Dario Argento's career as a horror great was on the wane in the early 90s. This was an unsure period, where his output didn't quite seem to have that same spark, yet audiences didn't know much much further there was to fall. As its 30th anniversary nears however, is Trauma an unsung classic? Or were first impressions right?...
Reporter David rescues young Aura Petrescu, an anorexic teenager, from suicide, only for her to witness the brutal murder of her parents on her return home. The murders seem to be part of a recent cycle-All decapitations, all on rainy nights. Together, the pair decide to investigate the killings, in a hope to finally put an end to the violence...
Trauma is everything I expected. It's not a hidden masterpiece, but it's also not as terrible as later Argento films. I found it to be simply mediocre. It's got a few good qualities, but also not the best either. It's also a little too long, at nearly 2 hours.
It doesn't really feel much like an Argento film. Perhaps why it's this more than any other of his films that gets compared to Brian DePalma. Usually it was the other way around, with critics and fans noting DePalma's many unacknowledged cribbing's from Argento's works (and Bava's, etc. Look Brian, I love ya man, but you gotta be honest and give credit!). Trauma however feels like an American director who's maybe read a bit about Italian cinema trying to imitate it.
The film is very American, which I don't find to be a negative itself, but rather a symptom. The film isn't mediocre because it's American, but because of the local producers who wanted a safe product, making it look just like everything else.
I found Trauma slightly comparable with Troll 2, but in a good way. That movie is notorious for its production, which was crewed entirely by Italians, trying to give phonetic script translations to American actors. Trauma, being crewed by Italians who could actually speak English, and weren't entirely incompetent (sorry Claudio!) fares much better, but make no mistake, it's still...odd, in a particular way.
Aura is a decent protagonist, and one with a serious problem, as she suffers from anorexia. The film doesn't delve too deeply into this. It's always there, and is important, but never at the forefront. I feel this is a good decision, as it focuses as much as it needs to, without overtaking the action. Trauma never portrays the condition in a cheesy, inaccurate, or disrespectful way (although David's friend does rattle off a few bizarre bits of 'trivia').
David is likewise alright. Noting remarkable, but an everyday 90s leading man. His role in the climax is pretty small though. Sitting by a store, he just so happens to see the killer walking by, and follows. No real ingenuity in his part, just pure luck.
There's one strange scene he gets in a chemists, which shows why you don't fuck with pharmacists! There's another odd part when David asks the boy next to the killer's house if he's seen anything, and tries getting him to talk by saying he'll be his best friend.
Somewhat concerning to some is that there are brewings of a romance. But the movie plays it off mostly like an older brother relationship, with a youthful crushing on Aura's part. It's not really reciprocated, and he himself acknowledges the gap, but he probably intends to tap that after a few years.
Aura's mother is the most over-the-top presence in the film, and adds a few laughs. The killer's identity was plainly obvious to me. I didn't even realise it was meant to be a surprise. It felt like the movie didn't even attempt to hide their face.
Last up is the boy who lives next door. He gets a Rear Window style plot, in a fairly obvious but subtly played Hitchcock throwback. While he has one particular moment of idiocy partway through, this kid gets a lot of credit from me, because he and he alone is the one who saves the day! The heroes don't do squat, and instead this 10 year old nabs the killer! Granted, he'll probably need a lot of therapy, but at least he knows that crime doesn't pay!
While primarily its own thing, Trauma hearkens back to Deep Red in a slightly crazy but still decently effective seance sequence. The action in the psychiatric hospital is alright (barring one annoying patient), and reminiscent of Phenomena.
One of Trauma's biggest issues is that for all the tagline's bluster about how it's a new dimension of fear, the movie just isn't very scary. There's a whole 40 minutes in-between murders at one point, and the events have practically nothing to do with the killer. There are no stalking sequences, nor any indication the killer is even targeting the heroes. The victims to this point have been so random that the plot is very unclear, and considering this is almost an hour in, this is a problem. We should've gotten a steady dripfeed of info, but instead the movie seems to forget it's a horror, and becomes a teen drama.
The mystery is overall disappointing. There no clues, no suspects, no motivations, and no pattern. It does eventually come together into a jawdropping origin, and one that's a real stretch of credibility.
Trauma's biggest sin is that it's simply dull. It feels like a daytime movie, and shows off America in a very drab way. Nothing wrong exactly, but there are no colours except for a dull brown, and no garish sets. Only one dream sequence gives any kind of uniqueness.
The film does have touches of Argento's trademark absurdity, like a severed head that manages to rattle off a few words before croaking, and a victim's severed head screaming as it falls down an elevator shaft. I heard about these going in, and was afraid they might be less impressive than they were made up to be. Thankfully they were everything I wanted and more! It had me howling.
The death scenes have no ingenuity to them, and are all the same. They're all decapitations, all committed the same way. There's one notable exception, when the killer's device goes haywire, and they have to improvise, leading to one of the funniest death scenes in an Argento movie! Decent in concept, hilarious in execution. Strangely, a couple of the suspenseful scenes just start without warning, like there's some missing build-up.
The effects in Trauma are alright. A little hokey in places, but nothing I'd call bad. Not that impressive either. Not to compare to much to previous Argento efforts, but the first 15 minutes of Suspiria had more violence than the entirety of Trauma. The mechanical garotte is a well designed piece though.
The acting here is alright. Christopher Rydell gives the best performance by default, playing a standard hero. Asia Argento meanwhile is her usual unstable self, giving a weird performance. It is at least justified by her character here, but still a little offputting. There's a brief scene of nudity, which isn't exploitative but is a tad pointless, especially considering this is the director's daughter! Typical Europeans...
The film criminally underuses its supporting cast, with neither Piper Laurie or Brad Dourif getting substantial roles. They do well when onscreen, if over-the-top in her case. When acting in Carrie, Laurie felt the movie was so silly that she couldn't take it seriously, and so gave what she felt was a matching comedic performance (ironically resulting in one of horror's more terrifying performances). With that trivia in mind I wondered what she made of Trauma, and apparently she thought much the same, pissing herself during the shoot. I can totally understand, and I'm glad she didn't have a boring time!
The score here is quite boring honestly There are a few nice tracks, but nothing special. The best one is near the end, and it was noticing how good that one was (I mean it wasn't great, but...) that really made me realise how little I'd noticed the rest of the score. Apparently longtime Argento stalwarts Goblin were meant to score the film, but the U.S. distribution company thought they sounded too offbeat and Italian. *sigh* The film ends, strangely enough, with what feels like a reggae music video over the credits.
Overall, Trauma isn't a bad movie, per se, but you could watch at least two episodes of Murder, She Wrote in the time it'd take to watch this, and you'd get far more far sooner out of those than you would out of this whole film. And considering this was crafted by a maestro of horror, it's really not a good sign when you'd be better off with Jessica Fletcher...