Sunday, April 24, 2022

TRAUMA (1993) Blu-ray Review

Trauma (1993) d. Dario Argento (Italy) (106 min)

David (Christopher Rydell), a graphic artist for a local news station, encounters a young Romanian runaway Aura (Asia Argento) contemplating suicide on a highway overpass. He convinces her to come in off the ledge, but when he tries to comfort her at a local diner, she reveals her bulimic tendencies, fleeing for the bathroom and into the waiting arms Dr. Judd’s (Frederic Forrest) Farraday Clinic cronies, from which she had recently escaped. Returning Aura to her spiritualist mother Adriana (Piper Laurie), the family reunion is spoiled when Adriana holds a séance in which she senses a murderer at the table and is herself murdered along with her husband by a mysterious serial killer known as “The Headhunter,” so dubbed for his/her decapitatory tendencies with a portable garroter. (Who knew there was a call for such things?) Aura flees again into David’s arms, and the two begin an investigation into the killer’s connections to Dr. Judd, Adriana, and the increasing number of victims, all of whom seem to be connected by a common thread…

His first solo effort following 1987’s Opera and his 50/50 collaboration with George Romero, Two Evil Eyes (1990), Trauma is often (and accurately) viewed as the dividing line between Argento’s Italian masterpieces and the varying degrees of mediocrity that followed. Shot primarily in and around Minneapolis, this appeared at first glance to be The Italian Hitchcock’s attempt at reaching a broader American audience, using more established U.S. stars such as Laurie, Forrest, and (in a glorified cameo) Brad Dourif, and reenlisting the services of a past-his-glory-days Tom Savini to handle makeup effects.

Unfortunately, all of those mentioned above turn in middling work, with Laurie apparently looking to recreate her operatic turn as Mrs. White in Carrie and Forrest struggling with a superfluous neck brace and a floating accent/vocal affect. Meanwhile, the gore set-pieces are reduced to monotonous close-ups of a wire noose slicing through the interchangeable victims’ throats and the occasional – and laughable – talking decapitated head on the floor. You hired Savini for this???

But these issues are nothing compared to the lead performances, with a shallow Rydell (director Mark Rydell’s son) attempting to anchor a film that is far beyond his reach and a mind-boggling, face-grabbing melodramatic turn from Asia (in the first of several ill-advised lead roles for daddy) whose attempts at a Romanian dialect only further obscure her unwieldy grasp on the English language. (You’ll need the subtitles for this one, folks.)

Argento and novelist T.E.D. Klein’s script, which includes some sweeping and cringe-worthy misinformation about bulimia (especially when they refer to it as anorexia – sorry gents, not the same thing), cribs heavily from some of the director’s previous efforts, including Deep Red’s psychic medium (who reveals there is a murderer in the room), Suspiria’s rainstorm (the Headhunter “only kills when it rains!”), the amateur detective of Bird with a Crystal Plumage (among others), and the trademark animal imagery (here seen in the form of butterflies and lizards).

While there is one neat plot twist, where the maniac obscures its identity in most novel fashion, and a doozy of a flashback sequence explaining the victims’ connection to one another and the reason behind the vengeful killer’s spree, it all feels a little watered down and uninspired. Pino Donaggio’s score is perfectly adequate, but feels “safer” than the director’s landmark work with Goblin (or even Phenomena’s heavy-metal song catalog), and the signature camera swoops and flourishes, handled by cinematographer Raffaele Mertes (The Sect), feel lazily shoehorned in as an afterthought.

Not a complete failure but certainly a step down from his classics. Barring 2000’s slight uptick with Sleepless, it was hereafter that Argento fans were unwillingly drafted into service as apologists for such painful ventures as Mother of Tears, Giallo, and Dracula 3D.


• Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues! 
• Audio commentary with film historian and author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas 
• Newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm interpositive 
• "Beheaded" - an interview with writer/director Dario Argento 
• "Heads Above the Rest" - an interview with special effects artist Tom Savini 
• "Female Hamlet" - an interview with writer Franco Ferrini 
• "Ruby Rain" - an interview with composer Pino Donaggio 
• "When the Lightning Strikes" - an interview with cinematographer Raffaele Mertes 
• Interview with actress Sharon Barr 
• Interview with actor / casting director Ira Belgrade 
• Interview with actor James Russo 
• Interview with actress Piper Laurie 
• Interview with first assistant director Rod Smith 
• "On Set with Tom Savini" - an archival featurette with behind-the-scenes footage 
• Archival electronic press kit with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew 
• Video workprint featuring several extended scenes 
• Multiple trailers 
• Reversible cover artwork 
• English SDH subtitles


Jon Kitley (Kitley's Krypt), Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room), J. Blake Fichera (Scored to Death) and AC sit down with Ian Simmons of Kicking the Seat for another round of ACCADEMIA GIALLO, our ongoing series exploring the sexiest, scariest, and sleaziest that Italy (and other purveyors of Euro-horror) have to offer.

Trauma is available now on a supplement-packed Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome and can be ordered HERE



  1. I've always had a soft spot for Trauma, although it maybe helped that I saw it before I was more familiar with other, better, films from Argento. But I like the third act, and think the rest is playful enough to at least be solid entertainment.

    1. It's funny, after I finished beating up on it, I realized that if I had been sitting around with a bunch of Turkey-loving fools (as I often am), I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more from an "entertainment" standpoint because it's never boring and there's enough bananas stuff in there to keep one content. I think the one thing is that Argento's films rarely have the same "we're just messing around with you" tone that a lot of the other Italian directors do - Dario always seems like he wants to be taken seriously, that he's not kidding, even when he trots a giant praying mantis or monkey with a straight razor in front of you.