallo expert (Monkeyman is!) but Trauma seems to me to be a very traditional giallo entry despite the fact that it was shot in the US. Although it also tackles brave issues such as the subjects of anorexia and drug abuse, and it features an extremely moving relationship between the Aura and David characters.
It's small shots and moments such as a burning newspaper, David wandering through a surreal sheet-filled room, or the camera tracking around the hands at a séance table that also impress me. One of the murders was shown in a satisfying silhouette style but it certainly didn't seem to me like it was done to avoid bloodshed. It just seemed to me that it was a different technique being used by Argento. (Till the gag at the 'Swan Lake' venue in Sleepless/Non Ho Sonno!)
The footage of the geckos also pleased me, as did the look of disgust on the little boy's face (which matched mine) when he clenched his fist in panic whilst still holding one! And that bit with the butterfly being eaten was quality stuff! Watch it and see what I mean. I also loved the idea of one of the protagonists rushing over to a freshly severed head because he can see it mouthing or whispering a clue. I know it's impossible for a head to talk without a body but I just don't care. It was a great idea.
Trauma features genuinely touching moments such as David searching the moonlit water for a suicidal Aura, or David's short monologue on anorexia whilst driving through the city. When the killer's motivation is revealed at the end, it's told via a disturbing flashback and I could actually understand the killer's behaviour. Also, considering that motivation, it seemed particularly ironic who captured or stopped that killer at the end of the film.
Pino Donnagio's score sometimes seems quite weak or should I just say, not as exciting as those by either Goblin, Morricone or Emerson. But it still has its moments. There's nothing wrong with it as such, it just doesn't strike you in the same way. Much like Gaslini's contributions to Dario's Deep Red/Profondo Rosso. Having said that, the Ruby Rain female vocaltrack and its echoing in the score, affected me a great deal! The biggest surprise came with the reggae track at the end which then merges into that Ruby Rain female vocal. It struck me as pretty darn fabulous to hear that track again whilst watching the credits roll past that shot of the woman with her hair blowing back. Great stuff.
So there it is. One man's honest opinion. Like The Stendhal Syndrome after it, Trauma is one of the most unfairly dismissed Dario Argento films. It's far better than I expected and as well as featuring the usual Argento motifs (violent black gloved killer), it's the most touching film of his that I've seen to date. That's due to the chemistry, dialogue and the performances of both Asia and Rydell.
As for this DVD...
Tartan have released it at a lowish price (around £13) so I can't complain too much about the lack of extras. I was just happy to see the film finally made available on a widescreen DVD. However the extras are pretty damn poor and the DVD isn't anamorphic. The print quality is still impressive and it looked at its best when I increased the picture height on my television.
The extras are somewhat lacking to say the least, and, in the case of a text-only interview with Asia Argento, or the article by Richard Stanley, downright frustrating. Rather than having pages to click through, these two parts play in real time and you have to wait a long time for the next part of the interview or article to appear on the screen. A very strange decision.
The forthcoming Italian version of Trauma should be available soon after the release of this disc and it will also be an extended version with several minutes of extra footage (mostly dialogue), so it may well be worth holding out for that. But at this price from Tartan, I'd advise you to pick up this widescreen dvd now and enjoy! I'm extremely pleased to have bought it and it's more than likely that I'll also be buying that slightly longer cut at some point in the near future.

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