What Have You Done To Solange? Blu-ray Review: Giallo at Its Finest

Sex, violence, and style, or everything you want in an Italian horror film.
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In the 1930s, the Mondadori company began producing a series of paperback books in Italy.  They were usually translations of English-language murder mysteries and they came in a distinctive yellow cover.  Italian directors took note and began making films loosely based on those books.  By the 1960s, a distinctive horror sub-genre emerged from this - giallo, the Italian word for yellow became the nickname for the books and subsequently the films that came out of them.  Quickly, the films moved away from direct adaptations of the earlier novels and adopted their own characteristics.  Known for their distinctive cinematography, their black-gloved killers, their extreme violence. and their loose, often incoherent plots, Italian giallos became very popular in the 1960s and especially the 1970s where they became precursors to the American slasher genre.

What Have You Done to Solange? is prototypical of the giallo era.  It checks nearly every box one associate with the genre.  Yet, it's also one of the finest films in that category.

Set in an all-girls Catholic school in London, the Italian teacher Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is having a romance with his student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó). While out rowing at a park, Elizabeth sees a man chasing a young girl and a flash of a knife.  The next morning they learn one of their classmates was brutally murdered at the park.  Soon more girls are murdered in similar fashion and Elizabeth begins having nightmares of a bearded priest taking advantage of her.  Rosseni becomes a suspect and so he is forced to look for the killer himself, while the police continue to bungle the job.

The girls who keep dying were all part of a popular lesbian cult (this is a '70s horror movie after all) and one of the girls (the Solange of the title) mysteriously disappeared many months ago. The murders seem to be all tied up around what happened to her and maybe they will be solved by finding her.  Or maybe not.  Plots in these things are notoriously sloppy and while this one at least follows a somewhat logical path there are plenty enough asides and red herrings to leave more than a few loose ends.

Directed by Massimo Dalamano (who also did the cinematography for A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More) and shot by Aristide Massaccesi (the birth name of the notorious Joe D’Amato), What Have You Done to Solange? has all the cinematic tricks of the genre.  It is filled with dark, rich colors; contains many strange, off-kilter angles; and possesses several killer's point-of-view tracking shots.

The violence is limited for a giallo, but what we get is horrifying.  Sex and violence often seem to go together in these sorts of films, but none do so quite so explicitly as the knife slit up the genitals as we get here.  The camera lingers on the dead girls to let that point sink in as Dalamano flashes back to the violations over and over again.

As one expects there are copious amounts of sex and nudity including a couple of peeping-tom shots of the girls in the school shower soaping themselves up in a way that only exists in teenage boys' (and horror film directors') fantasies.  You’ll be forgiven for lusting after characters who are supposed to about 16 once you realize the actresses are much older.

The acting is par for the course for the genre, which is to say not very good.  It doesn’t help that, like so many films of this type from this era, it was filmed with the vocals dubbed in later (in both English and Italian - though the English actually matches up with the lip movements).  It is serviceable for an Italian horror film and genre lovers know to overlook such things as bad acting and nonsensical plots.

What Have You Done To Solange? sits close to the top of the giallo heap, which doesn’t necessarily make it anything close to a great film, but it does its job admirably.  With lots of stylistic violence, rampant sex/nudity, and some terrific atmosphere, it's exactly what fans of Italian horror are looking for.

The Blu-ray is presented with a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative.  It looks quite good for what it is - low-budget Italian horror.  While it maintains a great deal of grit and grain, I suspect this is exactly how it was shot as the look fits the overall feel of the film.  But otherwise it looks clean without any noticeable scratches or defects.  The colors remain sharp and the blacks look good.  Likewise the sound is also good.  Ennio Morricone did the score, and while its not quite as epic as the work he did for Sergio Leone, the main theme is quite effective.

Extras include separate interviews with actress Karin Baal (who seems to have a distaste for the film with its pictures of “black triangles and boobs” and a lover’s pad covered in pin-ups), Fabio Testi, and producer Fulvio Lucisano (both who have much fonder memories of the film).  There’s also an informative new audio commentary with two film critics and a fascinating visual essay exploring the films themes along with its two semi-sequals.

If your a fan of the genre, then you’ll certainly love this film.  If you already love the film, then this is an excellent upgrade from what ever format you’ve seen it on before. 

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