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Retro Review: WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974)

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WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS?
aka THE COED MURDERS
(Italy - 1974; US release 1977)

Directed by Massimo Dallamano. Written by Ettore Sanza and Massimo Dallamano. Cast: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Mario Adorf, Franco Fabrizi, Farley Granger, Marina Berti, Paolo Turco, Corrado Gaipa, Micaela Pignatelli, Ferdinando Murolo, Eleonora Morano, Sherry Buchanan, Roberta Paladini, Renata Moar, Adriana Falco, Lorenzo Piani, Giancarlo Badessi, Steffen Zacharias, Attilio Dottesio. (Unrated, 91 mins)

The second film in a loosely-connected trilogy of "schoolgirl in peril" thrillers, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? is a semi-sequel of sorts to 1972's giallo/krimi hybrid WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?, jettisoning the German "krimi" element to instead function as a giallo/poliziotteschi mash-up. Both films were directed and co-written by Massimo Dallamano, who earlier established himself as a top cinematographer for Sergio Leone on A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE before becoming a filmmaker in his own right. Dallamano was set to direct the third film in the series, 1978's ENIGMA ROSSO, aka RED RINGS OF FEAR, but was killed in a car accident in late 1976 before finishing the script, which was completed by others with directing duties assigned to Alberto Negrin. All three films share the "schoolgirls in peril" motif, but where SOLANGE dealt with a string of brutal murders--where a group of teenage girls are stabbed in the vagina--committed in the wake of an unspeakable, heartbreaking tragedy, DAUGHTERS takes sociopolitical aim at the powers that be in the upper echelon of Italian society, with its darkly misanthropic tone abetted by one of Stelvio Cipriani's top scores, with a chipper-sounding, wordless vocal refrain that, given the subject matter, comes across as incongruously unsettling.





The film opens with the discovery of a nude 15-year-old girl found hanged in a small apartment that appears to be a secret love nest. Insp. Valentini (Mario Adorf) catches the case, but is soon replaced by the more bullish Silvestri (Claudio Cassinelli) and his partner Sgt. Giardana (Ferdinando Murolo), who team with deputy D.A. Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) in their investigation. For much of its first half, DAUGHTERS is more of a polizia-tinged procedural than a giallo, with Silvestri and Stori looking into the background of the dead girl, Silvia (Sherry Buchanan), who they soon discover was murdered at a different location, then taken to the apartment, with her body staged to look like a suicide. They also learn that Silvia was part of a secret teenage prostitution ring, much to the dismay of her wealthy parents, with her mother (Marina Berti) expressing outrage at finding her stash of birth control pills, and her father (Hollywood expat Farley Granger, in one of several gialli he made around this time) remorseful that he loved his daughter but never really tried to get close to her. Before long, the giallo end of the story kicks in as a meat cleaver-wielding hired killer decked out in leather and a black motorcycle helmet starts going after the other girls in the ring as well as any clients who pose a threat at exposing the powerful forces in charge of running it and profiting off the forced sexual servitude of underage girls.


From the beginning, Dallamano pulls no punches with WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? Valentini's reading of the coroner's report on Silvia's murder is graphic, mentioning the semen of multiple men found in her vagina, anus, and stomach, and later on, one scene where Silvestri and Stori listen in shock and disgust to secretly-recorded tapes of teenage girls being subjected to abhorrent sexual violence--including an impotent john who resorts to penetrating the girls with a bottle--is excruciating. With 1970s Italy in constant political upheaval and with crime rampant, there was also an epidemic of teenagers running away from home, disappearing, falling into drug abuse, etc. Secret prostitution rings were a recurring theme in Italian genre fare around this time, as seen in ENIGMA ROSSO as well as Sergio Martino's THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR (1975), which also starred Cassinelli, Paolo Cavara's PLOT OF FEAR (1976), and Carlo Lizzani's bluntly-titled THE TEENAGE PROSTITUTION RACKET (1975), arguably the CHRISTIANE F of Red Brigade-era Italy. DAUGHTERS does an excellent job of balancing its dual polizia and giallo nature, with some dizzying camera work in a couple of chase scenes as well as a terrific suspense set piece with the killer pursuing Stori through a dark parking garage. There's also a few jarring moments of over-the-top splatter (one that prefigures a famous bit in Argento's TENEBRAE) along the way to its appropriately bleak, cynical, and pissed-off ending.





WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? wasn't released in the US until 1977, when short-lived exploitation outfit Peppercorn-Wormser sent it out on the grindhouse and drive-in circuit. It was re-released in 1980 as THE COED MURDERS, but never made it to video stores in VHS' 1980s glory days. It's been difficult to see in America outside of the bootleg circuit until Arrow's recent Blu-ray release with numerous extras, including a commentary by film historian Troy Howarth that takes time to give props to the unsung dubbing heroes revoicing the actors on the English version. Arrow's restoration really does the film justice in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio, of which former cinematographer Dallamano takes full advantage. It also benefits from a strong cast, though one wishes the great Adorf wasn't sidelined for much of the film, even though Cassinelli and Ralli make a fine LAW & ORDER: SVU team. Veteran actress Ralli was back in Italy after a brief attempt to break into Hollywood with James Coburn in the 1966 Blake Edwards farce WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?, the 1967 Stephen Boyd/Yvette Mimieux heist comedy THE CAPER OF THE GOLDEN BULLS, and the 1970 George Peppard actioner CANNON FOR CORDOBA. She's given an especially substantive role, and her casting is practically progressive--perhaps even approaching woke--on the part of Dallamano, considering the unusual notion of a strong, independent female lead in a 1970s Italian polizia, a genre where women usually existed as victims, complaining girlfriends, or abused junkies. Ralli's Stori takes no shit from anyone, is respected by her male colleagues, lives alone, and she and Cassinelli's Silvestri never hook up.  Fans of Aldo Lado's NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS will recognize Marina Berti and Franco Fabrizi in familiar roles, with Berti as the distraught mother of a victim and Fabrizi as a voyeuristic Peeping Tom. Also worth noting are some of the young actresses cast as the girls in the prostitution ring, with Mississippi-born Buchanan going on to a reasonably busy Eurotrash career over the next decade (TENTACLES, THE HEROIN BUSTERS, ESCAPE FROM GALAXY 3, DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.), Micaela Pignatelli co-starring as James Franciscus' wife in Enzo G. Castellari's infamous JAWS ripoff GREAT WHITE, and Renata Moar, whose place in film history would be secured the next year as the girl forced to eat a handful of human excrement in Pier Paolo Pasolini's SALO, a moment preserved on the cover of the film's Criterion release.



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