The first American feature from Italian cult director Dario Argento, TRAUMA is not as flamboyant and extreme as his previous films but still manages to deliver the goods. In a city terrorized by a string of decapitation murders, teenaged Aura Petrescu (Asia Argento, the director's daughter) escapes from the Farraday Clinic, where she's being treated for...read more
The first American feature from Italian cult director Dario Argento, TRAUMA is not as flamboyant and extreme as his previous films but still manages to deliver the goods.
In a city terrorized by a string of decapitation murders, teenaged Aura Petrescu (Asia Argento, the director's daughter) escapes from the Farraday Clinic, where she's being treated for anorexia by Dr. Judd (Frederic Forrest). Attempting suicide, she is rescued by recovered drug addict David
Parsons (Christopher Rydell), then steals his wallet and runs off, only to be caught by police and returned to her parents, professional mediums Adriana (Piper Laurie) and Stefan (Dominique Serrano).
At a seance that night, Adriana is possessed by the spirit of one of the killer's victims and claims the murderer is among them. She runs into a rainstorm outside, followed by Stefan and then Aura, who sees the killer holding up her parents' severed heads. She convinces David to help her find
the murderer, even as the police and Dr. Judd are hot on their trail and the body count continues to rise. After Aura is returned to the clinic, her nurse is murdered, leaving behind a key that leads Aura and David to a storage unit. There they discover a photo of Dr. Lloyd (Brad Dourif) and a
group of nurses, several of whom are among the recent victims. Soon thereafter, another nurse and Dr. Lloyd are killed as well.
After Dr. Judd attempts to apprehend Aura, he crashes his car and police find a collection of severed heads in his trunk. The case appears solved, but then Aura disappears and David tracks her down to her home. She's been locked in the basement by Adriana, who is in fact the killer. Adriana's
baby was decapitated in a botched delivery by Dr. Lloyd years before, and she's been insane ever since; what Aura saw in the rain was Adriana holding Stefan's head beside her own. A struggle ensues, ending with Adriana's decapitation.
There was much speculation among Argento's fans about whether the director would "sell out" in making a movie in the US, and indeed, his customarily extravagant style is somewhat blunted here, which led many of those fans to dismiss the film. But TRAUMA retains some of the same twisted fun and
visceral impact of the director's earlier giallo murder thrillers (such as DEEP RED and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE), and the cast of American character actors results in a better overall level of performance than in some of his Italian productions. The younger leads prove capable and
empathetic, with Asia Argento, who also appeared in the 1994 release QUEEN MARGOT, registering fairly strongly as the tormented heroine (and surprisingly, given her father's presence behind the camera, has a topless scene).
While the Minneapolis-shot film eschews the focus on unusual locations and set design that has marked Argento's previous work, his knack for bravura murder set-pieces remains unchanged. Some of his other engaging stylistic peculiarities are intact as well, as when the camera leaves one scene to
check out what's going on in the house next door. Argento develops the mystery in a manner that holds attention (even if it's not completely believable), building to a climactic flashback that is genuinely bloodcurdling. One major drawback of the US release is that the distributor failed to
provide a version of the movie (shot in the director's traditional widescreen) in the letterbox format on tape or disc. We're given a frustrating sense of what we're missing by the end credits, which are presented in the proper aspect ratio. (Graphic violence, nudity, substance abuse,profanity.)
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