For his first full-length American production, Italian master of horror Dario Argento (Suspira, The Card Player) delivered the grisly shocker about a disturbed young woman (daughter Asia Argento of XXX and Land of the Dead) who escapes from a sinister rehab clinic, the ex-addict (Christopher Rydell) who becomes her lover and protector, and a string of brutal decapitations by a serial killer called ‘The Headhunter.’ From its startling opening murders to its horrific final twist, experience one of Dario Argento’s most surprising films as you witness all the uncensored horror of Tramai.
Oscar nominees Piper Laurie (Carrie), Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now) and Brad Dourif (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) co-star in this extreme psycho-thriller.
eyelights: it features 24 frames per second. Christopher Rydell. the noose-o-matic.
eyesores: its slipshod storytelling. its ridiculous, convoluted script. Asia Argento’s delivery. Piper Laurie’s performance. the noose-o-matic.
AAAAAARGH!!! Dario Argento can truly deliver pain!!! He can do “good” bad, but he can also lapse into just plain bad – as evidence by 1993’s ‘Trauma’, his first American production.
In ‘Trauma’, we are taken on a convoluted joyride about an anorexic girl whose parents are murdered, and who teams up with an TV news artist to track down the killer. Throw in a lame séance sequence, a few obvious red herrings, some pseudo-psychological mumbo-jumbo, an impractical murder tool, and a handful of contrived twists, and you’ve got the makings of cheapo thriller fare only fit for dustbins.
But mostly, what makes the film so bloody awful to watch are the Argento double-team: in ‘Trauma’ Dario Argento can’t seem to tell a story, regurgitating scenes abruptly and incoherently, while Asia Argento mumbles her lines and overacts every possible emotion like a drama school reject. Between the two of them, the film is quasi-unwatchable. Don’t get me wrong: I like many of Dario’s films, and I find Asia appealing in an unusual way – and I know she can act (or, at least, can not be gawdawful). But neither of them were in top form for this movie.
Actually, most of the cast sucked @$$ – in that BAD way of sucking @$$. I think that the only people who were remotely decent were Christopher Rydell (who’s something like a relatively-talented Brendan Fraser), playing our hero David, and Brad Dourif, who is known for being quite the ham but actually managed to keep it canned this time. Pretty much everyone else was horrendous, including Piper Laurie, who plays a hysterical woman à la Margaret White but with an utterly ridiculous Italian accent marring every single one of her lines.
The film’s construction is also p!$$-poor, stinking things up even more than the flatulent story already does. Oh, one moment our hero is driving, suddenly he stops on the side of the road to stop someone from jumping off a bridge, then he tells someone off for coming to help. One moment our hero is a regular guy who doesn’t even seem to touch a drink, the next he’s a prescription med addict, then he stumbles into the killer’s lair. What? The plot is stupid enough as it is, but it’s put together with little consideration for narrative and/or coherence.
The fact is that, for whatever reason, a lot of scenes were cut out of the final film. I’m not saying that they would have improved matters substantially, but some of it would have helped to flesh things out. For instance, there’s a scene that introduces David to the girl before they properly meet. It’s a dumb scene, and in some ways deserves to be cut, but in other ways it at least informs David’s actions when he sees eventually her on the bridge. Even small bits like when he rents a hotel room to spy on Linda Quirk at least makes the film less jarring.
But it would still be a dumb film. Even its attempts to bring science and psychology into the mix are massive failures. Granted, I know very little about the causes of anorexia or its physical and psychological effects, but everything that was spewed up here sounded like a joke. I did some quick reading afterwards and couldn’t find anything that substantiated what was highlighted in the film: dreams of kissing one’s father, reduced sexuality, bonding of breasts, …etc. It may prove true, but it didn’t feel like it one bit – and the seeming absurdity ruined the impact of the picture.
Kudos to Argento and his screenwriter for wanting to highlight a tragic social disorder that has since grown even more sinister (children as young as eight are known to be affected by the disease!), but if one wants to do so effectively, one has to be convincing – one has to not only be factual, but also be able to deliver a heartfelt and credible set of arguments. As it stands, ‘Trauma’ creates a fictitious view of anorexia that is seemingly as realistic as some of the urban legend junk we find online, such as using cola douches to prevent pregnancy.
Even the film’s greatest gimmick, the so-called noose-o-matic (which is the killer’s weapon), is intriguing but too unwieldy and unusual to be effective:. The killer, who has been nicknamed The Headhunter by the media, uses a mechanical device that looks akin to a cross between a tape gun and the remote control for a toy car. It deploys a wire, which is attached to the handle on one end and to its mechanism on the other. After being hooped over a victim’s head, the wire is drawn back into the mechanism, creating a sawing motion around the neck as it tightens, eventually cutting through. It’s an original idea, but it’s awkward and, when one discovers who the killer is, it’s obvious that it would not have been usable as the murder weapon.
(Don’t even get me started on the killer’s identity! Not only is it ridiculous, especially the motive, but Argento deliberately deceives the audience by showing us entirely different footage of the killer at the beginning of the movie from the one shown at the end – thereby making it painfully clear that we couldn’t possibly have guessed the killer’s identity. It’s disgustingly dishonest and lazy. And, to make matters worse, these two “mirror” sequences were really poorly stage; it pains me just to recall them.)
To put it succinctly, ‘Trauma’ was not put together in an intelligent fashion. Almost every moment of the picture is ludicrous in one way or another and wouldn’t hold up to even the barest scrutiny. Personally, I think that there’s the making of a pretty terrific film here, but it would require a whole new script, new cast, and a more steady hand behind the camera. I would actually welcome a remake of it – which is rare for me.
In its current form, however, this may not be a traumatic enough experience that I won’t recover, but it has to be said that Argento sure knows how to scar an audience.
Date of viewing: February 11, 2013