Trauma, or Dario Argento’s Trauma as the opening title and theatrical trailer would have it, remains an important work in the director’s career as it was his first to secure American backing (excluding the anthology Two Evil Eyes). Indeed, it was also shot entirely on American soil, features an almost entirely American cast (save for Argento’s daughter, Asia, as one of the leads) and was filmed wholly in the English language. Of course, he’d used various performers from the US and other English-speaking territories in the past (ranging from Karl Malden to Jennifer Connelly) and at the time of the film’s release in 1993 – or rather its belated UK VHS showing a few years later – most of us had only experienced his work in crude dubbed versions as opposed to their original Italian. Yet this complete immersion is far more notable as it can be read as a conscious step towards the mainstream.
So what exactly does a mainstream Argento offer his audience – especially a 2005 one repeatedly bludgeoned by innumerable, and ever more inventive, serial killers from both sides of the Atlantic courtesy of such TV fare as Wire in the Blood, Waking the Dead and the stream of C.S.I. variations? On the face of it little has changed from usual setup: we have an unidentified killer who stalks their victims in ever more elaborate manners and an amateur sleuth who attempts to track them down whilst staying one step ahead of the proper authorities. In this case the killer is dubbed “the headhunter” by the media and decapitates its victims using a handy gizmo, the amateur sleuthing is done by illustrator Christopher Rydell (with Ms. Argento in tow) and the familiar collection of red herrings and blind alleys tally up until the unpredictable and wilfully obscure final revelation.
Yet in shifting to the US there is a definite change to be noticed. The set pieces, always Argento’s selling point, remain typically inventive, but in this particular environment the spectres of Alfred Hitchcock and like-minded contemporary Brian DePalma seem more overt than ever. We have Piper Laurie popping up to remind us of Carrie, Pino Donaggio’s string-heavy score is decidedly Herrmann-esque in its outlook (Bernard Herrmann having collaborated with both, most notably on Psycho and Vertigo, and The Sisters and Obsession respectively), and the operatic deployment of familiar genre tropes – shadows on frosted glass doors, prowling POV shots, tree branches hammering on windows – no longer seem quite so individual when used on these other directors’ territory.
Not that Argento especially disappoints in this respect. Indeed, watching Trauma today it still stands head and shoulders above the majority of current American horror efforts in terms of its inventiveness. Though the emphasis may be on the technical – vast crane shots, numerous zooms, tricksy long takes, elaborate make-up and effects by Tom Savini – the film never feels quite as soulless as so many which have been produced since. That said, if Argento does well with big moments, he does struggle with the bits in-between. We can perhaps excuse some of the dodgier acting on display as a result of the director working in a foreign land, but this doesn’t explain the ragged pacing. Despite having the requisite thriller elements in place, Trauma doesn’t quite gel into a coherent whole. The first half is especially sloppy inasmuch as it tries to cram in too many suspects and thus struggles to find a focus and build the requisite level of suspense, whilst the second simply goes on for too long as it awkwardly leaps from mock-climax to mock-climax before reaching its genuine finale. Instead, we have a piece which is both brilliant and frustrating in roughly equal measure (more often than not the case on all of Argento’s post-Inferno works) and as such one that must be marked down as one of the director’s poorer efforts. And yet, substandard Argento still means superior horror and as such Trauma still comes cautiously recommended to those seeking something a little different.
Previously issued in the UK by Tartan in poor quality and non-anamorphically to boot, this offering from Optimum can’t help but be a step up. Indeed, the overall presentation is decidedly fine, with a decent clarity and the original 2.35:1 ratio finally rendered anamorphically. Certainly, there are signs of the print’s age with the occasional flicker early on and some evident grain to the image (resulting in some noticeable artefacting), but these feel like minor flaws when compared to the Tartan effort. As for the soundtrack, the original English stereo is provided and comes across perfectly well – both the dialogue and Donaggio’s score sound absolutely fine and demonstrate no technical flaws to speak of. Sadly, the film is supplemented by a single extra, namely the theatrical trailer.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:29:43