Welcome to part two of my gialli celebration of Women in Horror Month.
It would be easy to peg Spanish actress Cristina Galbó as mere bait for the maniacs in the boarding school slashers she is known for. Galbó starred in two gialli during her Euro-horror career and it was the classic What Have they Done to Solange that became her stand out role in the genre. Galbó effortlessly delivers a performance as the innocent with big girl dreams always yearning for more. Her lively and believable character is instantly likable and easily draws the audience in further, making her demise deeply felt.
The krimi-inspired film tells the story of Galbó's character, Elizabeth, who is having a secret affair with her teacher, Enrico Rossini (Fabio Testi) at a Catholic girls school in London. In the film's opening scene, Rossini and Elizabeth share an intimate moment on a row boat floating down a river, but their near coupling is interrupted by Elizabeth's claims to have witnessed a girl getting murdered. Rossini dismisses this as an excuse to avoid having sex with him, but Elizabeth is insistent. She couldn't have predicted at that moment that her lover would become the target of a murder investigation, after several girls at the school turn up dead. The horrific events launch the teacher on an obsessive quest to save his own name and search for the truth. In between it all, Rossini continues to try and consummate his relationship with Elizabeth, but her memories of the murder by the lake become more clear--throwing a wrench in his plans. Elizabeth's nightmares torment her (and Rossini), but push her closer to him. The result is her willing but vulnerable surrender to his sexual advances, and then her untimely end.
Galbó's presence is genuinely missed in the latter half of the film. She served as a moral focal point in the early stages of the narrative--a counterbalance to Rossini's more unpleasant character. Although we eventually start to feel almost sorry for the sleazy Rossini during the course of his trials and tribulations (his own wife even relents to his cause), his actions are hardly endearing. Galbó's character is the one we are drawn to--she's emotionally accessible and we're pulled into her world by way of her comely and carefree innocence.
Standing in stark contrast to Galbó's alluring vulnerability is Camille Keaton's character, Solange. The title role becomes the converse of Galbó's Elizabeth--and a startling reminder of how morality, secrecy and power can be perverted to crush even the most beautiful of spirits. Although she only appears toward the end of the story and has no dialogue, her wide eyes and childlike demeanor are awkward, almost mesmerizing and effective in portraying the ultimate victim in the film.
After Solange, Galbó went on to star in Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, one of the best zombie films to emerge in the wake of Night of the Living Dead. The film builds on Romero's ideas, but strikes out for territory uniquely its own at the same time. Keaton (grand-niece of Buster Keaton) would become synonymous with the controversial rape-revenge film, I Spit on Your Grave, which like Solange presents some of the same atypical themes through an exploitation cinema lens.
You can my full review for What Have They Done to Solange over here.