Friday, October 5, 2012

Film Review: What Have You Done To Solange?

"What Have You Done To Solange?"  *** (out of ****)

Since the inception of this blog it has been a tradition that I spend the month of October reporting on the films shown at the Chicago International Film Festival and review horror films in honor of Halloween. This year will be no different. One year I reviewed the work of producer Val Lewton. Another year I reviewed films starring Universal Studio Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man). This year I thought I would try something different and spend some time reviewing foreign horror films, in particular Italian giallo films.

Those that read me on a regular basis know of my great appreciation for the work of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, considered by some of the master of the giallo genre. I have reviewed several of his films in the past on this site. But, Argento isn't the only filmmaker associated with this genre. Several other giallo films have been made, "What Have You Done To Solange?" (1972) is one you may hear mentioned now and then.

First lets discuss what exactly "giallo" means. Giallo is Italian for yellow. This is the color of the cover of cheap (as in price not quality) supernatural horror stories. Thus, the genre was named after the color. Again, if we associate the genre with Argento, the familiar cinematic traits consist of lavish death sequences, the super natural, heavy violence, and an almost fetish for blood.

"What Have You Done To Solange?" doesn't exactly follow that formula. It is more of a psychological suspense film rather than a horror film. It does offer a bit of titillation though, showing naked college age girls, lots of thighs and the promise of breast.

The sexuality aspect of the film actually plays a role in the film as it is in many ways a cautionary tale against premarital sex. Many would argue horror films in general are arguments against premarital sex. Remember in the horror satire "Scream" (1996) one of the characters says the virgin is always the survivor?

In "What Have You Done To Solange?" (which was released in the U.S. in 1975) the setting is an all-girls Catholic school where an Italian teacher, Mr. Rosseni (Fabio Testi) may be a suspected serial killer who is killing off these students one by one. Mr. Rosseni has a reputation of becoming intimate with these students which makes him a prime suspect. Or may make his jealous wife, Herta (Karin Baal) a suspect.

The murderer rips off the clothes of these young girls and kills them with a knife. He inserts the knife in their vagina. Already we are able to make the sexual connections. First of all the knife, I suppose, could be seen as a phallic object. The fact that it is inserted into the vagina would only add to that point. The fact that the girls are of college age and therefore perhaps sexually active makes the dangers of premarital sex argument. You see, the killer is only going after sexually active students.

Now of course with all of this we feeding into the stereotype that horror films are misogynistic. These are claims with have even been thrown at various filmmakers in the genre, i.e. Argento, Hitchcock. The victims are almost always female and they die the most gruesome deaths.

Why am I making a point of discussing the social context of this film as oppose to merely writing about acting or plot? Because the film makes these social points so strongly. It is what is front and center in the plot. Yes, it follows the milieu of the horror genre but "What Have You Done To Solange?" is expressly about sex, virginity and abortion.

It is because "What Have You Done To Solange?" pushes these themes so strongly I was a little off put by the film. One would think the filmmaker wanted to make a morality chamber piece. I would have preferred if these themes were in the subtext of the film not the forefront. I would have also preferred more suspense and horror. Still, the film follows in the tradition of standard suspense films.

When compared to an Argento film, Massimo Dallamano's film seems polished but not quite as artistic as say "Suspiria" (1977), Argento's best film and a film which also takes place in an all-girls school, or "Deep Red" (1975) another contender for Argento's best. The acting seems more natural. Sometimes an Argento film can be campy, especially his later films. Here we are dealing with people who behave in a normal manner. We can understand their motivations.

The film does have a nice look to it but feels dated. The musical score by Ennio Morricone was an, at the time, "modern" jazzy score but doesn't always compliment scenes nicely heightening our sense of suspense. But I did like some moments. My favorite is a POV (point of view) angle where we follow the killer walking up stairs approaching his victim and then running down the same staircase.

As I said, "What Have You Done To Solange?" is not a scary film. It has some nice suspenseful touches, moments of good acting and some interesting camera work. The movie works more as a suspense film. I do believe there is an audience for this movie. I'm not sure how much enjoyment people may get watching this movie on Halloween. At its best "What Have You Done To Solange?" follows the formula of your standard suspense film at its worst it is a preachy message film.

Still, I somewhat recommend it.