‘What Have They Done To Your Daughters?’ or — A Giallo With a Touch of Poliziotteschi or a Poliziotteschi With a Touch of Giallo?
Massimo Dallamano’s excellent ‘What Have You Done To Solange?’ (1972) is one of the most brutal, uncomfortable yet also smart and incredibly well made examples of the Giallo genre. It’s stylish, violent but with something meaningful to say and its view of Italian society is as unpalatable as the horrific murders on display.
This device of exploiting, well, exploitation (sexually sadistic killings, underage prostitution rings, blood-splattered murder scenes etc) to comment on larger, institutional abuses in 70’s Italy is further developed in Dallamano’s follow-up ‘What Have They Done To Your Daughters’ (1974). The crimes here are nasty and shocking but they are the result of a nasty and shocking system in which almost everyone is complicit. In that respect it’s somewhat similar to Francesco Rosi’s ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ (1962) where a murder is used to question the entire political and social system of the Peninsula. But does this mean it’s deep or is this just Dallamano covering his ass to get away with cheap thrills?
What’s initially striking about ‘WHYDTYD’ is that it combines elements of Giallo — a black gloved killer with a blade on the prowl — with the Poliziotteschi genre as the main protagonists are a police detective and an assistant D.A.. A young girl has been found hanged in a room but it becomes clear that this wasn’t a suicide. The trail leads to what appears to be a teenage prostitution racket but along the way we encounter peeping-toms, political revolutionaries, corrupt officials, sexual deviants in “respectable” positions and a leather clad motorcyclist with a butcher’s cleaver. Yet Dallamano muddies the waters further by presenting the young women as not exactly innocent either. This is one dark and nasty movie.
Fortunately it’s also incredibly well made and very nicely paced, especially the first 45 minutes which rattle along like a rickety go-cart bombing down a hillside. There are some extremely satisfying moments of gore (this film contains the best unexpected severing of a hand I’ve seen this year) along with a truly bizarre and nightmarish autopsy of a dismembered body that has to be seen to be believed. There’s a seriously cool motorbike chase that’s dynamic and exciting and quite a few moments of De Palma-esque tension (again, I’m pretty certain De Palma plundered this for ‘Dressed To Kill’, especially the lift sequence).
Yet it’s the sense of style, lighting, camera-work and composition that really impresses. The general look and vibe is naturalistic but the cinematography by legendary Franco Delli Colli also manages to create a sense of the unreal at times, specifically when he balances blues out against blacks, greens and whites, which really adds to the tense atmosphere of it all. There’s also some very energetic hand-held work and, overall, a pretty wide range of visual styles on display including “documentary” footage of a riot evocative of Pontecorvo and some great “listening to reel-to-reel tapes” that’s more exciting than it sounds and, again, reeks of De Palma.
So this is strong stuff and becomes even more so towards the end with a feeling of futility and despair creeping in that’s as unnerving as the dead bodies and with Stelvio Cipriani’s hauntingly excellent score emphasising the mood of unease.
‘What Have They Done To Your Daughters?’ is a very good film indeed and anyone with even a passing interest in Italian Giallo/Poliziotteschi films will have a blast with this. It’s full on but it earns its excess with a combination of intelligence and style. Looks like Dallamano did have something to say after all and what he has to say is pretty unsettling.