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School That Couldn't Scream, The
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by Jay Seaver

"You don't want to know 'What Happened to Solange'."
3 stars

There's something about "The School That Couldn't Scream" (aka "What Have They Done to Solange?") that remains oddly restrained, even as it happily heaps on more and more lurid subject matter. Slasher films have always had a peculiar moral code, though, and it's just a question of whether this one is more or less peculiar than others.

It starts out innocently enough, with teenager Elizabeth Seccles (Cristina Galbo) and her gymnastics teacher Enrico "Henry" Rosseni (Fabio Testi) making out in a canoe. Elizabeth thinks she sees something strange, but when they row to the riverbank to investigate, they find nothing. What they just missed was one of Elizabeth's classmates getting murdered, and when Henry stops by that spot on his way to class the next morning because he sees police cars, Scotland Yard becomes suspicious. Strangely enough, his wife Herta (Karin Baal) never does, and even helps him as he tries to clear his name. What they eventually discover is that the mounting victims shared a connection to a younger girl at another school named Solange (Camille Keaton), who may hold the key to what's going on.

The materials for an enjoyably trashy mystery movie are all here, and the problem may be that this movie identifies itself as a mystery rather than a thriller or what would later become known as a slasher movie. It's not that I necessarily want there to be more exploitation or graphic violence; it's that by framing it as a murder mystery, the writers wind up focusing on Henry, who has an alibi from the start. More visceral thrills would probably come from focusing on the girls, as they are the ones that could potentially be knocked off at any moment. This may be the fault of adhering too closely to the source material: I haven't read Edgar Wallace's The Clue of the New Pin, but it certainly sounds more like a detective novel than something pulpy. It's as though the filmmakers got caught between a genteel English detective story and a lurid Italian giallo and wound up doing a mediocre job on both.

The two lovers are a little too vanilla. Cristina Galbo is a little rough as Elizabeth; she gets the feeling of still being rather immature and childish despite the adult activities she's involved in right. Maybe she does it too well; she doesn't project the kind of aggressive sexuality needed to suggest her teacher would take the risk of sleeping with her for any reason other than being a perv (and this despite a line assuring the audience that she's eighteen). Fabio Testi, similarly, could have used some sort of edge to either make Henry a little scuzzier or more of a victim; the character is just not individual enough to really be the focal point of the mystery.

The supporting cast tries mightily to make up for it, though. Karin Baal, for instance, takes a role that could easily seem like a character that just exists to do whatever the writers need it to do at this particular point - Herta Rosseni must, at various points, be the shrewish wife, the loyal partner in detection, and the dangerous suspect - and somehow knits it together without Herta ultimately seeming unlikely or pathetic. The other teachers at the school - Gunther Stoll, Rainer Penkert, and especially Marco Mariani as the pastor whose wandering eye makes Henry look good for his relative monogamy and discretion - create a fine group of potential hypocrites and suspects. Camille Keaton gives us a Solange messed-up enough that we believe could set this nasty series of events in motion.

And though the mutilations are generally kept off-screen, the dry description can be just as bad; nobody wants to imagine what happens to these girls. Not that they are innocent themselves; the movie calmly leads us through underage drinking, drugs, sex, back-alley abortions, etc. Henry acts a bit surprised, despite his own first-hand knowledge that these girls aren't angels. Even what might have been treated as most shocking in 1972 is treated in a matter-of-fact manner. It's an odd juxtaposition; the crimes are gruesome and just because we don't see the worst doesn't mean there's no blood and guts, but the relatively blasé attitude toward the events which motivate them makes the violence seem like it comes out of nowhere.

"The School That Couldn't Scream" could have been an very good mystery movie or slasher picture; what we wind up with is something in between.

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originally posted: 06/16/07 09:36:35
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User Comments

7/17/09 Engin This movie is a first rate murder mystery 5 stars
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  DVD: 20-Jul-2002

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