“Sergeant, get these stains analysed!”

So says Inspector Wim Wenders (not his real name) as he crashes an abandoned shagging palace, hot on the trail of some kind of HIGH-CLASS NONCE RING. For this is the sleazy world of Italian giallo, and in particular the particularly sleazy WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS, directed in brisk yet salacious fashion by Massimo Dalamano, the 1974 follow-up to WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (Between the two entries in the WHAT? series, Dalamano gave us a cop thriller which appears to be called WHO IS A BIGGER BASTARD THAN INSPECTOR CLIFF? Shadowplay salutes him!)

WHYDTS sticks in my mind, years after seeing it, for a scene where a coroner is asked how a young girl has died, and he wordlessly produces an X-ray of her pelvis with a giant kitchen knife sticking up it. Blast of organ music, cut to the grieving parents in church at her funeral. The combination of sex, violence, religion and sheer showbiz vulgarity seemed to encapsulate everything that’s queasily life-denying yet compelling about gialli.

WHTDTYD is similarly compact with grue and deviance, following a series of meat cleaver murders committed to cover up a high school prostitution ring. Of course it’s all handled with the Bressonian subtlety we’ve come to expect of Italian soft-porn psycho-thrillers — the scene where Inspector Wim finds a series of soiled plastic bags packed in the boot of an abandoned car, yanks one out, and sends a severed head spinning across the tarmac is particularly restrained. The victim’s wronged wife, come to identify the body, savagely demands to see the whole thing (meticulously reassembled by forensic nerds) so she can gloat —

But then, when she does see it, she’s NOT KEEN.

Meanwhile, Damano, a former cinematographer (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), prominently features a series of attractive lamps in scene after scene. Cinema is light, he’s telling us. In amongst this squalor and mayhem, there is yet grace and illumination. Then he shows us a schoolgirl pulling her panties on in leering closeup.

The thing is oddly compulsive, with an eccentric score by Stelvio Cipriano (Morricone did the first film, also eccentrically) that’s fast in the slow bits and slow in the fast bits. There’s nice use of wide-angle lens distortion as the killer (motorcycle courier with big chopper) barges about. There’s a peeping tom with an orange face. There’s Farley Granger, slumming it briefly. There’s Mario Adorf as a troubled policeman — he once played a serial killer himself, in a terrific film, Robert Siodmak’s MIDNIGHT AND THE DEVIL COMES — a serial killer in Nazi Germany! And there are quirks: attempting to dismember the glamorous assistant D.A. in an elevator, the ruthless assassin is interrupted by a little old man shouting “Stop that!” and, perhaps suddenly embarrassed about his crime spree, runs away.

It’s stupid little things like that that actually add realism.

3 Responses to ““Sergeant, get these stains analysed!””

  1. You’d think the killer could at least chop up the old man as well! Ah, the good old days where even knife wielding murderers had respect for their elders (cue Daily Mail-style rant about the yoof of today)

    Oddly compulsive could perfectly describe most gialli I’ve had the chance to see – the odd scripting and performances (getting a thrill of sexual excitement about moving into a flat where a murder has recently been committed, for example! ), the dubbing, the bizarre twists and over the top set piece murders. Not to mention the chance to see Hollywood stars slumming it or Bond girls desperately trying to make a career out of their notoriety, not just in depressingly bland films but in insanely bonkers plots (made up for by the holiday in Italy though, so we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them) all make the films wonderful guilty pleasures!

  2. I like the Inspector Cliff title! Up there with Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key – or Their Bodies Bear Traces Of Carnal Violence!

  3. Oh, I long to see Your Vice Is… Carnal Violence appears to be available and so I’ll have to get it.
    What Have They… is also a cop film, and not a bad one. There are a lot of Italian Dirty Harry rip-offs and I find most of them horribly loutish and fascistic. They’re programmatic in a way that a good giallo is not, since a giallo has to be crazy to qualify.

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