What Have You Done to Solange? Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
A sexually sadistic killer is preying on the girls of St. Mary’s School. Student Elizabeth witnessed one of the murders, but her hazy recollections of a knife-wielding figure in black do nothing to further the police’s investigations. Why is the killer choosing these young women? And what does it have to do with a girl named Solange? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
What Have You Done to Solange? (Italian: Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange?; aka: Who Killed Solange?, Who's Next?, Terror in the Woods, The School That Couldn't Scream, and The Secret of the Green Pins, 1972) is one of the most popular and easily obtained giallo films of the 1970s. Yet, despite his massive contributions to Italian cinema, co-writer and director Massimo Dallamano remains a relatively obscure figure, even in fan circles. His filmmaking career began when he worked as a cinematographer on Sergio Leone’s transformative first two spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964;co-credited with cinematographer Federico G. Larraya) and For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965). This experience led him to make his (non-documentary) directorial debut with an understated, somewhat generic western called Banditos (aka: You Die...but I Live, 1967), followed shortly by his first giallo, A Black Veil for Lisa (Italian: La morte non ha sesso, 1968). Because it was made before Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970) changed the giallo landscape, Black Veil for Lisa was more of a traditional detective story, rather than a psychosexual murder mystery. Neither film was much of a hit and Dallamano eventually found success with flashy sexploitation exercises – namely Venus in Furs (Italian: Venere in pelliccia; aka: Devil in the Flesh, 1969 – not to be confused with Jess Franco’s 1969 film also titled Venus in Furs) and Dorian Gray (Italian: Il dio chiamato Dorian, 1970). On its face, What Have You Done to Solange? is a solid blending of Black Veil’s neatly structured plotting and the evocative and lurid imagery of Venus in Furs.
But it’s also more than that. What Have You Done to Solange? successfully traverses forbidden romances and heightened emotional experiences without bogging itself down in exposition and half-baked psychological jargon. There’s plenty of charm in the armchair psychiatry and hysterical performances of most gialli, but this more restrained storytelling is also refreshing within the framework of the genre’s extreme style. Dallamano’s treatment of sex and violence is also pretty unique and specifically in a moral context. Few gialli are this concerned with their Catholic heritage. There’s plenty of bare skin and some heavy-petting, but the film is sure to remind its audience that these are underaged girls (the characters, not the actresses). Full-frontal nudity is often viewed through peepholes or framed in otherwise shamefully voyeuristic ways. In addition, the main male protagonist, Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi), is romantically tied to one of the victims, but, after it is revealed that he never had sex with her, he is ‘rehabilitated’ and even rekindles his relationship with his estranged wife, Herta (Karin Baal). The murderer’s motivations are heavily burdened by Catholic guilt (they establish their ‘kill list’ based on ill-gotten confessional statements) and the murders themselves are laced with puritanical melancholy. One might assume that a movie that makes the usually implied knife = phallus metaphor literal by plunging blades into victims’ vaginas would be among the more offensive and sensationalistic of the early ‘70s gialli, but the act is mostly implied and the aftereffects are treated in a shockingly somber manner. Instead of parading elaborate, gory special effects, Dallamano opts to show depressingly broken bodies covered by sheets and the faces of weeping parents as they mourn their dead children.
As a former cinematographer, Dallamano’s greatest strengths tend to be his visuals and What Have You Done to Solange? is probably his most accomplished film on a technical level. Most of the better gialli are an exercise in style over substance, but the best of them insert substance into the style. In this case, the screenplay (by Dallamano, Di Geronimo, and Peter M. Thouet, based loosely on British novelist Edgar Wallace’s The Clue of the New Pin, 1923) follows the Argento formula pretty closely on a story level and is surprisingly simple in terms of actual narrative, while also being extremely rich in thematic and character content. The imagery is more focused than that of the more hallucinatory gialli of Lucio Fulci or Sergio Martino, yet it doesn’t lose its sense of confusion, sadness, and danger. The pictures end up telling the story where the script occasionally fails with wonderful efficiency and precision. Given this praise, it is exciting to note that none other than Aristide Massaccesi was acting as cinematographer for Dallamano on this particular film. Massaccesi often worked as a director under the pseudonym Joe D’Amato and was responsible for some of the most beloved and reviled Italian exploitation movies of the ‘70s (Emanuelle in America, 1977), ‘80s (Anthropophagous, 1980), and even the ‘90s (he co-directed/produced the notorious Troll 2), but he was also a very talented cinematographer, who often worked without credit and left a secret stamp on some of the best films of the era.
What Have You Done to Solange? Is high among the best of the post-Bird with the Crystal Plumage giallo. It compensates for its lack convoluted plotting and stalk & slash suspense with consistency, strong romance, melancholy, and a visual/thematic focus that makes it an easy entry point for novice genre enthusiasts who are wondering where to go when the Argento, Bava, and Fulci movies run out. And it’s still remarkably steeped in giallo tropes, which makes it a smart antidote to the wilder entries that established fans may have found themselves bored of. Dallamano followed it up with a couple of acclaimed poliziotteschi – the charmingly titled Super Bitch in the US (Si Può Essere più Bastardi dell'Ispettore Cliff? or Can Anyone be More of a Bastard than Inspector Cliff? in Italy, 1973) and Colt 38 Special Squad (Italian: Quelli della Calibro 38, 1976) – sexy melodramas (Blue Belle, 1976), sexy comedies (Innocence and Desire, 1974), a decent straight horror flick called Night Child (aka: The Cursed Medallion, 1975), and a hybrid giallo-poliziotteschi called What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Italian: La Polizia Chiede Aiuto, 1974).
What Have You Done to Solange? has been released on DVD in a number of territories over the years, including non-anamorphic and misframed UK and Japanese discs (EC Entertainment and Trash Mountain Video) and anamorphic PAL releases from Germany (UFA/Universum) and France (Neo Publishing). Shriek Show released a North American NTSC anamorphic disc in 2002, but the results were middling (too dark, lots of artifacts, and interlacing issues) – typical of the studio. Most fans seem to agree that the Italian anamorphic PAL release from IIF Home Video/01 Distribution is the superior SD format disc (though, apparently, its English soundtrack was faulty). Arrow’s release marks the first Blu-ray and HD transfer in any territory and the results are spectacular. Really, the screen-caps on this page don’t do justice to just how much better the film looks than it ever has on home video. Patterns and textures are complex, tightly-knit, and supported by rich blacks and beautifully balanced gamma levels. The image is sparkly clean with no major print damage artifacts (a few flecks of white and some hair in the gate, aside), yet there’s still plenty of fine grain (it’s slightly pulsy at times, but rarely clumps) to remind us that we are watching a film-based product. The soft blending of some edges and gradations may look like overzealous DNR, but I think these are just cases of the footage being out of focus (on purpose or by accident). I can imagine some purists objecting to the color-timing, because some of the skin tones err on the orange side. I can’t speak to the accuracy of these hues, but I’m very impressed with the vibrancy of both the warm and cool tones, as well as the sharp separation of colors.
Speaking of color-timing, while investigating the different DVD releases of the film, I came across this comparison review, which illustrates a difference in color timing during the flashback sequences. On the UK/Japanese non-anamorphic and Italian anamorphic discs, these scenes are black and white, while the Shriek Show release is sepia.
Both the original Italian and English dubs have been included in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz) 1.0 sound. Once again, this, like most gialli (and most Italian films from the era), was shot without sound, so both tracks, as well as any other language track, are dubbed in post. The choice of language is, as it is in many cases, a matter of aesthetic preference. In this case, I prefer the English dub. Not only is the majority of the cast speaking English (it’s even a plot point that the male lead is an Italian speaker living in an English-speaking environment), but the mix is richer, both in terms of clarity and the use of Ennio Morricone’s musical score. The Italian track has fewer musical cues and slightly tinnier dialogue, though sound effects are comparable between tracks. In regards to Morricone’s score, he was playing with his genre-defining Bird with the Crystal Plumage styles and themes. In fact, there’s so much of that soundtrack here – from jazzy drums, to bass guitar-driven melodies, and dissonant, muted horns – that one would be forgiven for thinking that these were Crystal Plumage outtakes.
Note that from the main menu, you can choose the English or Italian version of the film. This pertains only to the on-screen text. Both English and Italian vocal tracks, as well as subtitles, can be accessed from both versions.
Commentary with critics Alan Jones (author of Dario Argento: the Man, the Myths, the Magic) and Kim Newman (author of Nightmare Movies) – Jones and Newman, who are both experts on Italian horror (though Newman’s focus tends to be a bit broader, giving Jones a slight advantage here), have previously collaborated on commentary tracks for Blue Underground’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage DVD/BD and Nouveaux’s Suspiria Blu-ray. They reportedly recorded a Bloodstained Butterfly track for Arrow (it appears to have been lost, as 88 Films wound up releasing Antonio Bido’s giallo on Blu-ray without any extras) and a track for Arrow’s as-yet unreleased The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (is it safe to assume that they have it on the docket?). This is typically entertaining and informative stuff from the duo, including behind-the-scenes anecdotes, social contexts, working histories of the cast & crew that made the film, and comparisons to other films.
What Have You Done to Decency? (13:40, HD) – A new interview with Karin Baal in which the actress discusses her part in the film. She has particularly vivid memories of the film’s more salacious content and spends most of the interview recounting the plot.
First Action Hero (21:20, HD) – During this 2006 interview with star Fabio Testi, he recounts the bulk of his early career as a stuntman, before focusing more on What Have You Done to Solange?. The interview footage itself is SD and the inserts from the film are HD.
Old-School Producer (11:00, HD) – Another 2006 interview, this time with producer Fulvio Lucisano. He joyfully recalls his work on the film and other films from the era, focusing mostly on the financial and distribution sides of the process.
Innocence Lost (29:00, HD) – Filmmaker Michael Mackenzie explores the themes of What Have You Done to Solange? and compares it to Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters and Alberto Negrin’s Rings of Fear (1978), which make up a loose “School Girls in Peril” trilogy. He also discusses the tiny collection other gialli in which children play a central role, including Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), Argento’s Deep Red (1975), and Aldo Lado’s vastly underrated Who Saw Her Die? (1972). This video essay includes plenty of clips from the films covered, some of it in HD.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.