Nine More Nights of Argento #2 – “Trauma” (1993)

StendhalLast October, I saw the first nine films directed by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. With the spooky season upon us again, I’ve decided to check out the back-half of Argento’s filmography, from 1990’s George A. Romero team-up Two Evil Eyes to 2012’s notorious flop Dracula 3D.

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Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Something about being back in Giallo Land just makes me as giddy as a kid in a candy shop. This brain-achingly bizarre world of black-gloved killers, thespians of questionable talent, and over-the-top gore effects may be off-putting to some, but for yours truly, it’s become as comforting as a mug of hot cocoa. And to think I was all prepared for Trauma to be the beginning of a disappointing latter-day career slump, only to be surprised with Dario Argento’s wildest and most entertaining film since 1985’s Phenomena.

Asia Argento (in her first appearance in one of her father’s films) plays Aura, a winsome but troubled Italian teenager living in a rain-swept and weirdly deserted Minneapolis. Poor Aura already has her share of problems before the mysterious Head Hunter Killer swings by her place one rainy night to collect both her psychic parents’ heads with a motorized wire decapitation machine, a terrifying gadget that would go on to be stolen wholesale for Ridley Scott‘s curious flop The Counselor twenty years later. With the help of her new friend David, Aura sets out to find the Head Hunter before he finds her.

If this sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because it’s essentially a shuffle of the same mystery-killer-on-the-loose plot that Argento has been doing since The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. However, unlike a lot of his earlier efforts which burnt up running time with lots of meandering and mumbling, the mystery in Trauma is tight, propulsive, and constantly engaging. Just when you think the central film is going to lose steam, something new and outrageous drops in out of nowhere, including a delightful Rear Window-esque subplot, a hospital-set bloodbath, and a surprise visit by horror icon Brad Dourif, who, before you can ask yourself “Is Brad Dourif going to flip out and go crazy in this movie?”, promptly flips out and goes crazy.

Of course, no Argento flick would be complete without multiple lapses into madcap non-sequitur. Take for example the film’s weird fixation on anorexia, which reaches its crescendo with an inexplicable voiceover loaded with dubious medical insights courtesy of Dr. Argento. Or the frequent closeup shots of lizards, which brings to mind Werner Herzog‘s penchant for iguanas in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. And don’t even get me started on the final shot of the film, which seems to just kind of drift off into the batty belfries of Argento’s subconscious.

So is it a perfect film? No, but then again, you don’t buy a ticket aboard the Argento Express for safe travels. Trauma marks my eleventh bumpy ride on this crazy train and it just wouldn’t feel right if things didn’t threaten to derail and careen off a cliff at every junction.

Next up: THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996)

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Categories: Dario Argento, Director Spotlight, Features, Reviews

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