MAGIC LANTERNS

MURDER … THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE!

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Not to be confused with “gelato,” the Italian term “giallo” designates a specific type of cinematic treat – namely, Italian slasher films. Some film historians credit a specific sequence with a knife in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963) as the origin of the species. Quibbles aside, the sub-genre flourished in the ’60s and ’70s, its most distinguished practitioners including Bava and Dario Argento.

Most agree one of the best of the “giallo” films is Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), which genre fans will be delighted to hear is getting a full 4K Blu-ray restoration in December, just in time for Christmas. Anticipating the yuletide treat, I decided to revisit the film in its current DVD format, which isn’t bad at all.

With a mostly Italian cast, the movie was filmed in London with all the actors speaking English, heavy accents and all, their voices then dubbed with surprisingly good results. The plot is pure “giallo,” with lovely girls (in various degrees of undress) pursued by an unknown killer with sharp instruments. Beautifully photographed in vibrant color, Solange has an added distinction of a musical score by Ennio Morricone.

Fabio Testi plays the handsome, married Italian teacher at a Catholic girls’ school who, in the film’s opening sequence, is nuzzling one of his students in a boat. Suddenly, the girl sees a classmate being pursued and stabbed in the nearby woods. In short order, the ranks of the other nubile students are quickly being depleted by the same killer. Red herrings accumulate almost as rapidly as the body count, and the chief suspects are a woman (the Lothario’s jealous wife) or maybe one of school’s priests.

Never dull, occasionally preposterous, but overall quite surprising in its plot twists, What Have You Done to Solange? is giallo at its best. Solange, by the way, is a central character in the plot, though her name is not spoken until near the end. Playing the title character in her film debut is Camille Keaton who, though she receives prominent billing, has not a single line of dialogue. In 1978, the young actress (a distant relative of Buster Keaton’s) later starred in the original version of I Spit on Your Grave, one of the most notorious examples of yet another genre, the rape/revenge film. She doesn’t do a whole lot of talking in that movie, either.

Watching Solange, I was reminded of another foreign thriller, not an example of giallo by any means, but notable in its own way. What’s more, its title (like Solange) also features a question mark.

Who Killed Bambi? (2003) is a French film, co-written and directed by Gilles Marchand in his first turn behind the camera, though he made his mark earlier as a screenwriter for the brilliant Hitchcockian With a Friend Like Harry … (2000). The title character of Bambi is Isabelle (Sophie Quinton), a young doe-eyed nurse nicknamed for the Disney deer by the film’s villain, the handsome but creepy surgeon Dr. Philipp (Laurent Lucas). In the early stages of their “relationship,” Isabelle has trouble keeping on her feet (like Disney’s Bambi) due to an inner ear problem. Dr. Philipp will operate on her.

Meanwhile, however, the doctor’s doing something odd with other patients in the hospital, though Isabelle is the only one to suspect him. It’s soon a game of cat-and-mouse or (to be more accurate) hunter-and-deer. Sort of, at least. Little is straightforward in Bambi, which owes as much to David Lynch as to Hitchcock.

A curious factoid: Who Killed Bambi? is also the title of a 1977 unproduced screenplay by Roger Ebert which was to have been directed by Russ Meyer and feature the Sex Pistols. Imagine the possibilities – with an exclamation point and a question mark.

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