Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Trauma (1962)

... aka: Appuntamento col cadavere (Appointment with the Dead)

Directed by:
Robert Malcolm Young

A psycho is running rampant in the small town of Oakmont and fifteen-year-old orphan Emmaline (Lorrie Richards) is shaken up after having to go to morgue to identify the body of one of the victims. Later that night she returns home to the large mansion she shares with her wheelchair-bound aunt Helen Garrison (Lynn Bari), who tells her headstrong niece to stop going out at night all alone less she wants to become the next victim. Emmaline is awoken from her sleep by the sounds of arguing and then screaming outside by the swimming pool. Before she can make it out there, her aunt has been drown. Witnessing the murder traumatizes Emmaline so badly she goes into a deep shock and suffers from amnesia. She's shipped off to live in Europe and undergoes years of therapy while developing a talent for painting. Finally cured, she marries Warren Clyner (John Conte), a much-older man who'd had business dealings with her late aunt, and the two return to States to take care of business. Since Emmaline was the last remaining descendant of the Garrison family, she's acquired a considerable fortune, which can now be dispersed to her and her husband because she's just turned 21.

Upon arrival, Warren instructs the hired hands not to stoke the fires of the past by saying anything that'll make Emmaline recall her previous life. She's since forgotten it and, in fact, cannot remember anything at all about her life after witnessing Helen's murder. Luther Schoonover (Warren J. Kemmerling), the handyman and caretaker of the estate who's known Emmaline since she was a child, and his nephew Craig (David Garner), an architect who's just here helping his old uncle out, are also around to help get things in order. Warren immediately calls up lawyer Thaddeus Hall (William Bissell) about getting the inheritance and learns they'll have to wait six to eight weeks to get it. Till then, it's just biding time. Despite being newlyweds, Warren seems highly annoyed by his attractive, sweet new wife. He's out of town a lot, ignores her when he is there, has a tendency to snap over small things and isn't the least bit interested in her paintings or her feelings. All he cares about is the money. It's no wonder Emmaline then finds herself being drawn to Craig instead.

Being back in the home triggers brief memories in our heroine, but just like dreams, they only come to her in small bits and pieces and are quickly forgotten. A image here, a voice there... None of it makes much sense. Her subconscious memories sometimes even manifest themselves in her paintings. One of a horse stable larger than it appears gets Craig thinking that there may be a secret room hidden inside and, sure enough, there is. Once he finds it behind some paneling, he and Emmaline discover it's a child's room. That child was Everett; Emmaline's mentally-impaired cousin, who suffered a brain injury when he was just 3 years old and became emotionally stunted. Helen claimed to the outside world that Everett had died when he was eight. In actuality, she faked his death and kept him hidden away in the secret room as the family shame. Since Warren turns out to be a con artist in desperate need of fast cash and Everett may still be alive and lurking the grounds, which of the two actually murdered Helen?

Advertised as an all-out horror film (the biggest startle is actually the announcement of the opening credits 15 minutes into it!), this is more of a mystery / psycho-drama. It's very low-budget (69,000 dollars) and very talky, but it's done with some basic skill, the mystery elements hold together reasonably well and it wisely saves most of its curve balls for the last 15 minutes. Top-billed "stars" Bari (who'd had lead roles in Shock [1946] with Vincent Price and The Amazing Mr. X [1948] with Turhan Bey) and Conte are not the actual stars. That honor goes to Richards; a pretty, competent actress whose only other credits were on TV and in the same year's fantasy-adventure The Magic Sword. In fact, Trauma is her last known credit. This was the only film for its director, who is best known as a writer who'd pen The Crawling Hand (1963), Escape from Witch Mountain (1975) for Disney and episodes of Night Gallery and Tales of the Unexpected.

Now in the public domain, Trauma is easy to find online to view for free (it's on both archive.org and Youtube). The most common DVD release is through Alpha Video Distributors.


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