Massimo Dallamano, 1972
Starring: Karin Baal, Fabio Testi, Joachim Fuchsberger, Cristina Galbó, Camille Keaton
Henry, a teacher at a local girls’ high school, is out for a romantic afternoon with one of his students, Elizabeth, when she witnesses a girl being killed. After this initial horror, more of Elizabeth’s classmates follow and it seems that the murderer has a vendetta against the whole class. Henry is determined to find out who is responsible before he is named a suspect. There are plenty of viable candidates on campus – including his icy, estranged wife – but soon the killer gives Henry a more personal reason to get involved.
Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? straddles the line between giallo film and German krimi – it was actually based on Edgar Wallace’s novel, The Clue of the New Pin – but unlike the latter, it sheds the comic book-style mystery plots for a slow burning tale of underage sex, dark secrets, and revenge. Like the krimi films, which were packed with German and international cast members, but set in London, this was shot on location and cinematographer Joe D’Amato (yes, the horror/exploitation director) makes the best of some British atmosphere. But this is notably not a British film and it retains a thoroughly European sensibility, down to its casual attitude about infidelity, an older man’s affair with a much younger girl, and a refusal to be reserved or prudish about sex.
Much of this sexual energy is focused on Italian beefcake Fabio Testi, who starred in everything from art house classics (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Most Important Thing is to Love) and Italian crime films (Gang War in Naples), to spaghetti westerns (Four of the Apocalypse) and even a few giallo films (Rings of Fear). This was his first in the genre and he gives a solid, likable performance as a character that should come across as an absolute bastard. Though Henry (aka Enrico) is cheating on his wife by having an affair with a high school student, he comes across as sensitive and romantic – which is, of course, why he’s so attractive to 16 and 17 year old girls. This is sort of a spoiler, but in a twist, it is revealed that his young love, Elizabeth (the wholesome-looking Cristina Galbó of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and The House That Screamed) died a virgin. This makes his character a bit less sleazy and makes it easier for his wife (Bond-girl and krimi regular Karin Baal) to reconcile with him and join his crime-solving quest.
This Italian-West German coproduction has the cast rounded out with other krimi stars, including Joachim Fuchsberger (Dead Eyes of London), and – surprisingly – by a pre-I Spit on Your Grave Camille Keaton in her very first film role. Though she’s usually associated with the American rape revenge film, she appeared in a few low budget Eurohorror efforts, such as Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremony in the same year. Impatient viewers will probably be annoyed that her character, the titular Solange, doesn’t turn up until the film’s final act, but her presence is undeniably impacting.
SPOILERS: Solange’s character is obviously the crux of the mystery and if Henry can find her, he will figure out who is killing the girls and why. Though it takes quite some time to get there, What Have You Done to Solange? takes a nasty turn not normally seen in giallo films, when it is revealed that most of the girls at the school were engaged in a teenage sex ring. One of their number, Solange, became pregnant and the rest of the girls were afraid that her condition would give them all away. They forced her to go through a kitchen-sink abortion that was violent and painful, causing Solange to suffer mental trauma that left her insensate. Her father, who has been caring for her, is the one out to get revenge.
Despite the film’s often slow, methodical approach to detection and mystery, the murder scenes are surprisingly graphic. The killer uses a long knife to stab his victims between the legs, horrifyingly recreating the film’s central trauma. And underrated director Massimo Dallamano (known for A Black Veil for Lisa, Venus in Furs, Dorian Gray, and other blends of horror and exploitation) is not afraid to bring this up at some unexpected moments, including graphic pictures of the dead, violated girls. Few giallo films were willing to be this unpleasant, though certainly Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling or New York Ripper qualify, as does Short Night of the Glass Dolls, though Death Occurred Last Night – where the central victim is a mentally handicapped girl – comes closes in tone and style to What Have You Done to Solange?
One place where Dallamano loses his footing is in the relationship between Henry and his wife Herta, the school’s German teacher. Like Who Saw Her Die?, the film begins with a separated couple where one (or both) of the members are having an affair and they are reconciled by a murder that both are trying to solve. In that film, the victim in question is their daughter, so it makes sense that they are bonding over grief and determination to find her murderer. In this case, there is something unsettling and misogynistic about the fact that the wife is blamed for the separation (basically she’s an uptight bitch) and welcomes Henry back with open arms when she realizes that he didn’t have sex with a high school student – he was just making out with one, in an apartment he rented specifically for that purpose.
Still, despite its flaws, the film has a solid sense of character development, which is surely lacking across the genre. Overall I would recommend What Have You Done to Solange? It’s available on DVD and strikes an odd chord between giallo film and thriller, with far more emphasis on character and a cohesive plot than most giallo films. I am a sucker for anything with Fabio Testi, so maybe take my opinion with a grain of salt. On a final note, there is yet another wonderful score from the great Ennio Morricone. Also be on the lookout for Dallamano’s loose follow up, the confusingly titled What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), which I’m reviewing soon.