What Have You Done to Solange?
April 2, 2018
1 Hr., 43 Mins.
hat’s been done to the greasy-haired Solange (Camille Keaton) is savage and unforgivable – an act of violence so disturbing that we figure she’d probably be starring in some sort of Kill Bill (2003-’04) and All the Colors of the Dark (1972) cross-breed if she decided victimhood just wasn’t for her.
The twist in What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), an unforeseeably excellent Italian giallo film, is that we both don’t meet, or discover what exactly happened to, Solange until the last 10 minutes of the movie in question. Coming beforehand is a
Grand Guignol of a whodunit that watches as pretty young schoolgirls with a propensity for Manson-women haircuts and bodycon mini-skirts are picked off by a black-gloved butcher. Why? Because of a connection to this ever-important Solange, which turns out to be gonzo.
The feature was the first in an unofficial film series commonly known as the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, which were followed by 1974’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and 1978’s Red Rings of Fear. The existence of such vicious yore sounds misogynist and debatably pedophilic in nature – why dedicate a saga to the rather sexualized mutilations of underage femmes?
But What Have You Done to Solange? establishes that this questionable thematic tie is but an unfairly schlocky way to garner lurid interest. Although the film isn’t exactly safe from the trappings of ‘70s Eurotrash – we get a couple gratuitous shower scenes and cheesecake framings of the young actresses – it is hardly exploitation filth. It is an intelligent, inventively told murder mystery that takes its story seriously. Its co-writer and director, Massimo Dallamano, pens much of the material with the sensitivity of a tragedian, and he also seems aware that the maltreatment of women and their bodies in society is something that can inform a B-budgeted slasher movie.
That shouldn’t suggest that What Have You Done to Solange? is exactly egg-headed: it still is, at the end of the day, a better-than-usual mad-slasher-on-the-loose quickie. What it should suggest is that is still delivers the goods without too intensely pandering to the tawdry as so many other films in its genre might. It is exacting in its construction and detailed in its style and setting – it exemplifies quality in a way that was rarely found when giallo was at its critical and commercial peak.
The pushing away from disreputability is underpinned by the fact that the film is headlined by Fabio Testi, who was one of Italy’s more successful young actors at the time. Here, he plays Enrico “Henry” Rosseni, a gym teacher employed by an all-girls college based in a woodsy area of England. Though he comes to be the movie’s rugged, courageous protagonist, our immediate reaction to him is disdainful: in the first scene alone, he’s sexing up a student in a rowboat, something he apparently does often.
Lecherous as it is cinematographically, however, that introduction proves to be important in the reving up of the plot. Right as this little river-based rendezvous really gets going, the female under Rosseni witnesses a brutal murder in her peripheral vision – and thinks the victim might be a fellow classmate. Concerned about his professional future and his marriage to the frigid Herta (Karin Baal), Rosseni urges his young mistress to keep quiet. Say exactly where she was when she witnessed the incident and they’ll both get in major trouble.
That urging proves to be just as fruitless, though, because the girl’s murdered herself a short time later. Rosseni becomes the prime suspect after admitting his affair to Herta, and such entails that he spend of the movie trying to both clear his name and solve the murders that dependably occur every couple days.
Dallamano and co. keep us on our toes, and the film’s 103 minutes fly. Its murder sequences are gruesome but inspired, making for brief bursts of energy to bring additional energy to the increasingly knotty storyline. Yet unlike a lot of gialli, What Have You Done to Solange? never cops out or loses momentum, and minimally stoops to convolution to keep our mouths agape. It works as a genuinely gripping whodunit, and that makes it a genre standout. Check out the soundtrack, too: It showcases Ennio Morricone at his most imaginative. B