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What Have you done to solange?

Year: 1972

Dir: Massimo Dallamano

Gen: Italian Giallo

iallo offered a natural continuation of the popularity that Italian cinema had experienced overseas from the Spaghetti Western, and, as such, it makes sense that names associated with that genre would try their hand in the modern stylistic horror. In this series alone, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino both directed Spaghetti Westerns before making the switch to Gialli. However, neither of

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their efforts in either genre would match up to Massimo Dallamano. Cinematographer on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, Dallamano would be essential in bringing the series that made Clint Eastwood a star to life and become a Giallo icon for creating the bluntly named 'Schoolgirls in Peril' trilogy that began with What Have You Done to Solange?

Dallamano had proven himself a competent director through a Spaghetti Western called Banditos, and two (albeit highly controversial) adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. The latter was included in his Giallo canon after its Italian release was delayed by 6 years over the controversial content and severe editing reframing the voyeuristic plot as a mystery more typical of the genre. This was released 3 years after ...Solange though, which would widely be recognised as Dallamano’s masterpiece. Solange is a slow burn Giallo that plays out with restraint and sympathy for victims sorely lacking in the more excessive genre entries.

In Solange, we follow schoolteacher Enrcio Rosseni (Fabio Testi), an Italian PE teacher in 1970s London, who becomes a suspect for the brutal murder of a student that he was known to have been close with. The only person able to clear his name is another student, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo), who he was having an affair with. As the killer continues to prey on the students of Rosseni’s school, he teams up with his estranged wife Herta (Karan Baal) to track down the killer and find out just what the troubled Solange (Camille Keaton) has to do with the mystery. The story was claimed to be taken from the Edgar Wallace novel The Clue of the New Pin, but Troy Howarth dismisses this as invention to push connection to the German 'krimis' films, which had similar characteristics to the Italian Giallo movement, and states the story is a wholly original concept created by Massimo Dallamano and Bruno Di Geronimo.

Krimis films tended to play out similarly to Giallo, although contained less of the visual flair or eccentricities that permeate the Italian sub-genre. They often focused upon the procedural aspects of the investigations more than the atrocities being committed, usually featuring London and stereotypical UK police in Scotland Yard uncovering conspiracies. This setting is one of the primary reasons Solange could have been so easily viewed as either homage or continuation of the German movement. Rarely for Giallo, although previously seen in Sergio Martino’s All the Colours of the Dark, did the genre take place in the UK, generally instead choosing to highlight the eccentricities of mainland European locales like Rome. Its vision of London is equally extravagant however, contrasting the quaint rivers and the grandiose boarding school against a chilling plot that disturbs even now.

The plot is the main source of unease in Solange, as whilst the murders are very unpleasant in nature, they’re notably less gratuitous compared to other entries on this list. Each killing has a drawn-out impact upon Enrico, the other teachers, and the embedded cliques of schoolgirls who knew the victims. Dallamano’s framing of the murders leaves the gory details to the imagination of the viewer, allowing the mature areas to be explored later in the plot and the heavy focus upon the moral ambiguity to disconcert. Under a less talented writer, the character of Enrico could have been presented detestable due to his lecherous nature, but under Dallamano and Geronimo his journey is an extended grey area, as his guilt and genuine pathos pushes him further into the mystery.

Both the score and cinematography extend the unease felt throughout, challenging our perceptions of the murder mystery plot. Ennio Morricone’s discordant jazz score is symbolic of the film’s free form delivery. It alternates without warning between hectic crescendos in scenes of brutality, gentle percussion in investigation, and, at one point, a severely violent soundscape that makes a pivotal flashback more challenging to watch than it already was. Similarly, Dallamano’s previous work as a director of photography (although Solange was shot by Joe D’Amato) creates a visual presence that experiments with the confines of Giallo. Whilst red herrings are usually confined to dialogue in previous Gialli, here POV shots through keyholes or peep holes provide a constant sense of unease as characters draw out their inquisitive and frequently perverted natures. There are also several transitions which draw together excerpts of murders with characters awakening from nightmares, or, in one remarkable scene, the grieving faces of a victim’s parents. The smoothness with which it is handled draws an unpredictability into the proceedings that ensures the viewer never feels safe in Dallamano’s nightmare.

Solange is an exceptional piece of Giallo filmmaking; a unique entry by a director who could have been a real challenger to Dario Argento. Dallamano’s schoolgirl trilogy saw Solange followed by What Have They Done to Your Daughters, and was to be finished with Red Rings of Fear, but he sadly passed before filming began. Red Rings of Fear was eventually released in 1976, crediting Dallamano as screenwriter, but couldn’t replicate his previous efforts in terms of quality. The plot may be wrapped a little too conveniently on Solange’s central mystery, but the film cannot be recommended enough as a piece of daring Italian filmmaking and a contemporary horror classic.

Where to watch

Podcast Discussion

Further Reading

So Deadly, So Perverse, Vol. 1 by Troy Howarth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PATRICK DALZIEL

Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed  particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.

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ABOUT NEON EYE

Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.

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