Massimo Dallamano, 1974
Starring: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Farley Granger, Mario Adorf
When a teenage girl is found hanging in a seedy room, investigators discover that it is a murder — not a suicide — and that she and her classmates are part of a prostitution ring where powerful men prey upon them. Vittoria, a new female Assistant District Attorney, is determined to get to the bottom of the case with the help of a hard-headed cop and a frustrated inspector. After an autopsy, they learn that the hanging victim had semen in every possible orifice, and she was pregnant, so they begin to hone in on a number of viable suspects, including a Peeping Tom photographer, a suspicious boyfriend, overbearing parents, and more.
The second film in Massimo Dallamano’s loose giallo trilogy, this follows What Have You Done to Solange? Unfortunately Dallamano died in a car accident in 1976, so director Alberto Negrin helmed the third film in the series, Rings of Fear (1978). All three films are essentially about teenage prostitution and a ring of murders meant to cover up evidence. Despite not showing extended scenes of sex or nudity, all three of these films — particularly Dallamano’s first two — are incredibly sleazy. They’re also loosely similar to other giallo films where children or innocent victims are at stake, such as Death Occurred Last Night and, even more distantly, Don’t Torture a Duckling. Along with themes of rape and the enforced prostitution of underaged school girls, an autopsy finds that the first victim’s stomach, vagina, and anus contain semen — plus she was pregnant. The film’s most chilling moment includes an eerie shot of a flophouse bathroom covered in blood, indicating that there was at least one prior victim who met a particularly grisly end.
Despite this, the film is surprisingly not as exploitative of its female characters as I would have expected. In terms of sexual content, the most unpleasant scene involves an audio recording of a client forcing himself upon some of the young girls. While what’s occurring is clearly established through dialogue, much is left up to the imagination. The bodies here are mostly male with plenty of over-the-top violence, including such gory scenes as a decapitation, a cut off hand, a dismembered body arranged like a jig-saw puzzle on a morgue table, and a head split by a meat clever, which is the killer’s weapon of choice. This blend of giallo and poliziotteschi includes a number of thrilling chase sequences, including a car and motorcycle action sequence — the killer remains anonymous by donning a black leather biking jumpsuit and a black helmet — and one excellent scene where Vittoria is chased through an underground garage and barely escapes the killer. His meat clever misses her head by only a few inches.
Also known as The Coed Murders and literally translated as The Police Want Help, the poliziotteschi elements of What Have They Done to Your Daughters? are somewhat of a hindrance to the film. It does suffer from some dull investigation scenes and the biggest issue with the film is that the investigation and detective work basically result in nothing and the events unfold through a series of coincidence and dumb luck. The culmination of this is that the ending is wholly disappointing. SPOILERS: The organizer of the prostitution ring commits suicide and his assassin is never given a motivating factor for why he feels the need to continue killing, so there is the sense that justice is never satisfied. Unlike a standard giallo film, the killer is a person completely unknown to us, rather than being one of the already established characters.
With that said, the film comes recommended and it’s one of the better later entries. The set moves away from Solange’s London setting to the lovely Lombardy with some solid cinematography Franco Delli Colli (The Last Man on Earth, Rats: Night of Terror) and a catchy score from Stelvio Cipriani. Keep an eye out for cult film regulars like Claudio Cassinell (Mountain of the Cannibal God) as the tough-guy cop, Swiss actor Mario Adorf (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Fassbinder’s Lola) as a detective, Cheryl Lee Buchanan (Zombi Holocaust), and Marina Berti (Night Train Murders). American actor Farley Granger — seen in giallo films like Amuck, The Red Headed Corpse, and So Sweet, So Dead — is sadly underused here and really deserves more screen time.
Overall, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is a solid cross between the giallo and poliziotteschi subgenres. It’s sleazy without being too in-your-face with its offensive qualities and is something of a precursor to writer Ettore Sanzò’s later film, Night Train Murders. This makes a great triple feature with What Have You Done to Solange? and Ring of Fear and I recommend picking it up on DVD, at least until someone releases a Blu-ray box set with all three films.