What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) What Have You Done to Solange? / Who Killed Solange? / Solange / Who’s Next? / The Secret of the Green Pins / The School that Couldn’t Scream / Terror in the Woods / Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? (1972/1975) **˝

     The Italian giallo and the German Krimi were more than just parallel manifestations of the same trend. In an important sense, the two genres were siblings, intimately related and sharing a common parentage. The giallo was born when the Munich-based Monachia Film teamed up with the Italian Emmepi Cinematografica (along with the French Georges de Beauregard Productions) on the project that became Blood and Black Lace, and the Krimi died with a pair of similar co-productions uniting a variety of Italian companies with Rialto, Edgar Wallace’s cinematic home in Germanic Europe. What Have You Done to Solange? was one of the latter giallo-Krimis, and represents about as seamless a merger as was ever going to be possible, given the two sister-genres’ rather different conventions and thematic concerns. The German influence is felt most strongly in the intricate but comparatively tight plotting, and in the presence of a police force that’s halfway good for something, led by Joachim Fuchsberger, the most familiar face in all of Krimidom. The Italian influence, on the other hand, manifests itself in the extravagant cruelty of the murders, and in the centrality of sex to the killer’s motivation.

     Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi, from Death Knocks Twice and Red Rings of Fear) teaches Italian language and gymnastics at St. Mary’s Catholic School for Girls in London. In the former capacity, his main qualification is that it’s his native tongue, while in the latter one… well, just look at him. This term, he’s also offering extracurricular instruction to one particular student in the fields of human anatomy and sexuality (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, etc.). From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, the arrangement between him and Elizabeth Seccles (Cristina Galbó, of The Killer Must Kill Again and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) is an elegant solution to both their problems. With Liza, Enrico gets to do all the things that his prudish wife, Herta (Karin Baal, from The Horror of Blackwood Castle and Dead Eyes of London), won’t allow; and with Enrico, Liza can get laid all she wants while still officially preserving the virginity that her faith prioritizes above practically everything else. One afternoon, while the adulterers are rowboating together down a heavily wooded stretch of the Thames, Liza twice briefly glimpses what she’s almost certain is another girl being pursued through the woods by a strangely garbed figure wielding an enormous knife. There’s nothing to be seen, though, when she convinces Enrico to put ashore to investigate— although neither one of them, for one reason or another, is inclined to make a very thorough search of the area. Regardless, their outing is now pretty well ruined, and Enrico grumpily takes Liza home to her rich and powerful uncle.

     The following morning, however, the radio news reports that the mutilated body of Hilda Ericson— one of Rosseni’s students— has been found near the bank of the Thames. As soon as Herta has left for work (we can perhaps tell something about the troubled state of their marriage from the fact that the Rossenis commute separately, even though they both teach at St. Mary’s), Enrico foolishly races off to see for himself. After all, he’s pretty sure he knows where it must have happened. One reason why this excursion is foolish is because it makes him late for work, on a day when every one of his colleagues— to say nothing of Headmaster Leech (Rainer Penkert, from Nature Girl and the Slaver and The Sensuous Housewife)— are certain to notice his absence. But more importantly, a press photographer happens to catch Rosseni in the frame while shooting the investigation, so that his face, plain as day, winds up on the front page of the evening edition. Several people with the power to make life very difficult for Enrico are going to know he was among the curiosity seekers snooping around the crime scene, and they’re also going to wonder why. Herta, for example, has long suspected that her husband was fucking around on her, but had no clear idea with whom. To her, Enrico’s sudden, overwhelming interest in Hilda Ericson’s fate looks like a tacit admission that she was the object of his adulterous affections. Much the same thing is apt to occur to Rosseni’s fellow teachers, too, since it’s well known around St. Mary’s that half the student body has the hots for him. Professor Newton (Antonio Casale, of Autopsy and The Seventh Grave), the chemistry teacher, seems particularly eager to besmirch Enrico’s reputation— no doubt motivated at least in part by his own habit of spying on the girls through a peephole drilled in the shower room wall. Surely no one (apart from everyone) would suspect a prestigious Catholic girls’ school of harboring two perverts among the faculty, right? But the man whose suspicions should worry Rosseni most is Inspector Barth of Scotland Yard (Joachim Fuchsberger, from The Fellowship of the Frog and The Terrible People). That’s because Barth cares less about whether Enrico was fucking Hilda Ericson than about whether he killed her, while Rosseni’s actual alibi for the crime is something he badly wants to keep secret.

     The stakes for Rosseni rise considerably when another St. Mary’s student, Janet Bryant (Pilar Castel, of The Sexual Revolution and Baron Blood), is murdered after being abducted from her family’s very driveway. This second crime is obviously the work of the same killer, because the condition of the two bodies— left completely out in the open as if the perpetrator wanted them to be quickly found, stripped naked and with the murder weapons still in place, rammed up the victims’ vaginas to transfix their wombs— is really not the sort of thing you’d expect two different sickos to arrive at independently. Also, because Hilda and Janet had been close friends, it seems equally unlikely that the culprit is selecting his or her victims at random. Enrico soon feels that he has no choice but to come clean to Barth about what he was doing at the time of the first murder, while Liza feels compelled to come forward as well to Headmaster Leech and the rest of the St. Mary’s faculty. She doesn’t mention the identity of the boyfriend with whom she was out on the river, though, so Rosseni’s secret remains safe from his coworkers and superiors for the moment; only his closest friend at work, Professor Bascombe (Günther Stoll, from The Hook and The Hunchback of Soho) has caught on thus far. Liza’s testimony to the faculty contains a bombshell detail, however, given the nature of the school we’re talking about. She’s been having dreams about and flashbacks to the scene on the riverbank ever since she learned about Hilda’s death, and they’ve helped her to remember that the weird-looking outfit the killer was wearing was a priest’s habit! No one is ready just yet to point any fingers at Father Webber the school confessor (Marco Mariani, of Frankenstein ’80 and Gently Before She Dies), but it’s noteworthy that some of the other girls report giving their confessions to a bearded priest whom they’d never seen before in the weeks before the murders began. Webber swears he has no such priest working for or with him in the school chapel.

     Given how stressful both their lives have become these past few days, it stands to reason that Enrico and Liza would want to spend more time together, but under the circumstances, they both have way too much to lose from allowing themselves to be seen doing so. Rosseni tries to solve that problem by renting a hotel suite well outside either of their usual territories, where the two of them can be alone together, but that ends up backfiring on both of them in the most awful way possible. Either the killer was in the room when Liza revealed to the faculty that she’d witnessed the first murder, or she intrinsically meets whatever criteria are being used to select the victims, because one afternoon while Liza is awaiting Enrico’s arrival at their love nest, the murderer drops in on her instead. I’m inclined to think the primary motive for this third slaying was to silence her as a witness, however, because instead of cunt-stabbing Liza, the killer merely drowns her in the bathtub. Regardless, there’s no way for Rosseni to dodge being arrested this time, even though Barth is disinclined to believe he’s really the man Scotland Yard is looking for. After all, Barth is pretty much the only person who isn’t convinced Rosseni is guilty at this point.

     Wait— scratch that. There is one other person on Enrico’s side, and incredibly enough, it’s Herta. Even more incredibly, what seems to have inspired Herta not to cut the cheating bastard loose to fend for himself was the police medical examiner’s report that the killer can’t have raped Liza, either before or after drowning her, because the girl’s hymen was still intact. Naturally that also means that Enrico never technically fucked Liza either, which is evidently good enough to make Herta ignore how much work “technically” is doing in this sentence. Psychological plausibility aside, Enrico’s legal troubles do wonders for the couple’s marriage, to the degree that Herta even begins taking the lead in the effort to clear her husband’s name.

     By the time Barth’s analysis of the physical evidence at the Humbert Humbert Arms establishes beyond any doubt that Liza was killed by someone other than Rosseni, Herta has discovered that Hilda and Janet both belonged to a sort of junior all-girls Hellfire Club. Liza had ties to it as well, but only peripherally. The ringleader, so far as Herta can tell, is the second-former Brenda Pilchard (Claudia Butenuth, from Castle of the Creeping Flesh), with two more girls called Helen (Giovanna di Bernardo) and Susan (Carla Mancini, of Byleth: The Demon of Incest and Flavia the Heretic) comprising the other surviving core members. Brenda, as befits her role, is scrupulously tight-lipped about the whole business, but Helen and Susan let slip the names of some of their male playmates when Herta questions them. Enrico does the asking around among that lot (after all, it seems reasonable that guys with a taste for schoolgirls would more readily talk about it to a randy Italian bloke than to a severe German matron), and comes up with a clue that everyone watching this movie will have been impatiently awaiting for the last half-hour at least. Rosseni’s most talkative informant tells him that Brenda and her followers have been a lot more choosy about their partners and what they do together after “what happened to Solange.” Who? Neither Enrico nor Herta has any idea, but it happens that Professor Bascombe has a daughter by that name (Camille Keaton, from Sex of the Witch and I Spit on Your Grave), whom he’s been determined to keep out of sight. She’s mad, you see. You think maybe that’s because something… well, happened to her? Meanwhile, the Rossenis receive an anonymous note from one of Brenda’s followers tipping them off that someone named Ruth Holden (who’ll be played by Emilia Wolkowicz, of Gladiators 7 and The Blancheville Monster, when we see her in person a bit later) is the one they should talk to if they want the whole truth about everything. What do you want to bet that means Ms. Holden is not long for this Earth? And what do you want to bet Barth is about to have his hands full keeping Brenda, Helen, and Susan from winding up with knives through their uteri?

     What Have You Done to Solange? is a nasty, sleazy film, which is just the way I like my gialli. I just wish it was also a slightly better one. To be sure, it answers a lot of my most common complaints with the gialli of the early 70’s, insofar as it takes its mystery aspects fairly seriously, and has better reasons for its extremely circuitous plot than mere need to keep the protagonist from figuring everything out until an adequate running time has spun out. For all the frantic rushing around after new leads that don’t obviously fit the picture formed by the evidence previously at hand, there are no pure wild goose chases on the Dario Argento model. Even the bullshittiest clue— the green-headed straight pins found near the bodies of the victims, included for no better reason than to allow the film to be passed off in German-speaking markets as an adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Clue of the New Pin (which, it should go without saying, What Have You Done to Solange? does not otherwise resemble)— ends up being meaningful. They’re the secret membership badge of the St. Mary’s Catholic Hellfire Club for Girls. Inspector Barth is approximately coequal with Enrico Rosseni as crime-solving protagonist, and while Rosseni has better luck with his investigation than the cops, the teacher is sensible enough to join forces with the legitimate authorities when the endgame begins. Most of all, when the story comes out at last regarding what’s behind the killing spree at St. Mary’s, it rings both psychologically true and mechanically plausible, even if a few details of the killer’s modus operandi seem insufficiently motivated.

     There’s good stuff on the technical front, too. Although neither writer/director Massimo Dallamano nor cinematographer Aristide Massaccesi (whom we know better as Joe D’Amato) show much interest in creating the kinds of stylized imagery in which the trendsetters of the giallo so often dealt, this film has a gritty bluntness to it that’s no less memorable. Not that long ago, while writing up Entrails of a Virgin, I talked about how rarely Western filmmakers mix horror and eroticism at the level of individual scenes or images, but What Have You Done to Solange? is very much an exception to that rule. The explicitness with which this movie presents the victims’ sexually violated corpses, for example, is at least as shocking today as it must have been in 1972, and might even be more so. There’s a fair amount of dark humor here, too, my favorite bit being the ironic counterpoint between a pair of police lineup scenes. The first time around, the sergeant gives the order to “send in the perverts,” and grows annoyed with his subordinates for including a locally notorious transvestite prostitute in the mix. Obviously they can’t be looking for that sort of pervert! Then, after Liza reports that Hilda’s killer wore a priest’s habit, a witness who saw a similarly garbed man fleeing the Humbert Humbert Arms is shown a lineup of priests in different vestments, with an eye toward pinning down the culprit’s denomination or order.

     The trouble is, What Have You Done to Solange? so transforms itself with the belated introduction of its title character that it may as well be a completely different movie from then on. Whereas before the emphasis was squarely on discovering who was killing the girls of St. Mary’s, from the moment Solange’s name is first uttered, the questions of who she is (or was) and what bad end befell her take center stage, practically to the exclusion of the hunt for the murderer per se. Now because we know what kind of movie this is, we can also be reasonably confident that the two mysteries will eventually turn out to have something to do with each other (in fact, Solange’s misfortune provides the motive for the killing spree), but the link feels far too tenuous in the moment. All we’re told at first is that “what happened to Solange” explains why the St. Mary’s Catholic Hellfire Club for Girls has taken “real sex” off the menu for their adventures in recreational carnality, and the only reason to imagine that has any bearing on the murders is because the movie is called What Have You Done to Solange?. Since the Rossenis presumably don’t know the title of the story in which they exist, it makes little sense for them to redirect the focus of their investigations in this manner. Meanwhile, we in the audience go from “Shouldn’t there be a Solange in this movie somewhere?” to “Oh. So I guess we don’t care about that priest running around London stabbing schoolgirls in the twat anymore, huh?” By the time Dallamano and co-scripter Bruno di Geronimo get around to drawing the necessary connections at last, they’ve burned up a lot of goodwill by giving us the impression that they’ve been wasting our time with one plot module or the other.



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