Prior to seeing Red Rings of Fear on the big screen as part of American Cinematheque's ode to the Italian Grindhouse (crime thrillers, spaghetti westerns, gialli), I had no idea it was the final entry in the Solange trilogy. [Read horror.com's review of What Have You Done To Solange? here] What's more, I was not aware there was even a trilogy.
Talk about clueless. Which puts me right in synch with the kooky cast of characters in Red Rings of Fear.
If you're similarly stumped, here's the skinny: What Have You Done To Solange? (1972) and What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (1974), were directed by Massimo Dallamano. He passed away in 1976, so Red Rings of Fear (disappointingly not titled beginning with the words, "What Have…"), is directed by Alberto Negrin, who's still working to this day.
Slightly deviant from the giallo guidelines, the Solange stories don't feature adults as the victims; in this regard, they are more like slashers — with promiscuous teens paying the ultimate price for their misdeeds (sex, drugs). However, director Alberto Negrin definitely follows many of genre masters Mario Bava's and Dario Argento's previously-laid cues to the letter.
There are plenty of killer's POV voyeurism, red herrings, loopy logic, clichéd characters, black leather gloves, suspenseful setups, delightfully intrusive music and carefully composed camera angles. When it comes to this giallo in particular, mood, style, and hyperbole trump and trample substance and meaning. (I would love to be able to write about the extended, head-spinning ending of this whodunit, but I'll refrain.)
The story picks up with a body-dump — the victim is a student at St. Theresa's private school, and a member of a fashion-forward chick clique known as "The Inseparables". A thorough examination of her nude corpse reveals that she has been sexually assaulted before her death (or as the detective assigned to her case later exclaims and gesture wildly, "She was raped with a cock THIS BIG!").
The fantastic Fabio Testi plays the excitable, rabble-rousing Inspector Gianni Di Salvo, and lissome Christine Kaufmann plays his light-fingered girlfriend, Cristina. An insane cast of characters surrounds them, including the usual suspects (the student body, the teaching staff, an enthused sidekick, a gay stereotype, and a creepy kid [Nicoletta Elmi, who was in Argento's Deep Red and Bava's Demons]), plus the obligatory hand-written clues and danger lurking around every dark, shadowy corner.
The acting is over the top and the dubbing is delightfully dreadful, complete with not-quite-right conversion. I'm kind of on the fence when it comes to non-English language movies — the purist part of me would rather have the movie in Italian, and subtitled, while the grindhouse fan in me adores what's lost in translation (not to mention the "lost marbles" and the literal "rollercoaster ride" of terror).
Red Rings of Fear is definitely the cat's meow (I want a pair of the popular "Feline Jeans"… but I don't want to pay for them in the way those schoolgirls did!) and well worth the price of admission.
= = =Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson