[review by JA Kerswell]
John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) casts a long shadow over Gianni Martucci’s low budget giallo/slasher hybrid TRHAUMA (1980). That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own idiosyncrasies, as you’d expect from Italian thrillers - which, by the late 1970s, had splintered into a vortex of sleaze, gore and lira-store thrills. However, at its heart, it plays like a sexed up version of Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS - which, in turn, had provided the slasher movie its one-by-one template. Although, perhaps even Agatha Christie might baulk at a killer driven by his love of lego! Yes, you read that right. His love of lego.
TRHAUMA mostly takes place at one location: the remote summer villa of warring couple Lilly (Domitilla Cavazza) and Andrea (Gaetano Russo). They have invited their friends and frenemies for a weekend by the pool. This includes photographer Paul (Timothy Wood) and nude model Olga (Anna Maria Chiatante) - who takes off into the woods and disrobes after the briefest of hellos and starts erotic posing near some bushes. Amongst the other guests are the oversized Bitto (Franco Diogene), who - in a possible nod to his role in Andrea Bianchi’s STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975) - undresses to his boxers and jumps straight into the pool on his arrival. Gambling addict Andrea pesters the guests for a loan for a sure bet, but it is clear that he has already borrowed up to his limit and is batted away by everyone.
Andrea’s pestering is quickly forgotten when the guests realise that Olga never returned from the woods. Paul insists he left her there and headed into the village to shoot the sunset. What they don’t know is that Olga was raped and murdered by a lumbering madman (Per Holgher); who drags one foot behind him and has one glassy eye. There is no attempt to hide the identity of the killer and we see him as a child being goaded by another boy in a prologue to climb a tree - from which he falls and hits his head. However, that’s not to say that TRHAUMA doesn’t have a mystery element. We also see the killer being paid in lego by an unseen someone for his dastardly deeds! The film suggests that his head injury has kept him in a permanently childlike state; where he is both homicidal and easily manipulated. And every killing he does he is one step closer to completing his giant lego castle in his cellar. I swear I’m not making this up!
The killer also has a nasty sideline in animal murder that would be offensive if it wasn’t so patently phoney. He beheads a Halloween decoration standing in for a black cat with a quick swipe of his machete (after presumably putting him off his stroke with his lego). He also kills an Alsatian that is standing in for a sheep dog. The growls don’t match the smiling dog, who seems to be having a jolly old time rolling around in the grass with the actor.
TRHAUMA borrows liberally from HALLOWEEN and other North American slashers in a similar way that Joe D’Amato did with ABSURD (1981). Chase scenes - often extended set pieces in the slasher - are often relatively perfunctory in the giallo. Here, director Martucci (under the anglicised pseudonym John Martucc) shows a surprisingly deft hand at suspense towards the closing third of the film - including an effective chase through the villa and a genuine scare where two characters barricaded in a room realise their error. However, Martucci does not seem able to master night-for-day photography; with one scene veering from near darkness to sun bleached and back again. But it’s all served with a decidedly - and unmistakably - Italian flourish. The director is certainly not going to give Mario Landi sleepless nights in the sleaze department. But he does manage to shoehorn some some brief full frontal female nudity, several sexual assaults, lesbian blackmail and a bit of necrophilia. Which sounds like a lot until you see what Landi was up to around the same time!
However, despite aping what was then currently popular on North American (and Italian) screens, the film also has one foot in the past. Despite the rather hilariously cheerful and uptempo disco number that opens the film (which features a Minnie Mouse soundalike chanting: “So dance!”), it also looks back to heroines in flowing chiffon of the early 70s Italian horror and even further to the Universal monsters. In some places listed as ‘the being’ (presumably a reference to ‘the shape’), the killer here is presented as a heavy breathing, deranged loon with a penchant for strangling ladies and hacking up their boyfriends with a blade. Unlike Michael Myers, he is maskless but walks slowly and methodically - albeit dragging his withered leg behind him reminiscent of a gothic monster. He does, however, getting an arrow to the eye by the film’s final girl channeling her best Jamie Lee Curtis.
The film closes on a particularly nihilistic and cruel note; with a portentous biblical quote. These rather pretentious - and somewhat ridiculous given the preceding 80 minutes - codas were all the rage in Italian low budget horror movies around this time. The film appears to have got a limited Italian theatrical release before turning up on domestic TV in 1983.
Gianni Martucci had previously written the screenplays for a couple of heyday gialli NAKED GIRL MURDERED IN THE PARK (1972) and possibly Carroll Baker’s most obscure giallo THE FLOWER WITH PETALS OF STEEL (1973). He is probably best known for the relatively late-to-the-game poliziotteschi BLAZING FLOWERS (1978) with George Hilton and the ill-fated Marc Porel. His last credit was for the Lucio Fulci presented THE RED MONKS (1988). The screenplay is by Alessandro Capone, who went on to write Ruggero Deodato’s BODY COUNT (1986) and write/direct the post-SCREAM giallo/slasher mashup PRIMETIME MURDER (2000) about a shear wielding killer targeting models.
A few of the cast had notable careers. Apart from STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, Franco Diogene had a prolific acting career until his death in 2005. Gaetano Russo - here appearing under his regular pseudonym of Ronny Ross - was previously in the giallo THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS (1974) and worked again with the director on THE RED MONKS. Silvia Mauri - who plays a character called Silvia - was best known for her stage work. This shows, as she is clearly still acting in that medium, which leads to some amusingly overblown mugging to the camera. Roberto Posse - as Silvia’s husband Carlo - had an early role in Jorge Grau’s remarkable LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974) and appeared in Lamberto Bava’s MACABRE (also 1980). Swedish actor Per Holgher - who plays the killer - was actually a model and comedian in real life.
TRHAUMA is not really the best of both worlds. It wouldn’t have given either John Carpenter or Dario Argento sleepless nights, but is not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests.
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female: 4 / male: 3
2) Female strangled
3) Male killed (off screen)
4) Male hacked with blade
5) Male hacked with blade
6) Female strangled
7) Female hacked with blade (suggested)