I’m not sure what it is about Italian movies that makes me turn to them in times of stress. Maybe it’s because they don’t seem to take place in our reality, and that quality is somehow soothing (this would explain why I watched Suspiria the night of 9/11 – don’t ask, it just seemed right at the time).
So after a yucko week I went to a friend’s house and popped in What Have You Done to Solange? Much to my surprise, while not without its flaws it’s a well-plotted, smart (but still sleazy) giallo that exists as more than just an excuse for flashy set pieces.
What Have You Done to Solange? opens with two lovers sharing an idyllic afternoon in a rowboat. As Henry (Fabio Testi) starts coaxing Elizabeth (Christina Galbo) toward third base, Elizabeth gets a quick glimpse of something happening on the riverbank: a man in black, a frightened girl, the flash of a knife. Henry thinks Elizabeth is just making it up to distract him from getting into her knickers, but alas, she’s no longer in the mood and asks him to take her back to school.
School being St. Dollybird’s School for Incredibly Hot Girls. Elizabeth’s a student there. As for Henry, he’s a teacher; his subjects are Italian and gym. Yes, gym. Nice work if you can get it! It’s heavily implied that Henry’s dalliance with Elizabeth isn’t the first time he’s been in this somewhat unprofessional, um, position, and it’s earned him the enmity of his academic colleagues and much bitterness from his buttoned-up, frosty wife Frau Blucher (Karin Baal).
Well, it turns out that Elizabeth wasn’t imagining things. Henry hears a news report of a girl found murdered on the riverbank, and in an especially gruesome way. (Suffice to say that the ladies should avoid this movie if they’ve got a gynecological visit in the near future.) Henry goes to scope out the scene, where he manages to both drop his pen and end up in an incriminating photo (good one, Henry). And his attempts to keep his relationship with Elizabeth secret only make the police, who aren’t the dolts we usually see in these movies, even more suspicious. Soon more girls are murdered, both Henry and Frau Blucher are doing some amateur sleuthing, and some ugly secrets emerge about the murder victims and their relationship to a girl named Solange (I Spit On Your Grave’s Camille Keaton).
What Have You Done to Solange? is a rare bird – it’s intelligent trash. The film-makers didn’t just dream the story up as a way to show inventive ways to kill people, but put thought into the characters of the victims, murderer, and others. The relationships between the characters are interesting - if not always plausible, especially with Henry and Frau Blucher (“Next on Oprah, how being a suspect in a hideous murder spree helped save one man’s marriage.”). The killings are nasty but not explicit – aftermath shots and descriptions (and in one case, an X-ray image) bring the nastiness home. And both the reason for and the method of the killings are logical, given the killer’s motivations.
Yet the movie doesn’t ignore its trashy side – rather, it revels in it. There are two (count ‘em, TWO) wholly gratuitous shower scenes that offer up a bounty of young female nudity. Not to mention lascivious professors, sleazy photographers, and mean slutty girls.
It’s not perfect – Henry’s not a very compelling character, and the locale seems a very Italian section of London. But the flaws actually work in the film’s favor, lightening what could have been – and at times is – a relatively grim affair.
Shriek Show’s DVD looks fantastic save for one scene (you’ll know it when you see it), so despite a dearth of extras (trailers and that’s it) the disc is well worth looking into if trashy-but-smart thrillers are your cup of tea.