We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
A leather-clad biker with a meat-cleaver goes on the rampage when a police investigation into a schoolgirl's apparent suicide uncovers a teenage prostitution racket. 1970s Italian cinema at its sleazy best
It's assistant district attorney Vittoria Stori's (Ralli) first day on the job and things have got off to a nasty start. She is called to an attic apartment where the naked body of 15-year-old Silvia Polvesi (Buchanan) is hanging from the rafters. Following an autopsy, what originally appeared to be a tragic suicide is revealed to be a murder. And what's more the young girl had "extensive sexual relations before her death" and was two-months pregnant.
Inspector Silvestri (Cassinelli) assists Stori on the homicide case. During a search of another apartment in the same building Silvestri is shown to a blood drenched bathroom: "Well, that's two dead now... always assuming that this isn't chicken blood!"
It isn't and there's plenty more bloodshed when Silvestri and Stori discover an incriminating tape recording that exposes a well-organised schoolgirl prostitution ring with links to wealthy and influential citizens. Suspects in the case start getting eliminated by a biker dressed in a crash helmet and black leathers and armed with a lethal chopping blade. When the mysterious motorcyclist attacks Stori in her own apartment block, Silvestri decides to play a dangerous game with the media to coax the killer out into the open.
Fans of cult European cinema often debate whether What Have They Done To Your Daughters? belongs to the 'giallo' (mystery) or 'polizioteschi' (crime) genre. It's a tough call as the film contains key elements from both, and in equal measure: the giallo's deranged murderer in black stylishly slicing through a string of suspects is there; as is the emphasis on police procedure and ministerial corruption found in polizioteschi. Whichever way you cut it, though, the film's a triumph of atmosphere and action.
Director Dallamano's talent for ballsy camerawork - thanks to his training as a DP (most famously on A Fistful Of Dollars) - is in full effect here. Tyre-hugging shots give the impressive street chases an added teeth-grinding intensity and tense moments are heightened by obscure angles and close-ups.
Massimo Dallamano was no stranger to films about the seedy side of young women's lives. His 1972 giallo What Have You Done To Solange? was a graphic exposé of sex, stabbings and abortions at an all-girl Catholic school in London. What Have They Done To Your Daughters? isn't a sequel per se but it takes the same schoolgirls-in-peril theme and pushes it to even more contentious extremes. Thankfully Dallamano handles it delicately.
He steers clear of filming grotty scenarios of older men with young girls - many of his Italian contemporaries wouldn't have held back - and instead uses the police's audio evidence to do all the work. Not that they leave much to the imagination: "This thing that you're frightened of is going to give you a lot of enjoyment... Open your legs!" Another nice touch is involving the daughter of thoroughly decent Inspector Valentini (Adorf) in the schoolgirl sex racket.
Mario Adorf is touching as Valentini the distraught father but is surprisingly underused. As is the production's biggest name Farley Granger (Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train and Rope), who plays Silvia Polvesi's absent dad. Ralli, who has something of the Sofia Lorens about her, does a good job as an early precursor to Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison - coolly proving chauvinist colleagues wrong. But the main act here is the determined law enforcer Silvestri, played by Cassinelli, who sadly died in 1986 in a helicopter accident during the shooting of Sergio Martino's sci-fi movie Hands Of Steel.
Dallamano was killed in a 1976 car crash. But not before he had co-written the final instalment in his schoolgirls-in-peril trilogy, Red Rings Of Fear (aka Enigma Rosso), which was helmed in 1978 by the competent but inferior TV director Alberto Negrin and starred Fabio Testi from What Have You Done To Solange?.
Britain gave the film world the naughty antics of St. Trinians. Italy delivered schoolgirl whores mixed with head-splitting violence. As Madonna's shirt in the 'Papa Don't Preach' music video read 'Italians Do It Better'.
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