A Quiet Place to Kill

2013 italian film culture blogathon

Yes, things look a little different here today. This review is part of The Nitrate Diva’s 2013 Italian Film Culture Blogathon, a celebration of all aspects of Italian film culture. And as such, we’re including a little background information for those readers not accustomed to giallo. Without further ado …

You know, there are directors who achieve fame or notoriety chiefly through a particular work (or even a couple), regardless of how representative it is of their oeuvre. To the general public, Umberto Lenzi likely means nothing, except perhaps, “What gibberish are you talking now?” but to horror fans, Lenzi means Cannibal FeroxNightmare City. Maybe even Eaten Alive! Which are all … decidedly not good. Some might go so far as to call them worthless trash. And that’s a damn shame, because Umberto Lenzi–and he will be the first to tell you this–has made a number of fine films, or at the least, far better ones over the course of his long career. I’d say the majority of his pre-1980 work is better by far, but it’s Lenzi’s curse to be known best as a purveyor of ultraviolent cannibal sleaze.

Lenzi’s strengths lie chiefly in action and exciting set pieces, and accordingly some of his finest work is in the poliziottesco filone–the “tough cop” crime and action flicks of the Seventies inspired by the likes of Dirty HarryLenzi’s poliziotteschi are easily comparable to the best of the filone by acknowledged masters like Di Leo, Dallamano, and Castellari. But before the rise of the poliziottesco, there was the giallo.

For those tyros tuning in Wikipedia can provide a quick background on the giallo; for our purposes, the essentials are that the giallo was a sort of crime thriller popular in the Sixties and Seventies; it was during the latter decade that the genre peaked (about 1972). In 1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and 1966’s Blood and Black Lace Mario Bava laid out the general narrative structures and tropes of the filone (later playing with those same generic conventions in a string of ever more experimental gialli), while Dario Argento’s 1970 debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage upped the ante with yet more violence and psychosexual drama–and was an international breakthrough hit. (Note that this film and Bird were released simultaneously, AQP2K coming out one day after Bird.) It is Argento’s work (in the vein of Bava) that is synonymous with the current popular conception of the giallo–complete with elaborate violence, kitschy style, and often impenetrable plotting. Most of the gialli popular today are from the “classic” period of 1970-1975, and therefore are considered direct descendants of Bird, and so the relentless discussion among fans and purists of just what does or does not constitute a “proper” giallo works from Bird’s example. And the Sixties gialli (saving Bava’s work, of course–in MOST instances) often fall victim to the “but really, what IS a giallo!?” nitpickers, particularly the type we’re discussing here, the sexy-thriller lenziani.

(Wait, what? That dude we just mentioned, the one largely reviled by anyone other than ardent gorehounds or fans of Eurocrime ? That guy has like, a film genre filone named after him? Yeah, pretty much. And it’s awesome!)

Differing from the Argento-type gialli in that they’re less mystery thrillers than suspense thrillers, i.e., the killer’s identity isn’t usually a mystery,  but rather the mystery lies in whether the killer will get away with their crime–and sometimes (always?) whether there is yet ANOTHER layer of duplicity. Less Agatha Christie than Hitchcock, these Sixties sexy-thrillers lenziani are also more Clouzot’s Les diaboliques than anything elseThink of the sexy-thriller lenziani as a gorgeous detour on the way from Bava to Argento, one that winds its way through sunny Mediterranean locales populated by the rich and glamorous. Carroll Baker and Jean Sorel will be there, looking fine, and there will be more of the beautiful people–and many of them will be nude! There will be scads of booze and pills, women and song, lies and videotape. We’re going to hop into a sporty little roadster and speed down treacherous serpentine roads until we reach the shocking conclusion of the sexy-thriller lenziani.

sex, lies, & super8

sex, lies, & super8

Paranoia
aka A Quiet Place to Kill
aka Os Ambiciosos Insaciáveis
aka Una droga llamada Helen
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Released: 1970
Starring: Carroll Baker, Jean Sorel, Anna Proclemer, Luis Dávila
Running time: 94 min
Genre: giallo

Women are sometimes silent, but never when there’s nothing to say. Lilian Terry, however, has plenty to say. She begins crooning “You,” the title track to Paranoia, over some Umiliani loungey jazz stylings. As the credits roll, we see  … I don’t even know what, but it sure is exciting! It’s all in Glorious Negativecolor, for one. There are zooms on women walking and staring, and cameras rolling–on us! There are reflections and distortions, rack focusing and women appearing, always staring. There’s a gun! And a crash! And a struggle! There’s running, and slapping, and ominous men in suits! And yet more staring, staring, staring! That dratted camera again! And it’s all tremendously exciting with the crooning the reversed colors and the THINGS HAPPENING. Finally, we see–who? Oh, it’s La Baker, and she’s ready for some Formula 1 fun.

And there we are, transported to a racetrack where Helen is a racecar driver, a veritable Maria Andretti. Only she sees (hallucinates? recalls? envisions? prophesies?) a handsome man (Jean Sorel) standing on the track–all we need now is Mary Weiss shrieking “Look out, look out look out!”–a swerve and a crash! The ambulance rushes the driver away, she goes into surgery, and then it’s … some time later, and Helen’s apparently recovered. Oh, all but her nerves, which are shot per the doctor, she’ll never race again. He also warns her against excitement, sex, smoking and drinking. Allowed to choose one but vice, Helen goes with whiskey, jettisoning playboys and fun. It’s not all so bad, however, as she’s also given a lifetime membership to the Valley of the Dolls–as long as she never takes one on an empty stomach!

Leaving the hospital with her erstwhile flunky/manager/paramour/hair model, Helen gets the bad news that she’s on the hook for MILLIONS (of lira, so who cares, it’s not like it’s real money anyways) for her hospital treatment and stay. Also for even more MILLIONS (see above) for the racecar she wrecked. On the plus side, she’s got a telegram from some well wisher! There’s always a silver lining. Turns out that the telegram is from Helen’s ex-husband Maurice, who’s got a villa in Mallorca, and suggests she visit. Playboy von Glamourhair makes a whiskey stop, and while he’s in the shop, Helen absconds with his sporty little car, headed for Mallorca.

helen was a racecar driver

helen was a racecar driver

you give love a bad name

you give love a bad name

when passion's a prison you can't break free

when passion’s a prison you can’t break free

In sunny Mallorca, however, Helen will find that it was actually Maurice’s WIFE (!!!) Constance who sent the telegram. And though she’s hesitant about joining Maurice and Constance for a little menage, their frolicsome fun in the sun life is just irresistible. As is Maurice. He’s just as deliciously seductive as he was when Helen married him (seriously, have you SEEN Jean Sorel!?), and Helen’s just as much under his spell as she ever was. Also under the influence of a drug called Maurice is Constance–but she yearns to break free. She enlists Helen in the founding chapter of Maurice Anonymous, and under her program the first step is murdering Maurice.

Murder is plotted and a murder occurs, but whose? Will the perpetrators convince the authorities of their story? Was the crime caught on tape? And just what is that untrustworthy nymphette Susan up to? It’s all J&B and jetsetters, women and Wess & the Airedales, upskirts and Umiliani until someone gets hurt–or dead.

A typical European male: selfish amoral, and corrupt. Between Bava and Aregnto there was a school of gialli rather unlike those with which we are more familiar. They are the psycho-sexy thrillers lenziani, and, well, guess who was the master? These gialli by way of Hitchcock and Clouzot–often with a noirish touch–are a breed apart from the post-Argento giallo, although their influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

psycho sexy

psycho sexy, qu’est-ce que c’est?

who's the hypotenuse now!?

who’s the hypotenuse now!?

Fisty: Let’s talk negatives first, specifically, that credits sequence. Maybe I suffer from short-term memory loss, but that was one of THE most exciting credit sequences I have ever seen. The first time I watched Paranoia, I remember being so jazzed within thirty seconds that I was jumping up and down, jizzing, texting, and tweeting. Then I tore my hair out. And started scream-crying, like footage of girls seeing The Beatles or Danny Bonaduce in person for the first time. I’m kind of getting the urge to start doing that again right now, actually. The music! The action! The cutaways! The crazy colors! SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT.

You know, normally we wouldn’t spend so much time, either in the synopsis or the actual review, discussing a credit sequence, but in this case it’s absolutely warranted. The brilliant (yes, I am applying that adjective to Umberto Lenzi, more on that momentarily) thing about the sequence is not only how (incredibly) exciting it is, but the way it–well, I’ll let you take this one, Billy.

Bill: First, let me explain to the readers (as if we have those–HA!) what the hell you’re talking about, in case we aren’t being clear enough.

For anyone that hasn’t seen Paranoia (which I will now begin calling A Quiet Place to Kill or AQP2K for short–I’ll come back to that in a second,) the entire opening credit sequence is a montage of scenes from the movie with the colors reversed or, say it with me, “in NEG-UH-TIVE.” Now go back and read Fisty’s first sentence and laugh at her, because she’s funny. You can always trust her to bring the wits and class. She really was as excited as she claims about that opening sequence, too. That is not hyperbole. Her excitement was warranted though. It really is a kick ass way to open the movie … and kind of brilliant. You see all this struggle and violence and trippy, fun-looking stuff that foreshadows everything you’re about to see, while still keeping you clueless as to which things will be happening to what characters, since it’s so hard to recognize people in negative. Once you have seen the flick and re-watch that part, knowing exactly what you’re seeing in the intro makes it even cooler. One negative about the negative (I stole that from you, Fisty,) it does also tend to make everyone look a bit like poorly done CGI characters when they move. But there’s no way Lenzi could’ve have known that in 1970.

a quiet place to--oh, whatever

a quiet place to–oh, whatever

i play my part and you play your game

i play my part and you play your game

an ideal place to--oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

an ideal place to–oh, goddamnit, lenzi!

Getting back to the title thing … Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia came out in 1969, starring Carroll Baker only to be followed by Umberto Lenzi’s Paranoia, which came out in 1970 starring Carroll Baker. SAY WHAT?! The ’69 film, known as Orgasmo in Italy, was retitled to Paranoia for international release. The ’70 film, Paranoia–that’s the one we’re doing now–was given the same name as the U.S. re-title of Orgasmo. So, to avoid confusion, they retitled Paranoia as A Quiet Place to Kill internationally. This attempt to avoid confusion has failed. I got confused just writing this. Seriously, what the hell, man? Is the “ridiculous” in our “ridiculous re-titles” tag even a strong enough word for this tomfoolery, Fisty? Do we need a new tag? Maybe something with curse words in it?

Fisty: Dude, it gets better! The title of Lenzi’s 1971 giallo Un posto ideale per uccidere translates to An Ideal Place to Kill, though it was released in the US as both Oasis of Fear and Dirty Pictures. So after releasing Paranoia with the international title A Quiet Place to Kill he released another film with a similar title. AND, his original intent was for Orgasmo to be titled Paranoia. What with the reuse of Wess & the Airedales’ “Just Tell Me” in both Orgasmo and A Quiet Place to Kill, I think Umberto Lenzi gets a wee bit fixated on motifs now and again.

Bill: You don’t say? Could you call filming with a glass of red liquid ruining your shot twenty-eight different times in one movie a motif he was stuck on? If so, then I agree. He is a better filmmaker than most people that know him only for cheap exploitative thrills would probably realize, but in this instance, I have to wonder what he was thinking. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why he would intentionally ruin his shot over and over with the glasses. There’s a few other scenes with, like, planters and vases in the foreground that throw you off, too. Is this some cultural thing that I’m not understanding? Just an eccentricity of Lenzi? Was this movie originally meant to be in 3D (with a funky disco cocaine theme song)?

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

you promise me heaven then put me through hell

quit being a bitch and fill one up

quit being a bitch and fill one up

bill is so pissed

bill is so pissed

Fisty: (Inasmuch as disco’s progenitors include funk, lounge, psychedelica, yes. Sort of.) But no. Those shots are hardly “ruin[ed],” Bill. Your use of “intentional” there should clue you in to what Lenzi was playing at with the different compositions –and AQP2K is indeed chockablock with funky yet elegant shots. Lenzi seems a bit experimental, like he’s playing more with different ways of telling the story visually rather than simply through the narrative, and that the tricks aren’t there just to to heighten dramatic impact. That showy rack focusing you find so distracting? Another way for Lenzi to show how the roles of victims and perpetrators become increasingly blurred and overlapping, the ways in which motives are obscured.

Lenzi also throws a lot of mirrored or double compositions and subjective camera shots into the mix, further playing with notions of just who’s doing what to whom here. Some of my favorites involve Helen and Constance, particularly their first scene (featuring a stunning gold crackle mirror tiled fireplace!), in which they’re both wearing green, establishing their jealous natures. Lenzi plays with color quite a bit, clothing Constance–and in one episode, Helen–literally in gold, symbolizing perhaps a deeper motive, and of course the film is practically awash in the red stuff. No, not blood (these Sixties gialli are rarely bloody), but myriad red libations–what are they, aperitifs? Campari or vermouth? I have no idea. Those little red glasses of SOMETHING potent–that’s important, Bill–are some of the worst offenders in those shots you hate. But Lenzi liberally splashes his film with red, the color of passion, anger, and blood.

Bill: I’m down with all the mirrors and the colors and characters dressing as one another and the flashes of memories and imaginings he uses to keep things twisty-turny and have the audience questioning everything. That’s all done very well. But whatever Lenzi was trying to get across by sticking a bunch of blurry crap in our faces, so we can’t even see the actors, he failed. Sure, you can say he hiding the actors behind a mask of colors that  represent their passions to show how those overpowering emotions are occluding their rational selves or whatever bunk you want throw out about it, but really, he could’ve done that in a much less annoying way. I think he did manage the same thing in other films without making me use my rage face. At least I don’t remember it being as jarring in Orgasmo or So Sweet…  So Perverse. I know Fulci has used similar ideas in, for instance, Perversion Story, but it wasn’t as frequent and it came off as cool, instead of … irritating. I don’t want to say this is because Lenzi is a bad filmmaker. Like I said earlier, he’s better than most give him credit for. I like him. But he is kind of eccentric and, I think, has a harder time pulling off ideas like that in a successful way. Or maybe he’s just a genius and he’s too smart for his own audiences. What do I know? I mostly watch these flicks for the sex and violence.

shot through the heart!

shot through the heart!

no one can save me; the damage is done

no one can save me

the damage is done

the damage is done

Mmmmm, violence. But only some! These lenziani tend to be fairly light on violence compared to other gialli, and that’s why they usually aren’t my favs. They do typically make up for it in other ways, however, like adding plenty of salacious kink,  bodacious style, beautiful locales, and vice vice vice! There’s booze and pills and T&A and sexual sadism, like Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion‘s Minou (who would totally be besties with Helen) in her sexy surrender scene in that movie, or the stylistic brilliance of Fulci filming a sex scene from the POV of a bed in Perversion Story. The pop culture hipness of The Sweet Body of Deborah is the big draw for me there, with a comic book themed nightclub and permanent Twister fixtures in the front yard. And Lenzi’s own Orgasmo keeps me rapt with the psycho-sexual torment a cute young couple put Carroll Baker through. AQP2K tries to make up for its lack of a body count by having Helen be naked pretty much every 10-15 minutes or so, which, believe me, I did appreciate. There’s also a fun club scene with a bitchin’ dancin’ girl upskirt (but, ugh, the song almost ruins it,) a fantastically bizarre cavern club, and some crazy, fun other stuff, like Hitchcock nods, Jean Sorel being ridiculously entertaining, and a scene with a stuffed fox monster … thing. And plenty of lovely decor, sets and artsy scenes, not counting those stupid drinking glass in the foreground ones. But, personally, I don’t think it was enough. I liked it and I certainly was never bored, but I don’t think it rises to the level of the other films I mentioned.

Fisty: I know some of his choices irritate you (though you’re TOTALLY wrong), but it’s important to note that Lenzi’s stylistic choices are used consistently and coherently; the style essentially delineates the text.

now part of this complete breakfast

now part of this complete breakfast

paint your smile on your lips

paint your smile on your lips

ohhhhhhh, you're a loaded gun!

ohhhhhhh, you’re a loaded gun!

For me, AQP2K has an elegance, a neatness, a … well, I’m just going to go ahead and quote Margaret Mitchell here: There was a glamor to it, a perfection and a completeness and a symmetry to it like Grecian art. Some–including Bill here–might argue my use of “perfection,” but when we take the concept of perfection back to it’s origins (sup, Aristotle!), we’re talking about something that is not only the best of its kind, but that is a whole, not missing any of its parts, and that it achieves its purpose. Though it might be argued (okay, is argued here) that AQP2K is not the best of its kind, it’s undoubtedly a consummate sexy thriller lenziano, made up of all the requisite parts. And most importantly for this argument, IT DOES WHAT IT SET OUT TO DO. Or rather, what Lenzi set out to do. To it. With it. Or something. Whatever. AQP2K is sexy, thrilling, and entertaining–and that’s exactly what we ask of gialli, be they in the style of Bava or Argento or Lenzi.

And lest we forget, AQP2K is technically excellent in every respect. The cast nails it; they don’t just hit their marks but inhabit their roles–Sorel and La Baker in particular playing signature character types. The psychology of the characters is credible, particularly Helen’s (and to a lesser degree, Constance’s) embodiment of Carlos Fuentes’ statement “Jealousy kills love, but leaves desire intact.” There’s a rococo look to it as well, from the sunny, golden exteriors in Mallorca to the literally glittering interiors–and costumes. And Piero Umiliani’s loungey score repeats the title theme when apropos, and otherwise provides a pleasantly snazzy background.

Bill: I also ask that they not obscure half of the screen with an out of focus drinking glass, but that’s just me.

Fisty: Boor. Swine. Uncultured lout.

ladies and gentlemen

ladies and gentlemen

home movies

home movies

there's something about maurice

there’s something about maurice

Bill: Snob. Are we finished here? Did we get back to how this is a giallo? Because there are a lot of arguments about that.

Fisty: Oh yeah. You’re right, I’ve seen these arguments come up for well, almost every non-classico giallo, it sometimes seems. We’ve touched on it previously with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Luciano Ercoli’s 1970 giallo  la femme (that’s not really a thing), and again with Massimo Dallamano’s 1972 schoolgirl giallo What Have You Done to Solange? Along different lines, Luigi Cozzi’s 1973 genre-bender The Killer Must Kill Again labors under the same accusation for different reasons. Shoots, even a prime example of the classico giallo like Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark has had such aspersions cast at it–seriously!–which just goes to show, not only are some people plumb crazy, but the definition of giallo is as nebulous, and ambiguous as the films themselves.

A generic definition that can (debatably) encompass such outliers as Argento’s Suspiria and Phenomena or Fulci’s The New York Ripper can certainly include films of a less fantastical or gruesome nature. But it’s not even about what we can stretch the definition to include, but what films make up an integral core of the filone. In that the Sixties gialli–lenziani or no–tend to be along the lines of the sexy inheritance thriller, referencing noir and Hitchcock and Clouzot, Lenzi’s thrillers absolutely typify this approach. While he did not necessarily innovate–Bill’s BFF Romolo Guerreri busted The Sweet Body of Deborah out in 1968, not to mention Bava’s previous contributions–Lenzi absolutely refined and realized the generic potential of these thrillers when he dominated the filone.

This type would flourish mainly in the Sixties, and the beginning of the Seventies, but would continue to affect the filone even after Bird’s excesses. Later gialli that place the emphasis on suspense as opposed to mystery, the inheritance thriller-type giallo, the gaslight giallo, the intimate giallo based on internal concerns–adultery, incest, etc–instead of the eyewitness, these are all related to the sexy thriller lenziani and its success. I dare say that virtually all of Sergio Martino’s classic gialli bear the imprint of the sexy thriller lenziani, and traces are found throughout many post-Argento films such as Forque’s In the Eye of the Hurricane or Picciolo’s The Flower with Petals of Steel.

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

probably an entire reel of blurry glass footage

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

ring ring ring ring ring ring ring giallo phone!

party time, excellent

party time, excellent

Bill: I really did love The Sweet Body of Deborah. And going back to the cast “inhabit[ing] their roles,” you didn’t mention her, but Marina Coffa as Susan is just perfect. She embodies Susan so well that the second she’s on screen, before she’s even had a chance to act, I knew she was trouble. I’ve never seen her in anything else and I kind of wish she’d done more. Now, about the debt Martino owes Lenzi… Yeah. I can’t deny that. And I love Martino. Everything you’ve said about Lenzi and about this movie is true. I’ve been kind of critical of it and it isn’t my favorite lenziani, or even my favorite of the So Sweet… So Perverse/Orgasmo/Paranoia trilogy–I liked Orgasmo better–but I want to reiterate: I LIKE THIS MOVIE. My criticisms are minor, mostly adding up to, “I think this other movie is better,” and, “Blurry cups!” But just because I don’t consider it perfect, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It would definitely surprise anyone that only knows Lenzi from his later films. But maybe it shouldn’t. He adapted to smaller budgets and changing audience desires and his later movies, while maybe not showing quite the technical proficiency he does here, are still precisely what he meant them to be and perfectly typify the times in which he made them. I can’t ever remember being bored while watching a Lenzi movie. Bottom line: He’s better than he gets credit for being.

Don’t worry about me, you’re the one sitting in the death seat. Ultimately, A Quiet Place to Kill is a fine film, a perfectly typical sexy thriller lenziani. With fine characterizations perfectly played by its cast, exotic and glamorous locales, a jazzy score, and a delightfully intricate yet tight storyline. While not as bloodily thrilling as later, post-Argento gialli, AQP2K–and others of its type–create a sensual atmosphere brimming with lasciviousness and intrigue. They are dependent upon not only the looks and attitudes of their characters, but also the psychology; instead of witnessing violent tableaux, we explore the ambiguous relations between the characters. The success of the sexy thrillers lenziani lies in the deliciously trashy spectacle of pretty people doing ugly things to one another in glamorous places.

 

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the posters show traces of carnal violence: may 15 – June 14

A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.

Bill:

Fisty:

the posters show traces of carnal violence: april 15 – may 14

A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.

Bill:

Fisty:

What Have You Done to Solange?

really, what?

Cosa avete fatto a Solange?
aka Das Geheimnis der grünen Stecknade
aka Terror in the Woods
aka The School That Couldn’t Scream
aka The Secret of the Green Pins
aka Who’s Next?
Director: Massimo Dallamano
Released: 1972
Starring: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger, Camille Keaton
Running time: 103 min
Genre: giallo, krimi

Now you just think about screwing and grit your teeth. Proper Rape Vans being in short supply in ’70s London, the incredibly handsome and exquisitely bearded Italian Professor Enrico Rosseni drifts lazily along a wooded shore in his “Free Candy” boat, making time with Elizabeth, one of his young students from St. Mary’s Catholic College for Girls. Breaking from his embrace, Elizabeth claims to have seen someone being chased through the woods and the flash of a knife. Pretty sure that she’s just making up excuses to delay their inevitable sexin’ and just a bit irate that she’s not giving in so easily to his lovely beard, Rosseni gets snippy and rows them to the shore, to prove to her that there is no madman in the woods chasing anyone down. (Clearly, he needs to watch more movies.) When Elizabeth begins crying, he realizes that while he may be molesterific, being a dick on top of that is in bad form, and so he agrees to leave.

The next morning Rosseni, while getting dressed and being hostile to his Teutonically stern and beautiful wife Herta, hears a radio broadcast describing the grisly discovery of a murdered girl on the banks of the Thames. Curious, he heads back to the spot Elizabeth claimed to have seen the flashing blade and finds it crawling with cops. She was right! Arriving at the school, he’s greeted by even more police. It seems the murdered girl was one of his students, one of his young lover’s friends. Elizabeth wants to help the police, but Enrico convinces her that doing so would reveal their illicit affair, so they keep their secret. Inspector Barth, the lead investigator on the case, knows Rosseni is hiding something. And with Rosseni’s pen being found near the murdered girl and his appearance there during the initial crime scene investigation, he becomes the prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth continues to pick at her memories of the day, piecing together a better image of the killer. Was he … a priest? Why target “innocent” schoolgirls? The killer keeps on doin’ what he do and kills more girls from the school and begins stalking Elizabeth. Herta grows more suspicious of her husband. The girls take a lot of awesome communal showers in front of a peephole and there are priests and naughty schoolgirls aplenty as Rosseni races to find the killer with only a tantalizing clue: Who is Solange … and what was done to her?

They knew the score–you know, sex, man. Despite the sordid topics touched on (abortion, naughty schoolgirls, pervert priests, statutory rape, adultery, etc), Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? manages to be one of the least sleazy gialli. Instead of splashing the red stuff around in elaborate kill scenes, Dallamano sticks with one profoundly grisly modus operandi used judiciously. Add thoughtfully developed characters and plot, and only a dash of sex, and it makes for an unusually sensitive, chaste, and even poignant giallo.

not a little bit sleazy

the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist

the hip bone’s connected to the  …

Bill: Man, what a fantastic confluence of talent in this flick. Dallamano, directing here,  is best known as the cinematographer on A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. Joe D’Amato, who made, like, five million filthy movies, does the cinematography here. It’s got a score by Ennio “Even John Williams Wishes He Could Be Me” Morricone. And it co-stars Cristina Galbó from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and The Killer Must Kill Again (still not giving it up, the prude) and  none other than rape/revenge superstar, Camille Keaton, famous for her role in I Spit on Your Grave, as Solange!

Fisty: Yeah, thanks to Dallamano’s work with D’Amato/Aristide Massaccesi, WHYDtS? is a gorgeous movie, even without the operatic, (overly) theatrical approach of Argento, or the hallucinatory jewel tones of Bava. And Morricone’s score is appropriately romantic and jangling as the situation calls for, his usual excellent work. And let’s give some kudos to co-writer Bruno Di Geronimo, because without the coherent storyline, Solange would have been that much less effective.

And we’ve got talented and pretty faces in this Italian-West German co-production: krimi stalwart Joachim Fuchsberger and cinematic workhorse Karin Baal, familiar Italian faces like Vittorio Fanfoni (Who Saw Her Die?, Trinity is STILL My Name), and of course Italo-superstar Fabio Testi (The Big Racket, Four of the Apocalypse) and scream queen Cristina Galbó. Well, maybe scream princess or duchess. Seriously though, we see her boobs, but does she ever give it up?

never gonna give it up

enrico’s angels

where angels go, trouble follows

Bill: No. No she does not (that I can recall.) Here we are, a movie removed, in a completely different review, and I’m still bitching about her not giving up the booty. If Margot Kidder were here, she’d be on my side. She totally knows  a professional virgin when she sees one. WHYDtS? doesn’t even have a Femi to fall back on for some sex. Consequently, as mentioned earlier, this ends up being fairly chaste for a giallo. Galbo’s Elizabeth always stops prior to actual intercourse. Enrico and Herta, even when they are working as a team, never get it on. The girls at St. Mary’s are supposed to be real turned-on chicks, swingers, man. And into lesbian orgies. You never see any of that, however. It’s mentioned, but never shown. And even when talking about what crazy little sexpots they all were, the hepcat Rosseni is pumping for information clarifies that they never do any real screwing, not with guys.

This puritanical streak is damn near American. It might be the most “American” giallo I’ve seen. It’s very polished. It was filmed in English. The plot is pretty straight forward, coherent, with no super secret inheritance or other crazy, out-of-left-field motivations popping up at the last second. You don’t get the surreal, sometimes nonsensical, nightmare imagery that Argento and imitators’ flicks are known for.  The movie isn’t particularly concerned with style, architechture (though, there are some really neat shots of a the inside of the school), design, or fashion. Hell, Enrico’s sweater is actually really freakin’ ugly. Bill Cosby wouldn’t wear the thing.  WHYDtS?almost feels like it could’ve come out of Hollywood. If you had a friend that had never seen a giallo and you wanted to ease them into the genre, rather than just dunk them, this would be the movie to do it with. I read that this movie got wider States-side distribution than a lot of other gialli. I can see why that would be. This one could actually have a bit of appeal for a general American audience. Though, I’m not sure how well the killer’s preferred method of murder would play to them. Yikes.

you really don’t want to see this

you want to put what where?

the creepy doll just turns this up to eleven

Fisty: I’d like to say here that I think it’s kind of hilarious that you ascribe a more chaste or “puritanical” film to an American perspective, especially in light of brouhahas over sex n’ violence in film. But I totally get it.

Solange stands out in a genre known for sex, violence, and campiness because it is so conspicuously lacking in all three respects. As Bill mentioned, pretty much all the sexing is talked about and not something we see onscreen (though we do get some cunning linguistics between Enrico the Italian teacher and Elizabeth the student). The violence–though effective and distinctly unsettling– is mostly offscreen as well, left to our imaginations, and we see only the effects of the horribly brutal MO. And the camp stylings are very sedate, limited mostly to the sexy, sexy photographer and his milkmaid. For crying out loud, despite Enrico’s omnipresent chic turtleneck, his sweater is 100% Rufus Humphrey–ugh. So that brings us to the question: If it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck, or talk like a duck, is it still a duck? I’ll hazard the answer “yes.” And no, it’s not recondite to make a genre film that doesn’t use the genre tropes when the tropes of which we speak are superficial markers and not the main concerns of gialli. Obscured by elaborate murder set pieces, sexy sexiness, and ludicrous maccaroni fashions is a concept that makes up the very bones of the giallo (all the way back to Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much aka The Evil Eye and Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that of the eye-witness.

There are reminders of the importance of, as well as the sometimes fallible and sometimes delusive nature of witnessing scattered throughout WHYD2S?. Enrico’s friend–the only witness to a very shocking murder (Seriously, I did not see that murder coming, and it threw me for a loop. It’s City of the Dead mind-bottling.)–cannot possibly identify the killer in a police line-up because he is bewildered by the killer’s masquerade and he can barely think (or see) straight. (Of course, the murderer is disguised in order to obfuscate any potential witnesses.) Phil the hottie photographer (a profession by its very nature concerned with observation and seeing) provides Enrico with the most important clues to the mystery of Solange and the secret world of the naughty schoolgirls. When Enrico arrives at Phil’s houseboat, he is spied upon by the model, and when Phil and Enrico converse, Phil is initially in the extreme foreground (HOTNESS), using his camera as he relates his observations of the girls to Enrico. The girls are spied upon in the showers and in the confessional too, in both instances their most private, vulnerable places.

two turned-on dudes

i always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me

beautiful girl or candlestick?

Of course, from the very opening scene Elizabeth is the primary eye-witness; though she barely knows what she saw, she did see it, and she saw more than she realizes, hence her later recollections in dreams and visions, mediums that are normally highly suspect but common to the giallo. Her witnessing of the murder runs so deep that she may well be linked somehow to the killer, and that lies in her being witness to the events that started the mystery to begin with: what was done to Solange. So too are the girls witnesses, for though they may be in a sense peripheral to what was done because of their role as spectators, all but two of them were more deeply involved in placing Solange in those circumstances. However, the two girls who were ONLY spectators bear equal responsibility–according to the killer, who has them on his naughty list–thus placing the emphasis again on the eye-witness.

Bill: I initially thought you were crazy–and reaching–but you may be on to something. The idea of spectators being equally responsible may even extend to the viewer. The movie uses the killer’s POV several times, most fantastically in a fisheye shot of the killer sneaking into an apartment to commit a hella shocking murder. Those POV shots shift the audience from just watching the killings to actually participating, making us–as the sickos that want to see this crap–just as guilty as the murderer in the movie. If this is one of those movies that gives its fans the stink-eye for getting their kicks from this kind of sick exploitation and violence, that might explain why the movie doesn’t revel in those aspects of the giallo. It makes me wonder what Dallamano might have thought about the popularity of the genre. It would also make for some tasty irony if a movie that sought to condemn its audience for being sickos played a bigger role in the evolution of the slasher than a lot of other, more trashy gialli.

Everyone knows that Twitch of the Death Nerve was a huge influence on the Friday the 13th movies and that gialli, in general, were, at the least, the slasher’s cool uncle with a bitchin’ bachelor pad and a different girlfriend every visit. And everyone knows that Black Christmas was a pretty big deal as a proto slasher, begetting Halloween which, in turn, beget Friday the 13th and so on and on and on. I’m wondering if WHYDtS? might not have been a huge influence on Black Christmas. I don’t know if Bob Clark ever saw Solange?, but the movies share a whole lot of similarities: Plot aspects dealing with abortion, a group of school girlfriends as the primary victims, a matronly figure to the girls who may not be the ideal role model (also a victim), phone stalking by the killer, the use of the killer’s POV, which was considered a big deal in Black Christmas and then later Halloween and …

Fisty: Dude in a turtleneck! How could you miss dude in the turtleneck?

feel free to admire my turtleneck and cardigan

then who was shovel?

it is better to have shoveled and lost, than never to have shoveled at all

Bill: It’s so obvious! You can even find some shots with similar composition in both films. And WHYDtS? does eschew the typically more adult world of the average giallo for a younger victim pool of nubile teens, something that became common for slashers. You can interpret a moralistic bent to the murders in Solange, as well, similar to the drink/fuck/smoke=death trend people often attribute to slashers. The similarities between BC and WHYDtS? make a pretty solid bridge between their respective genres.

Fisty: But I so did not see that connection between the two, and it makes a lot of sense in retrospect. But we can’t ask Bob Clark, damn it! There are a few differences, however, which largely highlight some of the changes in the shift from giallo to slasher. Motivation is a big one: Most slasher villains are just fucking nuts without real motives. Clearly some do have them (Mrs Voorhees, Cropsy, etc), but many do not (Michael Myers, Russ Thorn, etc). There’s also the MO, which tends to be pretty consistent, or have a consistency about it, in gialli, whereas unless there’s a weapon of choice, many slashers are opportunistic hello, Jason!). Solange‘s killer uses the truly demented vaginal stabbing (Bill:ICK!) in every case but one, that exception being the TRULY SHOCKING MURDER mentioned above. And there are good reasons for that–though I might argue over them. But they’re relevant, and the imagery is striking, especially in light of later revelations.

There’s a lot more we could touch on, like the youth culture explosion Dallamano explores, the  morality of the various situations, and how Solange addresses female sexual agency, but we’ve blathered enough at this point. We also agreed that there are a few things we don’t want to spoiler in this one (though other reviews cheerfully do so, so beware), which kind of hinders some further discussion.

headed for cat-astrophe

csi: london, 1972

now that you’ve found love

Bill: Wait! We’re done?! We didn’t even talk about how blindingly, flawlessly handsome Enrico is. Or how characters and relationships that you expect to be shallow or harsh end up being sweet and genuine. You never talked about the cute scene you like where Enrico drives alongside Elizabeth on her bike, honking his horn at her and smiling, like a big sixteen-year-old. I didn’t even talk about the communal showers and that nude photo model’s milky titties!

Fisty: Ohmahgawd, Enrico is pants-droppingly fine! (Even in that fug sweater!) And yes, the relationships (I touched on this) and characters are often surprising (I think that one we’re talking around, not about, is a krimi thing, but I’m not familiar with those, so I’m not sure. Anyone know this?) I know you wanted to mention Herta, and what an awesome character she is. And yes! That scene! I think that one is the clincher for me that makes Enrico’s relationship with Elizabeth seem much more of a real thing, not a sordid affair but rather a genuine (if inappropriate) romance. Cutely creepy.  It’s part of the surprising depth Dallamano gives the characters; though on the surface his relationship with Elizabeth, his student, is sleazy (more so today than then, I think), it’s also poignantly romantic. We also see surprising sweetness in his often strained relations with Herta, a sweetness that suggests an emotional depth and a neediness outside the realm of the usual machismo (I’m looking at you, Carlo). Gah, so much to touch on! If we don’t stop, this’ll be a ten thousand word entry!

mmmm, your hair smells of youth and impropriety

nothing’s sexier than a man who listens

in german you say “no no,” in italian we hear “yes yes”

What Have You Done to Solange? is a must-see giallo and should be on every checklist of essential gialli. Dallamano et alia have created a good-looking thriller that works for both mainstream audiences and giallo/krimi aficionados, one that focuses on people and relationships, substance over style. Touching on feminism, youth culture, and anti-clericalism, Dallamano has made a genre flick where the exploitation is incidental to the plot and characters. Solange has its share of brutal, deeply visceral violence, but it is packaged in beautiful cinematography, with beautiful faces and music, creating a palatable vision of despair. Plus, boobies n’ bush.