The grisly murder of a 15-year old girl leads to the discovery of a teenage prostitution ring supplying hard candy to a range of wealthy and influential clients.
The English title of the movie clearly references the similarly themed, but otherwise unrelated Edgar Wallace Krimi/Giallo hybrid What Have They Done to Solange?, also directed by Massimo Dallamano and focusing on serial killings and their relations to some botched teenage back street abortions. Those two productions together with Red Rings of Fear (written, though not directed, by Dallamano, who was killed in a car crash before production began) form an unofficial schoolgirls-in-peril trilogy of sorts.
On the other hand, the original Italian title of the movie – La Polizia Chiede Aiuto – roughly translates as “The Police Seek Help”, and highlights the fact that this is yet another giallo hybrid by the director, this time putting elements of the then popular “poliziotteschi” (gritty urban Italian police thrillers) into the mix. And yes, that even includes a ministerial conspiracy, a very popular story motif at the time.
Although we do have a mysterious killer in iconic black leather biker gear and helmet wielding a meat cleaver on a prowl through Italy’s urban cityscape, starting from the pseudo-documentary tones of the introduction the focus here is very much away from stylish slash fests and instead emphasising more the actual police procedural work involved in the research.
As such it is not untypical to see an attempted murder gradually develop from a gory set piece, including a blood splattering hand chopping that would not have been out of place in Tenebrae, to a wild car and motorbike chase through the Italian motorways, thereby combining popular elements of both the genres.
At times the production is surprisingly restrained. Whereas other directors would revel in the chance of showing the teenage girls at work, the horror of the abuse is very subtly revealed only through tape recordings that leave a lot to the imagination of the viewer.
And Stelvio Cipriani’s soundtrack is as catchy as only Italian tunes can be.
Unfortunately for every standout scene we have an equal number of head scratching nonsensical sequences. All too often progress in the investigations depends on the flimsiest of coincidences and sheer luck: a suspect just happens to commit suicide at the most opportune moment; one voice on the tape recordings just happens to belong to Mario Adorf’s daughter and Cassinelli’s character just happens to pick up on this when he happens to overhear a conversation between father and daughter. The corpses look decidedly dodgy. The teen victim is described as being two months pregnant, yet a key scene with her mother reveals that she was regularly taking the pill.
And just what is the point of having the killer constantly seen wearing the helmet when the final solution does not reveal a surprise twist involving one of the main characters, but instead just shows a character the viewer had never met before. In actual fact, check the dictionary for the definition of “anti climax” and you’re bound to see a reference to this film.
The list of questionable developments and outright plot holes could go on, but I’ll leave it with this. It is disappointing as the film shows a lot of promise and is often much better than comparable productions of the time. What a shame that all the brownie points are balanced out by lazy story telling at its worst.
The performances, however, are uniformly decent and admirers of Eurotrash movies will be able to identify many familiar faces. Claudio Cassinelli (Inspector Silvestri) can be seen in one of his earlier movies. Later on his career would feature highlights such as Ursula Andress’ Mountain of the Cannibal God and two very Italian nature-running-amok flicks alongside Barbara Bach and directed by Sergio Martino: Island of Mutations and Alligators.
Giovanna Ralli, the Assistant District Attorney (cue oh-so-surprised looks when the male detectives notice they are reporting to a woman), is best known for the likes of Cold Eyes of Fear or The Mercenary. Franco Fabrizi plays a sophisticated and bourgeois Peeping Tom, the type of role that he would practically perfect the following year in Night Train Murders (also released by Shameless).
Marina Berti also features in both productions in a virtually identical role as the grieving mother of the teen victim, this time played by Sherry Buchanan, who has her movie debut here. She was reportedly just 15 years old at time of production, yet is seen in a nude scene. A few years later she would appear in the infamous Doctor Butcher M.D.
Unfortunately the two name actors who featured most prominently in the ad campaigns have little more than cameos in this production: For the first ten minutes Mario Adorf’s Inspector Valentini actually seems to be the film’s main character, yet he completely disappears from one moment to the next, only to reappear again equally fast towards the end for a few more short sequences.
Worse still, Farley Granger’s total screen time as the girl’s father amounts to little less than a minute or two. At the time of production he was still very much relying on his Hitchcock legacy from Rope and Strangers on a Train and, though no longer a star in the US, still appeared regularly in European productions. Unfortunately What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is not one of the main performances he will be remembered for.
Overall, this is an entertaining giallo/poliziotteschi hybrid that’s worth a watch, though has way too many plot holes and inconsistencies to be considered a truly outstanding production.