(Dario Argento, Italy, 1993)


Italian director Dario Argento (Inferno, 1980, Tenebrae, 1982) is a major cult figure in Europe, but sadly far less known in English speaking markets. The extent of his celebrity is well indicated by the fact that this film is officially called Dario Argento's Trauma, the kind of titular honour once reserved only for Federico Fellini.


Argento's flamboyant films resemble Brian De Palma's early work, such as Carrie (1976), but they are even more extreme and operatic. (Argento in fact sulkily considers himself royally ripped-off by De Palma.) His movies usually combine gruesome gore with a gleefully contrived whodunit element.


Argento is never afraid to sacrifice traditional narrative coherence for a dazzling, shock revelation. And even the most nightmarish of human perversions canvassed by his movies is presented with a poetic grace worthy of F.W. Murnau or the Surrealists.


Although Argento's fans generally agree that his career has been in something of a decline since the mid-'80s, Trauma marks a welcome return to form.  As usual, the scenario is a wild mish-mash of mysterious serial killings, identity switches and supernatural portents.


Argento likes to find the horror lurking in everyday sites and institutions: hospitals and nuclear families. The actors especially Piper Laurie, perfect for this material after Carrie and the TV series Twin Peaks (1990-91) throw themselves into the outlandish melodrama with utmost conviction.


As in Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1994), Argento pushes many horrific scenes to the very brink of incomprehensibility, inspiring terror in viewers who are never entirely sure what they are seeing or hearing, and can only imagine the worst.


Also like Body Snatchers, Trauma increases its chill factor by including references to contemporary lifestyle phobias such as anorexia. In a priceless moment of the film, the hero (Christopher Rydell) looks out his car window and reflects upon the many thin, beautiful women in the street: "There are 8 million anorexics out there ... attached to a deeply disturbed mother!"

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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