After two decades in the Italian film industry, famed suspense/horror director Dario Argento was invited to make a feature film in America in the early nineties. Having enthusiastically leapt at the chance, Argento brought his trademark gore, convoluted plots, stylized compositions, and static tone to American audiences. While “Trauma” does feature Argento’s aforementioned trademarks, it suffers from his polished European sensibilities. While a story of this nature may have played fine to Italian audiences—and “Trauma” is typical Argento, meaning it’s interchangeable with every other film he’s made—it seems somehow forced or contrived when it was brought stateside.
The film begins with several people killed by a serial killer noted for his modus operandi: the decapitations of his victims. Following the decapitation of her parents, anorexic junky Aura, played by a young Asia Argento, is befriended by a do-gooder who agrees to help her find her parents killer.
Their investigation into several deaths leads them to uncover the fact that everyone murdered—save Aura’s parents—worked in a local hospital, under the supervision of a doctor, who has since lost his license and has seemingly vanished into a world of liquor and depression.
Throughout their investigations, the film intercuts between several subplots, including a curious boy who breaks into his neighbor’s house, discovers his neighbor is the killer, and plays with the device the killer uses to decapitate his/her victims.
To those familiar with Argento’s films, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done in his stronger films. But Dario Argento has never been one to shy away from recycle themes or even stories, so the fact that “Trauma” is a retread isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Trauma’s” biggest problem is that it too often suffers from identity crises. It wants to be a drama, a suspenseful mystery, a horror film – and it fails to excel in any of its targeted genres—though it comes closest to being a taut mystery than anything else. There are enough little moments here to warrant checking out this film. The decapitations are excellent—with effects by the incomparable Tom Savini—as is the excessive visual style and a few wonderfully campy performances, most notable Piper Laurie and Frederic Forrest’s over-the-top performances.