Christopher Rydell …. David Parsons
Asia Argento …. Aura Petrescu
Piper Laurie …. Adriana Petrescu
Frederic Forrest …. Dr. Judd
Laura Johnson …. Grace Harrington
Dominique Serrand …. Stefan Petrescu
James Russo …. Capt. Travis
Ira Belgrade …. Arnie
Brad Dourif …. Dr. Lloyd
Hope Alexander-Willis …. Linda Quirk
Sharon Barr …. Hilda Volkman
Dario Argento created one of the most atmospheric horror films of all time with his 1977 masterpiece Suspiria. The film is absolutely unsettling as a young girl is sent to a European dance school, but ends up being hunted by a coven of witches. While that description may not be the most frightening of summaries, Argento is a master and makes the film scary by just creeping you out. The film is stunning in its visuals as Argento fills the screen with vibrant colors, huge structures and inventive camera work. The picture is just so unsettling as you watch it, as to make you want to constantly turn it off to settle your nerves again. Unfortunately for those that love horror films, Argento has probably never reached that level again.
With Argento’s first American film, Trauma, Argento has many of the elements that made Suspiria successful. The director once again has a teenage heroine, with his daughter Asia Argento playing the film’s main character Aura Petrescu. Also typical of Argento’s work is a cavernous institution. The ballet academy from his masterwork is replaced in the formula here by a mental institution, where a psychiatrist named Dr. Judd (Frederic Forrest) treats Aura. The last portion of the Argento’s formula comes with the presence of a masked killer. This one is called “The Head Hunter”, as he decapitates his victims with an odd power tool featuring razor wire.
The story begins as it introduces Aura trying to kill herself. She is planning to throw herself off a bridge when she is stopped by a passing motorist named David Parsons (Christopher Rydell). The young man tries to calm her down and once getting her off the bridge insists on taking her to try and get some food. Aura agrees to go, but is unresponsive to his help as she does not want to eat. As Aura flees from Parsons’ help, it is revealed nearly simultaneously that Aura is both an anorexic and an escapee from a mental institute.
She is returned to her parents after being picked up by the police, where her mother (Piper Laurie) is preparing to perform a seance. While apparently channeling the spirit of a Head Hunter victim, a huge storm breaks out. The group hoping to speak with their loved ones freak out as windows shatter. The chaos gets so crazy that it is hardly noticed when Aura’s mother runs out of the house. Chasing her trailing father, Aura catches up just in time to see both of her parents beheaded by the serial killer.
As Aura flees from her parents’ house into the arms of David, the film begins to lose steam. The love story here is kind of convoluted. First, there seems to be a significant age difference here between the two leads. Asia’s character is revealed to be only 16 in the film, where Parsons seems to be closer to thirty. At first he just lets her live in his house, but then later the relationship grows into a romantic one. While it may be very erotic to be hunted down by a psycho with power tools, the plotline just seems rather forced here.
For example, as Aura wakes up one evening, she walks in on David having sex with another woman. As Aura runs from his house, David goes after her. He catches up to her to explain things when he kisses her. To my surprise, she completely goes with it! Wasn’t he just getting it on with another woman in his bedroom? For some reason now the script had to have these two be lovers and then audience is just stuck with that decision.
The killings, which have some real bite toward the beginning of the picture, just start to get silly about half way through. The killer’s M.O. is to paralyze his victims by hitting them with a blunt object. After doing this, the Head Hunter takes the head off with a power tool while the men and women are still conscious. While some of these murders are interesting and moody, toward the end of the film, Argento may have wanted to keep topping the last killing by making the next more gruesome and unbelievable. As David finds an executed woman, he leans down while her severed head speaks her final words. This could come off as either horrifying or goofy. In this instance it’s just ridiculous. But that being silly is nothing compared to the next casualty, as a head severed by an elevator screams as it falls down a shaft.
Dario Argento is undone also by his own indulgences. While the director is known for over the top visuals and extravagant camera work, here he just gets too excessive. One scene features a boy looking at a butterfly. This is fine as the boy looks at the insect, but when the camera shifts to the viewpoint of the butterfly, it’s less impressive than Argento would have wanted. Another instance has David and Aura exploring her parents’ house after their murder. Everything is going along fine when the point of view goes to the killer’s. The camera is moving fast and tension is building until the camera completely flips over. Was the killer flying? Was the butterfly responsible for the murders?
The film just doesn’t feel totally like an Argento movie. Normally filmed in Italy, this film is robbed of Argento’s normally beautiful locations with the drab Minnesota outdoors. Asia Argento’s good performance is robbed of any weight by a film that was poorly rescripted and was horribly under budget. If this had been filmed in Italy no doubt it would have been vastly improved. The gore and nudity may those looking for a Slasher Film, but those looking for greatness by a great director will be tremendously disappointed.
The film is presented in a 1:85:1 Widescreen. The picture quality is pretty decent, but that may actually hamper the film as it seems to bring out how limited the budget was. As it is though, the picture is pretty clear.
The sound here is decent quality. The screams of people getting decapitated comes in nicely in the Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Love, Death and Trauma, On Set With Tom Savini, Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary with Author Alan Jones, Theatrical Trailers, Poster And Still Gallery.
Love, Death and Trauma: This is a length interview with Argento. He speaks about the inspiration for the film, which was a niece that was an anorexic. He wanted to make her the hero of a film, and that film ended up being Trauma. The interview is in Italian with subtitles.
On Set With Tom Savini: This is an eight minute home video taken by Savini during the film’s production. The home video show’s some neat sequences of how a good decapitation is caught on screen, and what kind of detail goes into a severed head.
Audio Commentary with Author Alan Jones: This is pretty decent commentary. Jones is an expert on Argento’s career and has some pretty good insight into the film’s production. He spends a lot of time on the difficulties of the production on Asia being directed by her father. A funny anecdote concerns Asia’s nude scene in the film as she was totally uncomfortable with the scene being shot by her father. This is completely understandable as the scene really doesn’t serve much purpose.
Deleted Scenes: These deleted scenes are in Italian with subtitles. They concern David’s job at a TV station as he flirts with the anchorwoman. This is the woman he is sleeping with when Aura catches him.
Theatrical Trailers: Trailers for films such as Argento’s Opera, Deep Red, The Card Player, Suspiria, Trauma, and Dawn of the Dead which was produced by Argento.
Poster And Still Gallery: This is pretty self explanatory.