Friday, January 8, 2010

What Have They Done to Solange? (1972)

Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Starring Camille Keaton, Cristina Galbo, Fabio Testi
Rated R

"Do you always have to be so piss elegant?"

Considered a masterpiece of the Giallo genre, What Have They Done to Solange is, admittedly, a beautiful film to look at. That's not surprising, given its impeccable pedigree. Solange was shot by sex n' sadism expert Joe D'Amato, directed by one of Sergio Leone's cinematographers, Massimo Dallamano, and scored by Ennio Morricone. It also features a bevy of breezy, natural beauties in its cast, including I Spit On Your Grave star Camille Keaton, Christina Galbo (Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue), and Pilar Castel (The Torture Chamber of Baron Blood). All of this should, naturally, lead you to believe that you're in for a rare treat. And that's what you get, if you consider a boredom-induced nap a treat.

Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is a professor at an all-girl's school. He is married to a cold, shrewish German woman, Herta (Karin Baal). So, naturally, he sleeps with his students. One afternoon he's out on a rowboat, putting the moves on one such young charge, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo). Liz manages to ward off his advances long enough to witness a murder in the woods.
Both of the secret lovers keep their mouths shut about the incident until further bodies - all of 'em Elizabeth's school chums - start to pile up around campus. Every victim dies the same way - stabbed through the vadge with a big shiny knife. Ouch.

Feeling guilty about her silence, Liz spills the beans to the cops. Then she gets summarily drowned in her bathtub.

Enrico and Herta - bonded once again, now that his mistress has been snuffed - band together to find the girl-killer. Enrico's hunt leads him to a very groovy photographer/Jimi Hendrix rip-off who tips him off that a mysterious (and currently missing) girl named Solange is the key to solving the mystery.

How does he know this? Because he's fucking cool, man. That's how.

Meanwhile, this guy here serves as the red-herring. He's another teacher in the school. He carved out a little hole in the wall so he can watch the girls shower together. Just like in Porkys!

Solange (Camille Keaton) suddenly pops up out of nowhere and starts wandering around, which brings the whole hazy house of cards crashing down on the heads of Enrico and the cops.

Eventually the killer kidnaps Brenda (Claudia Butenuth) and she explains the whole sordid tale via sepia-toned flashbacks.

And everything ties up neatly. Weirdly, but neatly. The end.

That is, of course, the short version. At nearly two-hours long, Solange takes its sweet fuckin' time getting to the point. For example, the first 45 minutes are dedicated wholly to the cops trying to get Enrico to admit he saw the first murder. That's it. 45 minutes of Italian dudes in sports coats yapping at each other. I am aware that Giallo is not a genre known for its whiplash pacing, but even still, this thing lurches along like half-frozen pancake syrup. That's not really a condemnation - it's still a gorgeous looking film, full of color and fluid camerawork and sunny, skinny blondes riding bicycles - but if I were you, I'd gulp down a few cups of espresso before taking Salonge on, lest you snooze away half the afternoon, like I did.

PS: Solange is an Italian film with (mostly) Italian actors, but it was shot in England, and the non-English speaking cast members did all their lines in phonetic English, ala Bela Lugosi. Their lines were later dubbed over by voice-over actors, but the effect is much smoother than usual.

- Ken McIntyre

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