Thursday, 24 December 2015

Arrow Video Review: What Have You Done to Solange? (1972, dir: Massimo Dallamano)

(1972, dir: Massimo Dallamano)
  Enrico Rossini (Fabio Testi, Heroin Busters) is a teacher who is a bit of a naughty boy. Whilst trying to get down on a row boat (of all places) with young student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), their extra curricular activities come to a halt when Elizabeth claims that she has just witnessed the murder of a young girl. Dismissing this is as Elizabeth not wanting to seal the deal, it's not until Enrico is back home with his wife Herta (Karin Baal, Lola) that he hears about the murder on the radio. What starts out as an unfortunate isolated case, soon becomes the first of many gruesome murders. The only connection; all the victims are students at the Catholic girls school in which Enrico works. With the reputation that he has with his students, it's not long until Enrico becomes prime suspect. However, when Elizabeth is continually haunted by visions of a priest and becomes a victim of the sadistic killer, Enrico is soon deemed innocent. With his nubile plaything and career in tatters, he's on the case to solve the mystery once and for all. His marriage? Well, thanks to Elizabeth's frigidity, the pair never actually had sex and that's fine by Herta apparently! The plot thickens when Enrico becomes aware of a mysterious young girl named Solange (Camile Keaton, I Spit on Your Grave). What does she have to do with recent slayings? What exactly happened to Solange?
  What Have You Done to Solange? Is nothing short of a giallo masterpiece. What we have here is a solidly written murder mystery very loosely based on Edgar Wallace's The Clue of the New Pin. Alongside Dallamano we have Bruno Di Geronimo (Flavia the Heretic) and Peter M. Thouet (The Legend of Tim Tyler) on writing duty. Their screenplay goes from sleazy to violent, but is always atmospheric and consistent. There are red herrings a plenty to be found, but thankfully, they actually work and don't feel too forced or ambiguous. Morally however, I do believe it's confused at points. Some may find real problems with our amateur sleuth being what we would now call a sexual predator. Just like Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling and Bido's The Bloodstained Shadow, there's a real sense of distrust to Catholicism here. It would be morally corrupt (HA!) of me to go in to detail, so I will just say that wether the killer is indeed a priest or not, the fact that a character would don the disguise of a priest says a lot. There have been much more eloquent writers who have covered the aspect of Catholicism in cinema, Shelley F. O'Brien's essay Killer Priests: The Last Taboo makes for interesting reading! Moving away from that, what really struck me about Solange was how aesthetically satisfying the experience is. It's no surprise that Morricone's (Do I really need to name drop here?) score is amazing as always with so much range, but quintessentially Morricone. Chances are, you heard extracts of the score before even being aware of the film itself. That combined with some fantastic cinematography from Joe D'Amato (Porno Holocaust), who also has a fun cameo in the film, makes London feel melancholy, yet beautiful and ultimately mysterious. I'm reminded of the empty morning streets found in Bido's Watch Me When I Kill as I watched.
  I said that the film goes from sleazy to violent, that's true. That being said, aside from some genuinely nasty sexualised deaths, the gore is somewhat restrained and often fuels the imagination of the viewer. Those looking for flesh will be very happy with this as there is plenty of schoolgirl action throughout (especially some innocent, yet seductive shower fun). There are plenty of sleazy characters about too. The film is a great example of having some sinister themes and overall nasty moments without it being trivialised by being too exploitative. Plenty of directors could have just gone for all out gore and overly graphic sex. There's a real sense of maturity throughout. Considering that is a somewhat early example of the gialli, I really found this film to be quite a head of its time. We all know that Mario Bava drew up the plans and Dario Argento began building on the foundations, but as much as I have heard many great things about this film, I don't think this film gets the overall credit it deserves. Of course, it's not classically considered a perfect film and even I almost cringed at some of the British dubbing, so many silly accents. All in all, this is an entertaining, often shocking thriller that has to be seen.
Thankfully, the film is presented beautifully both in terms of picture and sound. We have a 2k restoration that is pretty much flawless. Both Italian and English dubs are included with the Italian being the better quality of the two. In terms of on disc special features this is a fantastic release. First of all we have newly edited interviews with Fabio Testi and producer Fulvio Lucsiano from 2006, a new interview with Karin Baal, in which she has some interesting things to say about the film, a fantastic video essay from Michael Mackenzie that looks at Dallamano's “Schoolgirls in Peril” Trilogy, a trailer and to top it off an audio commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman.
Of course, Arrow have included a booklet with writings from Howard Hughes and Art Ettinger and reversible artwork with a fantastic piece of art from Malleus. Overall, this is a must buy for fans and newcomers. If you are yet to dip your toe in to the world of the gialli, this is a great place to start! For the people who had to buy that cheap cardboard sleeved version on Amazon (you know who you are!), you can throw that version away now!

What Have You Done to Solange? Is available as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo from Arrow Video.

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