Sunday, May 27, 2018

Trhauma (1980)

... aka: Démence (Dementia)
... aka: Trauma

Directed by:
Gianni Martucci

I often forget that disco didn't actually die with the 70s and was still lurking around afterward. It was in its death throes, for sure, but was still trendy enough in the first few years of the 80s to be popping up even in some places you wouldn't necessarily expect. Like horror films. The famous example most turn to when discussing disco horror is the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Prom Night (1980), which was so disco that it wasn't so much infused with it as it was informed by it. Then there was Don't Go in the House (1979), which capped off its grim, depressing story of a traumatized psycho torching nude women with the upbeat "Struck by Boogie Lighting" over the end credits. And who could forget (I'm still trying) the horror-comedy-erotic-musical Nocturna (1979), which basically existed as a showcase for disco dancing, disco fashions and disco music and boasted having a soundtrack from "Disco Queens" like Gloria ("I Will Survive") Gaynor and Vicki Sue ("Turn the Beat Around") Robinson right on the poster?

While the three titles above probably represent the most extreme end of the spectrum, disco had a funny way of weaseling its way into isolated scenes in many other films, whether that be the modeling session where Joe Spinell ogles potential victims in Maniac (1980) or vampire George Hamilton showing off his moves to the disco hit "I Love the Nightlife" in Love at First Bite (1979). Not just a North American phenomenon, disco also featured heavily in numerous European and Asian genre films. And it's even all over the soundtrack of this obscure, low-budget Italian slasher flick. Credits in need of music? Disco! Models posing for the camera? Disco! A man pulling up a driveway in his car? Disco! So even though it doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film, you're gonna have to endure the soundtrack occasionally giving you a little "Whoooooooo! Come on dance! Dance!" with scenes like a stuffed kitten getting its head lopped off.

The kitty slayer in question is called L'essere ("The Being") in the credits. No real name. That's it. As a young boy, "The Being" was teased by another boy for having a messed-up, all-white eye and then fell out of a tree. Now, as an adult, to say "The Being" is not very well-adjusted qualifies as a massive understatement. We can assume his tree fall stunted his mental growth as he still loves to play with Duplo blocks, but his other hobbies and interests are strictly adult in nature. That is, if the adult also happens to be a sick-o into strangling German Shepherds with their bare hands and having necro relations with bloody female corpses in sheep waste. But I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

After meeting "The Being," we're then introduced to a bunch of other characters so underdeveloped they can only be measured on a mild-to-severe scale of how unlikable they are. Much to his wife's chagrin, Andrea ("Ronny Russ" / Gaetano Russo) has just recently purchased a large, old hillside villa. It's a beautiful home but it's also a fixer-upper, which is exactly why wife Lilly (Dafne Price) is frustrated with him. Since she inherited a bunch of money, he's done nothing but blow through it buying cars, yachts and property all over Europe. Lilly is not the least bit interested in his plans to sink even more money into renovating this new place he's just purchased either, but she's there all the same to wet blanket his greedy ass. Joining the couple there are half dozen friends.

Demanding photographer and budding blackmailer Paul (Timothy Wood) takes model Olga (Anna Maria Chiatante) out into the woods to shoot some nude photos. After she strips and bares all while a disco singer one-up's Andrea True by virtually having an orgasm on the accompanying track, he chews her out for not living up his high expectations. Angry, she storms off. The next time we see Olga, "The Being" is being his pervy self all over her dead body.

As night falls, and with Olga nowhere to be found, everyone grabs a lantern, split up and start searching the grounds. After Silvia (Silvia Mauri) is attacked, the gang do the usual horror movie routine of trying to call the police (phone lines have been cut), trying to drive away (tires have been flattened) and then, after finding the lone functioning vehicle on the property, sending just two people out to get the police instead of having everyone pile in and leave together. This naturally enables "The Being" (Per Holgher) to intercept and kill the police-fetchers after they stop to open the gate and then return to the home immediately after to bump everyone else off as they're waiting.

During the first 20 minutes, I thought this was going to be some unheralded sleazy classic. It comes charging right out of the gate with an one-eyed kid, a guy fighting a dog, a murder, nudity, a giant Lego castle, necrophilia, a stuffed animal decapitation and, yes, even that amusingly-at-odds-with-everything-else disco music. Problem is, nothing that occurs after all that is anywhere near as entertaining. The plot isn't very interesting, there's little suspense and lots of bickering and characters aimlessly wandering around. Even worse, the murder sequences are bland and most of the killings are either bloodless or occur completely off-screen. That's a big no-no for a flagrantly unoriginal film with as little story as this one has. Multiple strangulations, off-screen stabbings and people just falling out of frame as the killer approaches don't really cut it.

Gripes aside, this isn't the worst thing you'll ever see either. At least it's not as boring as the same director's other foray into the genre, THE RED MONKS (1988). It's watchable. It's tolerable. It runs only 78 minutes. And if you don't care so much about originality and prefer the "stalk" to the "slash" in your stalk-n-slash flicks, you may like this a bit more than I did. Co-star Russo co-wrote the screenplay with Alessandro Capone (WITCH STORY) and the cast also includes Roberto Posse (who has a pretty good trash film resume) and Franco Diogene (who was acting for Fellini and in movies like Midnight Express around the same time he appeared in this).

Though this was released on video throughout Europe and in parts of Asian (as you can see from the Korean VHS above, they put the English title backwards!), it was never released in the U.S. and is still not officially available in English, though fansubs are available. I still can't figure out if the title is intentionally misspelled or not!

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