Bluray Review: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?

SKdJTmLR_400x400 (1)As the then brand-new format of the Digital Versatile Disc began making it presence quite apparent in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, hundreds upon hundreds of horror films that had either been forgotten or banished into obscurity suddenly began to resurface and slowly obtain a devoted audience. Everything from lesser-known slashers and overlooked art-house fare to catalogs full of lushly photographed pieces all coming out of the seventies and eighties  were either finding their first ever releases on the format or being re-released in limited special editions.  Distributors like early forerunners Anchor Bay were taking it upon themselves to locate and dig out these movies, give them glorious restorations and special features and release them to the buying public, delighting horror connoisseurs across the world. What resulted was an overwhelmingly renewed interest in and unexpected demands for films of that era, in particular the giallo that all began in 1963 with The Girl Who Knew Too Much. One by one, films ranging from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to Twitch of the Death Nerve all began to regain places in the minds of horror fans worldwide. They began to snag the attention of a new generation of audiences that would take the time to seek these films out and give them the admiration they deserved, with horror aficionados like myself rushing to collect these cinematic gems. From the initial moment I was lucky enough to sit through Argento’s masterpiece Tenebre, I knew that the giallo film would become not only a guilty pleasure of mine, but an outright obsession, which it became as years followed. As this variety of foreign film began to grow in popularity, I found myself renting and buying videocassette upon videocassette and searching far and wide to get anything I could get my hands on into my collection. The very first foreign giallo-esque film I conquered in the mid-90’s was Italy’s Pathos: Un Sapore di Paura (known in the United States as Obsession: A Taste For Fear). There was something almost dream-like about its beautiful and sometimes gory visuals, its hyper-sexualized plot and it’s bizarre twist ending that had hooked me instantly. Over the years, I would hunt for and track down these kinds of films, watching them as often as I could as an indescribable love for them was blossoming inside of me. I stumbled upon Massimo Dallmano’s Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? during a late night trip to Rasputin Music several years ago while browsing the foreign section.  I spotted Camille Keaton’s name on the cover of this film and without thinking, grabbed  it off to take home.  It was one of those giallos that I’d read about a countless number of times (but had never seen) and I remember being thrilled at the fact that I’d finally been able to find it and make it a part of my ever-growing collection.

solange

THE MOVIE

 

Released in 1972, What Have You Done to Solange? is easily a quintessential example of a film that knows how to rely on storytelling, adhering to the theory that less is more.  I am actually apprehensive of writing too much about the film itself for fear of getting carried away and not only writing about what takes place throughout the entire film but actually spoiling its superb climax and ending. Well-crafted and beautifully shot in London, the film chronicles the story of an Italian gym instructor named Enrico (“Henry” – played by Fabio Testi) who is having an intense and forbidden affair with one of his students, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo), while married to the beautiful Herta (Karin Baal) who is a teacher at the same school.  One day while Enrico takes her on a romantic boat ride, she thinks she sees a flash of a knife coming from the shore close to where they are. The next day, the dead body of another student is found on the river’s shore. He immediately becomes a suspect in that student’s murder and the murders of several other students that follow who are all part of special ‘click’ within the school, all of them identified by green pins they wear on themselves.  Having reservations about admitting that he was near the scene of the crime, he keeps that information to himself and goes to investigate the crime(s) on his own for fear of his affair with Elizabeth being discovered and known by all, especially his wife. Others, including other teachers, both male and female, are soon added to the list of possible culprits as it soon becomes harder and harder to locate the killer and pinpoint his identity.

Elizabeth, after foolishly admitting that she may have seen the killer with her own eyes, falls victim to the unknown killer, devastating Enrico and baffling police. It’s discovered that they are all being slaughtered by an elusive bearded ‘priest’ who the girls are confiding in and confessing to about things going on. Is this a good thing the girls are doing? Why do they trust this person so much and what vendetta does the killer have toward these innocent teen-aged girls? And just what does shy, reclusive Solange (marking Camille Keaton’s screen debut), who once belonged to that exclusive group, have to do with not only the murders but the secret pain is she is hiding? The film itself is a strong, character-driven mystery that slow burns but doesn’t fail for one second to keep you guessing. The film takes a dark turn when its revealed that all the girls, not innocent after all, were part of an exclusive group who participated in sex parties with older men and delved into lesbian experimentation, an overall atmosphere of perversion quickly emerging and dominating the screen. There manner in which the way the story is told (itself an adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Clue of the New Pin) grips the viewer from it’s opening sequence and director Dallamano does a superb job of keeping the suspense thick and palpable through red herrings and cleverly-choreographed scenes.  There is a feeling of dread that looms overhead as more and more of the film’s layers are exposed and once the viewer comes to determine just exactly what’s going on, they receive a punch in the gut and wonder how the film’s subject matter passed censorship boards back in early seventies. The film goes as far as to uses its clever title to its advantage, utilizing it as a red herring of its own to throw off the audience from the beginning as the character of Solange herself does not appear until toward the film’s conclusion making yourself ask, “what did the filmmakers do to Solange?” and wanting to know why they waited to bring her out until the film’s final act. Don’t be put-off by the film’s steady pace as rest assured that the film’s climactic revelation is shocking and worth every minute spent on trying to decipher all the clues to this wonderful giallo. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you’re proven wrong when the credits roll and you’re  left with a mix of both disturbance and satisfaction, which is a concoction that only a unique and special film such as this can bring to the table. Because of it’s fantastic story and wonderfully genius execution, the film has since developed a strong and devoted following over the years and for good reason:  this is indeed one of the best giallo films of the early seventies  and it’s Catholic school setting, its overwhelmingly sleazy ambiance and abundance of nudity have helped establish (and to this day, keep) it’s reputation among giallo fans everywhere.

 

 

SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL

 

Presented here in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film looks absolutely beautiful. Colors and hues are vivid and this is best the film has ever looked. Audio is in DTS-HD MA MONO 1.0 and sounds great. There is the option to view this film with its original Italian soundtrack (with accompanying English subtitles newly translated for this release) and English subs on the English soundtrack for the deaf and hard of hearing.

 

The disc also boasts some fantastic special features that become imperative to watch once the films comes to a close:

 

What Have You Done To Decency? – An interesting (making you laugh out loud at times) thirteen-and-a-half minute interview with actress Karin Baal who played Herta, (in German but with English subtitles), Enrico’s wife and teacher at the school. She talks about questioning the director regarding the often risqué scenes – and controversial subject matter – and their relevance to the film itself and she talks about how she sternly advised him (by means of almost having to re-negotiate her contract) that she would not appear nude at all in the film. I found myself unexpectedly laughing out loud at moments she would describe star Fabio Testi as a “baby” and that he had to be “guided and led around” by the director while doing his scenes. She reveals that she was informed the night before principal filming that the film was going to be filmed in English and that Testi was too lazy to learn his lines, resorting to just moving his mouth whenever it was his turn to speak – and the way she presents her recollections of the film are sometime absolutely hilarious.  She goes on to point out the logic errors in the film and proves several of them by showing us lobby cards of the film in which the situations on the cards don’t match the actual scenes in the film. I love her personality here and I, honestly, was very disappointed when this came to an end. I could have listened to her talk about the film for hours!

 

First Action Hero – Twenty-one minutes (in Italian with English subs) with the incredibly handsome Fabio Testi. He talks about how he got his role in the film, its taboo subject matter and what it was like working with director Dallamano. And that voice of his! Watch this and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Even though this was filmed back in 2008, it was still great to watch.

 

Old School Producer – An on-camera interview with Solange producer  Fulvio Lucisano running approximately eleven minutes where he discusses how he met Massimo Dallamano, his involvement with the film and his association with both Aristide Massaccesi and composer Ennio Morricone. He also hints at his desire to have the film remade – or have a sequel written – but states that it would probably never get off the ground due to how different the world is now and how different people feel nowadays toward the film’s then-highly controversial subject matter.  From what I have researched, this is an edited version of a previously recorded interview he gave back in 2008 but still worth the watch nonetheless.

 

Innocence Lost: Solange and the Schoolgirls in Peril Trilogy – Michael Mackenzie – who also did the great piece, “Dolls of Flesh” for the Arrow Blu-Ray Edition of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key –  writes and narrates this visual essay that gives an in-depth look and overview of the themes not only in What Have You Done to Solange? but also in the two companion semi-sequel  films that followed several years later that would comprise what would become known as the Schoolgirls in Peril trilogy, What Have They Done To Your Daughters? and Rings of Fear nodding to the giallo itself and how it influences a countless number of thrillers and other horror films. There are spoilers galore in this segment so if you haven’t watched any of the above mentioned films – or are planning to in the future – I would stay clear of this fantastically-written feature until you get a chance to view them. This piece also spoils Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece Don’t Torture a Duckling and Aldo Lado’s wonderful and mysterious Who Saw Her Die?, which are two giallo favorites of mine, as well.

 

Trailer – The gorgeous English-language theatrical trailer is presented here. I would have loved to have seen a few others in their overseas versions or its original Italian-language edition.

 

Audio commentary – British film critic Alan Jones, accompanied by fellow film critic Kim Newman, moderates a very good audio commentary covering topics including the film itself and other giallo and thriller films in the genre and their influence on modern cinema.

 

Though the special features are well-presented here and are worth taking the time to sit in front of, I was very disheartened at the complete absence of the fantastic and beautiful Camille Keaton as this was her debut feature just before going on to conquer the horror world in the still-controversial exploitation classic I Spit On Your Grave. Having played the titular character whose name and presence play a crucial, pivotal role in the film’s climax and twist ending, I would have loved to have listened to her thoughts in looking back on the film and recounting her time during filming. More so, I would have welcomed the chance to hear her stance on the film’s subject matter both at the time of production and her take on it now, forty-four years later even though, ironically, she delivers absolutely no dialogue in the film itself.

 

Arrow once again delivers as they’ve done with every release I’ve been able to sit in front of. The film looks great and it brings me great joy to see the time and money they spend on preserving these great films that have such an important place in horror history and its ending results. I commend them for how far they’ve come and the direction in which they’re going. The only complaint, if you can call it that, I would have for this Blu-Ray was that it wasn’t as chock-full of special features as Blood Rage or Island of Death. Though it would have been nice to see Solange herself and listen to what she has to say about the film that launched her career, what is presented here is worth of any horror or exploitation fan taking them time to seek out and add this to their collection. With that said,  this stunning release is enough to have this release given the title of “definitive edition”.  What Did You Do To Solange, Arrow Video? You gave her a fitting and deserving place in our horror-collecting hearts and made sure we wouldn’t forget her for decades to come. And for that, we thank you.

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