Trauma (Dario Argento, 1993)

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There are a bunch of fantastic Dario Argento films that I’ve already watched ready to write about here; Tenebrae, Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tails. Okay maybe that last one isn’t so great, actually. Better than Trauma, though. Trauma is Argento’s first feature-length American production, and maybe this explains why it feels so disjointed and anachronistic. Nothing about the film’s setting or supposed time-frame feels particularly believable, and not really in a stylized or intentional way.

The movie begins with Aura (an 18 year old Asia Argento) about to throw herself off a bridge. Actually, just before that some doctor gets decapitated and her lizards get kidnapped. THEN Asia Argento is on a bridge, and David (Christopher Rydell – who’s even heard of this dude?) comes along, stops her from jumping, and takes her out to dinner. Then she sees the Youth Services cruising the streets as they obviously do, and escapes, only to run into them. Turns out she’s an escapee from some clinic or other, only the Youth Service people (who are apparently police officers too? Is that how it works in the US?) have been instructed to take her home to her parents.

Despite the fact they ramble on and on about how she needs to be at the clinic, as do her parents, she’s taken home and sent to bed while her mother, who is a medium, performs a séance. One of the members of the séance happens to be the doctor of the clinic, but they never really mention to him that she’s home. After some shrieking about a mysterious Nicholas, who seems to be the mother’s spirit guide, things explode and the mother starts going on about a killer who’s decapitating people, and how the killer is present at the séance. She runs outside, followed by her husband, and then Aura, who proceeds to find the pair of them decapitated and a killer fleeing the scene. The cops show up, Aura escapes, and the next day finds her way to David’s office, because she stole his wallet or something.

David’s a… I don’t know. I think he was the artist who draws the lettering for the background of televised news reports. He certainly works for a news agency anyway, and at the beginning is sleeping with the anchor. He also has a friend who constantly eats crisps. He ends up taking Aura in and finding out she’s anorexic after she trashes his kitchen then throws up. His mate explains some ‘psychology’ behind anorexia and David is all ‘I WILL SAVE THIS GIRL’ because she is of course Vulnerable and Troubled. Later on this ‘saving’ involves falling in love with and being in a relationship with her. Note: Aura is 16 in the movie, and David is in his late 20s, and nobody bats an eyelid at this.

Meanwhile, there’s this kid who likes insects, and staring out his window. While staring out his window, he notices someone’s staring back; the doctor who was decapitated at the start of the movie. The killer’s just carelessly left a severed head facing into their neighbor’s house, y’see. So the kid gets suspicious and the next day he breaks into the house, finds the kidnapped lizards, accidentally squashes one of them in his hand, then escapes when the killer shows back up.

Back at David’s, Grace (the news anchor) gets mad when Aura walks in on her and David boning (David and Aura haven’t got it on at this point) and then acts petulantly sexually frustrated when David stops doing her to go chase after Aura, because sex startled her. In revenge, she calls the clinic Aura had escaped from, and they catch her and take her back. While there, some more people get decapitated, David turns up and rescues Aura, and at some point they find Important Files, including a photograph which features all the previous decapitation victims (there were some before the movie started too). It’s a group of nurses and a doctor.

They track down one of the nurses who’s well nervous because all her mates had their heads cut off, and she flees from David and Aura just in case they’re murderers. Her girlfriend is all like ‘they’re probably not’ but the nurse goes to a hotel just to be safe, then the killer finds her and decapitates her anyway. Of course. Worth mentioning at this point that the killer uses an automatic garroting tool for the killings, which basically looks like one of those price label guns but with a garrote wire sticking out of it. Also worth mentioning that people only get decapitated when it rains, so whenever it starts to rain everyone gets all panicky, like we do in Britain when it snows.

David tracks down the doctor, who turns out to be Brad Dourif. Brad Dourif angrily screams a lot when David asks him questions about what the group in that photo might have done that led to them being killed off one by one. David finds out nothing, heads off, then Brad Dourif ends up in what appears to be an abandoned building, stalked by the killer. Lucky for him, he’s wearing some kind of gold chain despite being a homeless drunk, and the chain gets stuck in the auto-garroting toy, so he can’t be decapitated by conventional means. That doesn’t stop the killer though, who traps his head in an elevator and cuts it off that way instead.

Note: Frequently, after their heads are cut off, the victims keep speaking, and the nurse even gives David a vital clue post-decapitation.

Eventually the doctor from the clinic tries to get Aura back, and the police chase him and he crashes, dying instantly, and heads come flying out of the trunk of his car. He was the killer, apparently! But he’s dead, so they can’t ask him why he did it, and there’s no suggestion of a motive or connection whatsoever. Uh oh. Meanwhile, despite them being so totally in love, Aura disappears, leaving David a note saying she’s gone to be with her mother. Six hours later, David’s managed to develop a serious drug addiction and gets beaten up by a chemist after trying to file a fake prescription which he got from Grace the news anchor in her last act of kindness towards him. As he lies on the sidewalk, dazed, he sees a bracelet that looks like the one Aura wears, so he goes tearing about the city asking people if they’ve seen a girl in a dark coat and a bracelet. Of course, lots of people happened to notice her perfectly, and he’s led to the home of that kid who crushed a lizard earlier. He asks the kid, who says the girl’s in the house. David knocks on the door and is greeted by…

Aura’s mother. Which, in retrospect, was pretty obvious given she’s played by Piper Laurie, comfortably the most famous actor in the movie, and had only appeared for about five minutes. She wasn’t dead at all; in fact, she’d decapitated her husband and a random neighbor, and the severed head Aura had thought she’d seen was in fact just her mother’s regular head, fully attached to her shoulders. The mother knocks David out and chains him up in the basement, where Aura is also being held captive.

Back upstairs, the lizard-crusher kid’s broken in, and is hiding in the wardrobe while the mother smashes around, yelling and howling about Nicholas. Then, when she doesn’t find the intruder, she heads back down and lays out her motive to David and Aura. Turns out, before Aura was born, the mother had been pregnant with another baby, a boy called Nicholas. It was a stormy night (RAIN, SEE) and the doctor (Brad Dourif) was jumpy. Thunder hit just as he was pulling the baby out, and he accidentally decapitates him with a scalpel. Yup. I mean, okay, I’ve never aided in childbirth but I’m seriously struggling to work out how you could full on decapitate a baby by accident. But, he did. And rather than face up to the accidental decapitation, everyone present makes a pact; they’ll perform electro-shock therapy on the mother so she forgets she was ever even pregnant. Foolproof. Her husband was also in on the plot. The baby’s father, for fuck’s sake. Probably deserved to get decapitated.

Anyway, the ECT didn’t make her forget at all, and she waited like 18 years to get her revenge on all of them. She also HAD THE BABY’S HEAD FOR 18 YEARS. So like, somehow she’d managed to get hold of the baby’s head and nobody noticed it was gone, and wondered like, maybe, shit, something’s a bit wrong here, where’d that baby’s head go?

So she’s gonna kill David, and I think Aura too, because Nicholas the Baby has been telling her to, but then that lizard-crusher kid is all like ‘nope’ and hangs through a hole in the floor and uses the garrote machine on the mother, cutting her head off and saving the day. Kid’s about eight. How the fuck does he know what a garrote even IS? Then presumably David and Aura both live happily ever after in their ridiculously illegal relationship.

Yeah. Trauma wasn’t great. It felt like some kind of half-assed tribute to Argento’s giallo movies instead of, y’know, actually being one. It was a ridiculously convoluted plot given that it was really just about someone going around chopping off heads. The lengthy expositions about anorexia had literally nothing to do with the plot and no real relevance to anything whatsoever other than to serve as an explanation as to why Aura was in the clinic, which was only relevant because one of the nurses who’d been present at the baby-decapitation worked there, and because the mother framed the doctor apropos of nothing. Then there was the whole creepy underage relationship stuff, David’s drug addiction which lasted no more than a single morning, and the completely inexplicable emphasis placed on the lizards being kidnapped.

Best bit: David getting beaten up by a chemist.

Worst bit: The talking severed heads.

Most notable scene: The killer finally being decapitated by an eight year old.

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