I love me some Italian genre movies for a lot of reasons—the cinematography, the music, the overall energy—but I especially love their giallo movies (another name for their whodunit-style slasher movies) because they’re usually batshit insane. They exist in worlds where logic in narrative doesn’t mean nearly as much as shocks and salaciousness. Few of these movies make any sense at all, and only a handful of them are good. Some of the best are Dario Argento‘s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Mario Bava‘s Twitch of the Death Nerve, and today’s movie, which might actually be the best of the bunch: Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange?
This Trailer is Super NSFW (because it’s Italian).
A lot of titles from the era had long, flowery numbers like this one—and I think that’s part of why I love them. “What have you done to Solange?” is an evocative question made even more evocative by the fact that the question, the answer, and the character of Solange, and even the name “Solange” aren’t mentioned until 70 minutes into the movie. Up until then, it’s kind of a murder mystery, kind of a movie about adultery, sort of a movie about gossiping schoolgirls, and there’s, like, ESP or something going on. Honestly, it’s weird as crap.
The film takes place in London (though zero time is spent worrying about the actual geography of London), where an Italian expat (Fabio Testi) is working at a girl’s school as a gym teacher. He’s pretty darn handsome, it has to be said, and naturally, he’s having an affair with a girl named Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo). But he’s also a married man, rationalizing the affair because his wife (Karina Baal) is frigid …as evidenced by the fact that she wears no makeup and pulls her hear back as tight as it can possibly go. [Ed. Note: seems legit.]
While in a canoe on the Thames (sort of), making out and what not, Elizabeth sees a black-gloved somebody stab a girl we later find out is a friend of hers from school. Elizabeth has recurring visions of this night, but doesn’t bother to go to the police, only the room full of skeevy old white dudes who may or may not be the killer. A police inspector (Joachim Fuchsberger) is investigating who he believes is the prime suspect—the gym teacher—but because this is an Italian movie, and since the gym teacher is the ostensible hero, he’s allowed to go along and detect things as well. Huh? Well, you see, in these movies it doesn’t matter if evidence is stacked up against the lead: it’s forgotten because the lead can’t be the killer. Make sense?
At a certain point in the movie —spoilers!—Elizabeth is killed inside the sex apartment she and her teacher share (yes, they have one of those). It is shortly after this that, for some reason, the wife decides now she loves her husband after all and stops being frigid—shown by her starting to wear makeup and do her hair nicer. Get it? Around the same time, after several more girls have met horrible ends, through a very particular pattern of knife wounds, the teacher starts hearing rumblings of a girl named Solange who’s been missing. She was friends with the murdered girls as well as some of the others, and it seems weird nobody’s mentioned her before, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a reason for that: the plot.
This is where we finally start learning things that are important to the plot. In any giallo movie, my favorite parts are these, when the twisty puzzle starts to get explained. I love them especially because, most of the time, the explanations are so weird and nonsensical that you’re not sure you’re paying attention properly (even though you probably are). Everybody in gialli is guilty of something, but it’s up to the movie to tell you who the killer is, and that usually only makes sense at passing glance. I won’t spoil the ending here, but that may be because I’ve already forgotten it (that happens with these sort of films from time to time).
What Have You Done to Solange? is director Dallamano’s best film by an Italian country kilometer, but it’s not the best film he worked on. He started his career as a cinematographer and actually was the DP on Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, two movies that look amazing. He had an eye for sure, and Solange is gorgeously photographed, making the most out of rooms full of early-’70s chic and recognizable landmarks in London. It’s got a lot of lurid moments of the killer spying on schoolgirls in the shower, but besides those and a couple of nasty murder images, it’s actually a surprisingly tame movie by gialli standards.
Like the Leone films on which he worked, Dallamano also utilized a score by Ennio Morricone. It’s a haunting bit of music that combines the mystery/horror elements of the story along with the “innocence” of the young girls—Solange in particular—into what sounds like it could be a nice afternoon’s punting music, or a creepy jaunt into the macabre. There’s nothing particularly singular about Morricone’s score for this, but it’s always nice to hear a score of a movie like this done by a competent and accomplished composer.
What Have You Done to Solange? was a big movie at the time it was released in 1972; the Italians loved it, but the German audience—this was an Italian/West German co-production—thought it was amazing. In their version of the movie, cut in very deliberate ways, the inspector (played by a German), is the main character. In Spain, where 22 year old Cristina Galbo was already a huge star, they had it blown up to 70mm and shown as a Roadshow. And Galbo dies in the middle of the movie!
If you’re a fan of gialli and haven’t seen this movie yet, you really need to. And if you’re curious about the genre and want to watch this movie, know it’s probably the most coherent of the lot and then get ready to be confused by the other ones all the more.
Images: Italian International Films/Arrow Video
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He’s seen a poop-ton of weird movies which he writes about in the Schlock & Awe column every week. Follow him on Twitter, why don’t ya?!