(A.k.a. COSA AVETE FATTO A SOLANGE?; WHO'S NEXT?)
Massimo Dallamano's 1972 thriller remains one of the purest, finest, examples of the gialli. Despite its reputation among fans as one of the genre's highpoints, it still came as a surprise - a most welcome one - when Arrow Films Video announced plans for a dual format release on both sides of the Atlantic.
The film opens with young Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo) enjoying an illicit afternoon with her hunky professor Enrico (Fabio Testi). While canoodling with him on a stream just off the River Thames, she is certain she captures glimpse of a blade being savagely thrust, through the adjacent trees. Enrico initially dismisses Elizabeth's claim as an effort to distract him from deflowering - until he returns home and hears news that another student of his, Hilda, has been found knifed to death on that very same river bank.
Police inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger) is quick to descend upon the school where Enrico works, and finds no shortage of suspects among the teachers there. Enrico is clearly hiding something; his male colleagues each have a shifty, sleazy disposition about them; Enrico's emotionally detached wife Herta (Karin Baal) - the school's German professor - insists on looking suspicious at any given opportunity.
For a time, Barth's sights are set on Enrico. Herta clearly suspects him too. But then, just as Enrico begins to open up about his affair with Elizabeth and another victim is claimed, the plot thickens. If Enrico isn't the culprit, who is? What is their motive? And what does all of this have to do with a half-French student called Solange (I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE's Camille Keaton in her big screen debut) who went missing from another school the summer before?
The first of what has come to be known as a "the schoolgirl trilogy" of gialli based in girls' schools (WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?, again directed by Dallamano, and RED RINGS OF FEAR followed), SOLANGE remains the best of the three. And while it's also the tamest of the triptych, it's fair to say the explicit implications of sexual violence - the killer rams large blades into the crotches of the female victims, all of which is seen in aftermath - remains shocking to this day.
Despite starting relatively slowly (the first 40 minutes are quite talky and some conversational scenes do undeniably plod), SOLANGE absorbs by way of its intriguing, unpredictable screenplay and charismatic lead performances. A buffed-up Testi acts his socks off as the wrongly accused lothario who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery for himself; Baal conveys equal measures of steeliness and vulnerability in a role that deftly sees her shift from suspect to heroine in the matter of minutes; Galbo - who would go on to co-star in THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE - musters a feisty witness whose various states of commitment, confusion and fear convince at every turn. The latter is also naturally sexy to a degree that rivals the same era's Edwige Fenech at her best.
Dallamano impresses with his tight control over his, Bruno Di Geronimo and uncredited Peter M Thouet's complex script (itself loosely based upon Edgar Wallace's "The Clue of the New Pin"). Lapses in logic are frequent but try not to let them trouble you too much: the fun to be had here lies in the assured misdirection employed at regular intervals. The 'whodunit' aspect is superbly set-up and keeps the viewer guessing right up until the satisfying final act.
Other noteworthy contributors include Ennio Morricone, who provides a typically evocative, rather beautiful score, and the sumptuous widescreen cinematography of Aristide Massaccesi (yes, he went on to direct notorious gorefests such as BEYOND THE DARKNESS and ANTHROPOPHAGUS THE BEAST under his most common pseudonym Joe D'Amato).
As mentioned at the top of this review, Arrow have released this gem of political incorrectness and stylish violence in a dual format package - blu-ray and DVD - on both sides of the Atlantic. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray disc to review.
The film is presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The 16x9 picture benefits from full 1080p resolution, the clean print used really shining through this new 2K transfer. Presented as a healthily sized MPEG4-AVC file, the natural grain sits well upon the transfer to ensure an authentic filmic quality is achieved throughout. Images are sharper and brighter than previous DVD incarnations, while detail and depth are at times really striking - especially in some of the exterior scenes. In short, the film looks great here. You can also choose to watch the film with either Italian or English-language titles.
Uncompressed mono audio tracks are provided in both English and Italian languages. Both are excellent, though I did find the English track a tad muffled at times. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features are, as you'd expect of Arrow by now, plentiful.
These begin with a fact-filled, rather witty audio commentary track from critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman, As ever, the pair make for an affable listen where their easy-going banter works well in-between titbits of genuinely enlightening trivia. They're quick to point out the sillier aspects of the screenplay (though go easy on the fact that Testi runs like a girl) and have fun pointing out the bits of the film that stay true to Wallace's source material.
"What Have you Done to Decency?" is a new 13-minute interview with the well-preserved Baal. Speaking in her native German with the benefit of English subtitles, she has a keen memory for the shoot - even though she describes the experience as "squalid". Clearly not a fan of the film's excesses, she nevertheless makes for a good hostess.
Also new is a 29-minute visual essay from Michael MacKenzie entitled "Innocence Lost". This utilises a fine array of stills and clips from all three "schoolgirl" films as MacKenzie narrates, discussing their themes, controversy, appeal and impact - as well as branching out to muse upon the use of children as victims in other Italian films of the period such as Lucio Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING.
The film's original trailer runs for 3 minutes and is presented with English audio.
We also get re-edited video interviews that were originally shot in 2006: one with an enthusiastic Testi (21 minutes) and another with producer Fulvio Lucisano (11 minutes).
This impressive set is rounded off by reversible cover art and a highly attractive booklet containing essays by Howard Hughes (examining Morricone's contributions to the giallo genre) and 'Ultraviolent' editor Art Ettinger (detailing Keaton's illustrious career), along with the usual credits and notes on how to correctly view the film.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? gets the treatment it so richly deserves, courtesy of another sterling release from Arrow.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|