A pretty developed sense of perversion
Above: Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso
Throughout the 1970s, hundreds (if not thousands) of gialli were made, and, although many of them are now readily available on DVD, the vast majority are either lost entirely or only available in severely compromised grey market editions, usually copied countless times from already iffy materials. One giallo that I’d been wanting to see for some time was a 1978 offering called Enigma Rosso, also known as Rings of Fear, Red Rings of Fear, Virgin Killer (a pretty misleading title), Trauma (not to be confused with the 1993 Dario Argento slasher of the same name), and various other diverse titles. It bears the distinction of being the final part in the group of films unofficially referred to as the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, were helmed by the gifted and underrated Massimo Dallamano. Dallamano’s life was cut short when he was involved in a car crash in 1976, but he collaborated on the script for Enigma Rosso and, as far as I can gather, fully intended to direct it. The reigns ended up being passed to Alberto Negrin, and the buzz on the Internet has always been that the end result was nothing like as good as the first two films in the trilogy.
Until recently, the only version of the film that was circulated on a wide basis seemed to be a murky-looking, VHS-sourced pan and scan presentation of the English language print, which, with PAL speed-up, ran for approximately 81 minutes. Recently, however, the same version of the film (albeit with Spanish credits) showed up on DVD in Spain, non-anamorphic and with Spanish audio only but in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I bought this DVD back in August, and, a few days ago, put the finishing touches to my own personal composite version, which marries the English audio from the VHS dupe with the transfer from the Spanish DVD. The results, while far from ideal, are certainly preferable to either version on its own. I understand that several different cuts of the film were prepared for different markets, so presumably other versions exist which feature additional and/or alternate footage, but, for the time being, this is probably the best we’re going to get.
The plot sees Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Fabio Testi, who also played the lead in What Have You Done to Solange?) investigating the death of a teenage girl, Angela Russo, whose body is discovered washed up on a riverbank. In predictable giallo fashion, it quickly emerges that something incredibly seedy has been going on, involving Angela and her three friends, quaintly known as “the Inseparables”. They, and the various employees of the St. Theresa’s boarding school, quickly begin dropping like flies, and Di Salvo, finding himself faced with a killer with, in his own words, “a pretty developed sense of perversion”, teams up with an unlikely accomplice, Angela’s younger sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli).
It immediately becomes apparent that this third instalment in the trilogy is very much a companion piece to its predecessors, as familiar elements crop up throughout. Peeping tom scenes of girls in showers? Check. Late night motorbike chase through the streets of Rome (at least I think it’s Rome - the locations used are fairly anonymous)? Check. Sordid sexual antics and corruption at the very core of society? Check. Back street abortion? Check. Negrin seems intent on combining the amateur sleuthing elements of Solange with the police thriller exploits of Daughters, and the result is rather confused and not altogether satisfying. There isn’t enough detective material to make an interesting poliziottesco, while at the same time the amateur detection scenes are too limited for a solid giallo. Negrin seems to want to both have his cake and eat it by catering to both markets, when in reality the end result ends up pleasing neither.
A lot of the confusion, I suspect, stems from the sheer number of writers involved. The English print credits Marcello Coccia, Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Negrin and Peter Berling for the final screenplay (while the Spanish print, predictably, gives a completely different, and smaller, list of writers). A lot of gialli seem to have been written by committee, but I can’t recall ever seeing another with this many names attributed to its script. Another reason may have been the multiple cuts supposedly prepared for different territories. This would certainly explain the setting up and abandonment of multiple subplots, including Di Salvo’s rather unconventional, seemingly non-exclusive relationship with a shoplifter who may of may not be his wife, as well as the established-then-abandoned-then-reintroduced partnership between himself and young Emily.
Or it could be that Negrin was simply being sloppy. This is the only film I’ve seen by this director, but it suggests that he wasn’t half as effective a filmmaker as Dallamano. The peeping tom shower scene has a clumsy, leering quality that lacks the thematic justification of the similar scenes in Solange (confounded even further once we learn the identity of the voyeur), while the cross-cutting between scenes of an abortion being performed on one girl and flashbacks to a raucous orgy involving herself and her friends falls flat on its face. This is the sort of parallel that Dallamano would have been able to draw in a more subtle way, but Negrin, lacking his skill behind the camera, has to resort to crasser, more obvious techniques. Riz Ortolani’s score, too, doesn’t really work, frequently throwing menacing stings into completely innocuous situations.
As for Testi and his character Di Salvo, he’s pretty much your typical 70s macho cop protagonist. His preferred method of investigation is to barge into people’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, haul them out of bed half-naked and scream “Who killed Angela Russo?” at them. He also knows just how to set people at their ease: confronted with a room full of stone-faced, prudish schoolteachers, he bellows “Someone with a cock this big raped Angela Russo!”, spreading his arms wide to demonstrate. He also performs a rather intriguing interrogation on a suspect prone to motion sickness by taking him to a theme park and hauling him on to a roller coaster ride, and he’s as likely to enjoy a nice meal and bed down for a kip on the premises of a suspect as he is to actually do a decent day’s work in the office. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think we ever see him setting foot inside a police station, while the oversized cardigan that he wears for the film’s duration robs him of much of his credibility - odd, given that, in The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters, I had no trouble believing in him as a cop.
In the final analysis, Enigma Rosso is comfortably the weakest of the trilogy. The final solution is disappointing and seems to be based more around hammering home the familiar message of corruption taking place in the very foundations of society than actually providing a satisfying explanation to the murders. There are definite moments of inspiration here and there, and it’s rarely boring, but it lacks the depth of Solange and the high octane rush of Daughters. Oh, to know what Dallamano had in mind for this one.
PS. I haven’t forgotten about The Giallo Project. In fact, I hope to get it started up again very soon. Think of this as a sneak peak at where I hope to end up in the somewhat distant future.