What Have They Done To Your Daughters?

What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (Massimo Dallamano, 1974)

aka ‘La Polizia chiede aiuto’ / ‘The Coed Murders’

The giallo and the Italian cop film (or poliziotteschi), having both been introduced during the sixties, really hit their stride at the beginning of the next decade. With scores of the films being released each year, it wasn’t long before enterprising producers and screenwriters were sifting through the best attributes from each genre and combining them to create something more provocative, in a desperate bid to revitalise an industry that was beginning to falter. While there’s no doubt that some earlier poliziotteschi had gialloesque flourishes, and many gialli had a police procedural plot at their core, writer/director Massimo Dallamano’s WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (Original Italian title: Cosa avete fatto a Solange?) would define and usher-in the giallo/poliziotteschi hybrid once and for all and lead other filmmakers to try their hand at some genre splicing of their own, such as Umberto Lenzi’s excellent SUSPECTED DEATH OF A MINOR and Dallamano’s own follow-up film, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS and its Alberto Negrin-directed “sequel” RED RINGS OF FEAR.

With a lullaby-like Stelvio Cipriani music cue juxtaposed against images of young girls frolicking as they leave school, the audience is immediately lulled into a sense that there is a world of discovery awaiting these seemingly innocent teenagers and that the film will play out like some rites of passage melodrama. However, no sooner have the credits rolled, the body of a pregnant schoolgirl is found hanging from the rafters of a bohemian loft and it soon becomes clear that cause of death is murder. So begins Massimo Dallamano’s WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS; one of the finest entries in either the giallo or poliziotteschi genres. Claudio Cassinelli stars as Inspector Silvestri; a determined sleuth that will stop at nothing to blow the lid off the case and catch the culprit responsible. Aided by an assistant district attorney (Giovanna Ralli), Silvestri’s enquiries lead him through a typically labyrinthine plot of intrigue that involves a peeping tom, a hatchet-wielding biker and a teenage prostitution racket; all the requirements necessary for an evening of EuroCult fun. 

While WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS has an aura of sleaziness about it, there’s no denying that the film is an exceptionally well-crafted piece, both in its plotting (the screenplay was written by Dallamano and Ettore Sanzò, based on a story by the latter), Antonio Siciliano’s excellent editing and Dallamano’s interesting use of angles and handheld photography. The film certainly has a distinctive look; one that elevates it higher than many of the films by Dallamano’s contemporaries, simply because it aspires to be more than just a film adhering to the conventions set down by Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and for that it should be applauded. WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS is a rare example of all the elements coming together to produce and an exceptionally satisfying whole; the aforementioned attributes are commendable, but when you add pleasing turns from Cassinelli and the ever-reliable Mario Adorf (who is criminally underused; the film’s one bum note), some taught action sequences involving Alfa Romeos and an unforgettable Cipriani score, you have a EuroCult film that entertains on every possible level.

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS was originally released on UK DVD by Redemption/Salvation, way back in January 2000, and while it was great to see the film in its original ratio, the non-anamorphic framing and washed-out print left a lot to be desired, so I’m happy to report that this new releases from fledgling EuroCult specialist Shameless Screen Entertainment is a vast improvement. The Shameless disc presents the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio and is enhanced for widescreen displays. The print itself is leaps and bounds ahead of the Redemption release, with colours looking a lot more vibrant. Though there is some grain evident, it isn’t distracting and one would expect that this is probably the best a film of this vintage is ever going to look on a standard DVD release. The sound is presented in English and again, seems to be superior to the Redemption release which sounds tinny and muffled by comparison. Inline with other Shameless discs, the film’s trailer is included, along with previews of other recent or upcoming releases.

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS is an exceptional film that should find a place in any serious EuroCult aficionado’s collection. If you already own the Redemption release, it’s time for an upgrade, as this is a double dip that is strongly recommended.

(Paul Alaoui)

Island of the Fishmen

Island of the Fishmen (Sergio Martino, 1979)


Having been lost at sea for days with a number of convicts from a downed prison vessel, Lieutenant Claude de Ross and company run afoul of strange creatures that attack them amidst a fog enshrouded reef. Awakening the following day on the beach of a beautiful, yet dangerous island, the group find the place is inhabited by the aristocratic Edmond Rackham and his much younger wife, Amanda. Ignoring warnings to leave the isle, strange and mysterious happenings such as voodoo rites and the appearance of humanoid like fish monsters lead to many unanswered questions for the inquisitive Lieutenant. While Claude’s shipwrecked detainees begin disappearing, horrifying as well as fascinating secrets are finally revealed about the atoll and its residents as a disturbed volcano threatens to destroy the island paradise…

Easily the most ambitious of Martino’s unrelated horror/adventure/fantasy trilogy which also includes MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978) and THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979), Martino crafts an interesting variation on H.G. Wells’s classic story, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, a story that has been adapted for the screen on countless occasions since the 1930s. Martino manages to cram in so many elements, including the army of fishmen, the voodoo priestess and her followers, the volcano that threatens to erupt at any minute and the lost city of Atlantis! Martino manages to weave elements of the Wells’ story in addition to the search for a hidden treasure 2,000 feet below the ocean’s depths. With so much potential and variety in the plot, the setting is ripe for a smorgasborge of thrills and excitement. Although Martino gels all his ingredients successfully, the pacing does drag at times, peddling when it should be full steam ahead. The film itself could have done with a bit more editing, cutting away some of the extraneous fat and toning the rhythm to make it move a little more lively. Such a thing was attempted by Roger Corman the following year (more on that later) when he released the film through his New World Pictures outfit.

However, there are more than enough good moments throughout and the final 15 minutes pile on the action and spectacle. Working with what must have been a small budget, Martino does go the extra mile as usual in delivering more than what his financial constraints should allow. The monster suits are fine; nothing overly spectacular but they suffice in their function to add entertainment value or move the plot along when necessary. Some extra touches could have made them more believable but the film would have been a far lesser affair without them. The creatures are often seen accompanying some fine underwater photography and it’s also obvious the performers inside the suits have been outfitted with air tanks under their costumes during some of the wider shots near the end. But compared with Martino’s other two films often linked with this one, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) is extremely tame in the violence department. Far more fantasy oriented than a gory exercise in mayhem, this may turn a number of fans off to this picture but it’s definitely got a lot more going for it in the overall plot and its adventure aspects.

The late Claudio Cassinelli is the main star here although Barbara Bach precedes him in the credits. Cassinelli has a commanding presence and I’m curious if he dubbed his own voice here. His character of Lt. Claude de Ross, who is also a medical officer, is constantly at odds with Rackham and finds out late in the film why Rackham has kept him alive for so long. Cassinelli starred in Martino’s two other films in this unofficial trilogy, another of which with Barbara Bach. Cassinelli, as is widely known, was killed in a helicopter accident while filming Martino’s HANDS OF STEEL (1986). The actor left behind a plethora of vibrant roles in many a fan favourite spanning various genres of European cinema, including gialli such as THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR (1975), crime movies like KILLER COP (1974) and BLOODY PAYROLL 1976) and the giallo/crime hybrid WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974). Cassinelli even found time to appear as the mythological Zeus in two abominably bad movies, HERCULES (1983) and THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (1984) from director Luigi Cozzi. With so many intriguing movies on his resume, his star will never fade.

Barbara Bach on the other hand, is beauty personified but she seldom does anything more than waltz around looking like she’s in a state of catatonia or possibly entranced by the voodoo priestess in the film. Most of her other performances follow a similar pattern. However, she was quite lively in CAVEMAN (1981), the film in which she met her husband, former Beatle Ringo Starr. Bach is probably best remembered for her star turn alongside Roger Moore in the James Bond film, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). In addition to her two Martino horror/fantasy films, she had previously featured in a handful of Italian giallo and crime movies prior to her nabbing the role in the Bond film.

Respected British actor Richard Johnson stars as the villainous Edmond Rackham and he plays the role rather viciously, sometimes bordering on the comical. His near constant butting of heads with Cassinelli grows a bit tiresome here and there but by the end, he proves to be quite the sophisticated and determined bad guy, reaching an almost Bondian level of villainy in his plans. Johnson will forever be remembered by Italian horror fans for his role of Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979). In ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979), Johnson is dressed more or less identical to his outfit seen in the flashback in Fulci’s movie. Perhaps the two films were shot simultaneously? Johnson also appeared in Martino’s THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER the same year and played a hermetic and loony priest.

Joseph Cotten appears briefly here to reveal a good chunk of this films mystery and his scenes amount to around five minutes of screen time. Cotten is no stranger to foreign cinema and it is often stated that when American actors reach the end of their illustrious careers in their homeland, they resign themselves to foreign shores as it’s the last plateau where their careers still hold weight. To me, this notion, whether it be true or not, is a bit insulting to foreign productions. That the star of CITIZEN CANE (1941) did a large number of often critically maligned European productions, those critics should not forget the fact that he also appeared in what is considered to be three of the worst American films of all time–DUEL IN THE SUN (1946), THE OSCAR (1966) and HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), a film that seriously crippled United Artists, though has enjoyed something of a critical reappraisal since its release.

The cinematography by Giancarlo Ferrando is nothing short of stunning. Full advantage is taken of some truly magnificent locations. Locales that, if not for the air of horror and danger present, are almost idyllic. The photography here is a definite highpoint and something that is shared with the other two evidently more violent Martino horror/adventure films. Numerous times the actors are framed amidst awestricken shots of island fauna, beach locales surrounding the isle or massive caverns like the one seen during the film’s last half. Likewise, the soundtrack by Luciano Michelini is ambitious in its scope, going for scene-specific stingers, voodoo enhanced jungle beats, melodic, sometimes romantic passages and even one cue that sounds reminiscent of one heard in the score for Lenzi’s EATEN ALIVE! (1980).

Like many Italian genre films of the time, FISHMEN was released in America and suffered the worst fate of Martino’s three jungle adventure films. ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) was released in US cinemas sometime during the Summer of 1981 in a seriously bastardized, severely altered and truncated version from United Pictures Organization and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Corman apparently was displeased with Martino’s original version and between himself and a director named Miller Drake, commissioned an entirely new opening sequence to accentuate the horror aspects of the film. This new opening segment featured Cameron Mitchell, Mel Ferrer and a group of unknowns as 19th century pirates searching for gold and being attacked by the fishmen (these new effects shots were created by a young special FX maestro and future film director Chris Walas) and showcased some decapitations and throat ripping. The fishmen seen in Martino’s original movie are not seen in this new opening sequence.

In addition to this gory opening, some 15 minutes were removed, new music was added and the title was changed to SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK. The film died quickly but Corman wasn’t finished yet. A new trailer for the film was created but under the newly christened title, SCREAMERS. This new version utilized the tagline, “See a man turned inside out!” and featured footage of “this guy running around covered in slime…all his veins hanging out, chasing a girl in a bikini”. This new snippet was shot by trash peddler Jim Wynorski. The “new film” opened in Atlanta, Georgia and stories of incensed patrons destroying the drive-in due to not seeing a man being turned inside out resulted in the shot from the trailer being inserted into the film at some point or other. The added scene was not in any video version I saw as it never existed in the original film nor, presumably, the initial amalgamation from New World Pictures. Reportedly, the SCREAMERS version made some money. To make matters worse, the SCREAMERS version lists a Dan T. Miller as director which is apparently a pseudonym of Joe Dante although Dante had no known involvement in the creation of any version of this film other than that of being an employee of New World prior to Corman’s tinkering and subsequent release of the Martino movie.

In 1995, Martino would direct a made for Italian TV movie sequel entitled THE FISHMEN & THEIR QUEEN. This oddity was included as an extra on the out of print Marketing Films DVD from Germany. This NoShame Italy DVD is lovingly restored save for a brief bit during the opening moments. The sound is robust and clear on the English track included (for a change) here. There are also 5.1 and mono Italian audio options. The biggest surprise and also the most disappointing, is the inclusion of an hour long doc on the making of the film as well as some of his other movies as told by Sergio and Luciano Martino and Massimo Antonello Geleng. What’s disappointing about it is that there are no English options for this feature. A trailer and photo gallery round out an excellent package.

A fine fantasy adventure film from one of Italy’s best and most versatile fantastic film directors, Sergio Martino. ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (1979) has much to appreciate in the concept-driven script and the cinematography and due to the lack of any gore or nudity the film is relatively safe enough for younger viewers, though they may be distracted when the creatures are not on screen. Regardless, any Serious Martino fan should have this in their collection. Those expecting something along the lines of his cannibal opus or post apocalyptic landscape might do better to look elsewhere.

(Brian Bankston)


La Polizia ha le mani legate

La Polizia ha le mani legate (Luciano Ercoli, 1975)

aka Killer Cop

Massimo Dallamano’s superlative cop thriller WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974) was the film that first made a star out of Claudio Cassinelli, one of the most recognizable and dependable Italian genre stars of the 1970s and 80s. Cassinelli’s next crime thriller was KILLER COP, which is regrettably a much less appreciated film. Cassinelli stars as Commissioner Matteo Rolandi, a narcotics cop who is tailing an Algerian drug runner as part of a routine surveillance job. Rolandi follows the man to a hotel, where a big international conference is currently being held. To his horror, Rolandi witnesses the hotel being bombed. Several of the important international diplomats who were present at the hotel are killed as a result of the bombing, which leads to some strong political pressure being applied to the case and finding the guilty party an urgent priority. The job of investigating judge is assigned to Armando Di Federico (Arthur Kennedy), a procurator who is widely known for his great honesty and sense of justice.

The only notable clue in the case is the amateurish, short-sighted bomber (Bruno Zanin) who managed to lose his glasses while struggling to escape after planting the bomb. Rolandi’s partner, Balsamo (Franco Fabrizi), happens across the nervous, myopic man but manages to let him escape. This makes Balsamo an important witness since he is the only one who knows what the bomber looks like. Unfortunately, he is murdered by a ruthless assassin (Giovanni Cianfriglia) shortly afterwards– as is everyone else with any kind of connection to the case. With a strong personal involvement, Rolandi starts doing some unauthorized investigating of his own and gradually closes in on a conspiracy that extends to the highest levels of politics. With everyone else dropping like flies, Rolandi’s only hope is to track down the increasingly paranoid bomber, but he must work quickly if he is to find him before the assassin does…

Throughout his rather short career, director Luciano Ercoli only made eight films, of which the best known are his three gialli FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972), all starring his sexy, Spanish actress wife, Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro). Ercoli’s next film, THE MAGNIFICENT DARE DEVIL (1973), marked his first brush with the then increasingly popular crime thriller genre (though Ercoli combined both giallo and crime movie elements) but, unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable film. KILLER COP was Ercoli’s second crime thriller, and a vast improvement on the director’s previous entry into the genre. Unfortunately, the KILLER COP title is highly inappropriate, alluding to a type of film that this is most certainly not. This is not a brutal Italo-cop thriller in the DIRTY HARRY vein, as it the action scenes are virtually non-existent; we only get the assassinations, an explosion and a climatic face-off with the assassin. Instead, this is a more character-driven political thriller; pitting a lowly cop against corrupt government forces à la Steno’s EXECUTION SQUAD (1972). The Italian title, LA POLIZA HA LE MANI LEGATE (which translates to ‘The police have their hands tied’), is far better at conveying the film’s themes.

If KILLER COP is more political and lower on action than your average Maurizio Merli flick, it still makes for a solid thriller and this is thanks largely to the two lead characters, both of whom are interesting, well-written and fleshed out. For example, Commissioner Rolandi is impressively developed, not only as a smart, dedicated cop but also as a human being. We get a relatively good look into his private life; including his peculiar wake-up routine, his friendship with his partner, not to mention his reading habits, which includes an almost obsessive fascination with ‘Moby Dick’. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play such a well-written character, Claudio Cassinelli gives everything here – delivering a terrific portrayal of the determined cop, thus making him an extremely likeable lead.

We are also treated to an excellent performance from Arthur Kennedy as the honest, mint-chewing procurator. A former A-list Hollywood actor with no less than five Oscar nominations behind him, Kennedy was just one of many faded Hollywood stars who went to Italy to find a steady flow of work in film. While some of these former stars would ham it up because they seemed to think Italian B movies were beneath them, Kennedy actually turned in some quality performances in his Italian films, and his enjoyable performance as the likable, quirky judge ranks among his finest European work – alongside his outstanding part as the diabolical police inspector in Jorge Grau’s excellent zombie film THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974).

Furthermore, Cassinelli and Kennedy also interact very well with each other, and it is intriguing to see that even the characters they play are good men trying to solve the case, circumstances have them working against each other instead of together. With well-developed characters that project an emotive quality to which the audience can relate, KILLER COP quickly becomes an engaging and very exciting little thriller with a compelling storyline and several good plot twists. That said, the plot–like many Italian political thrillers of the time—is more convoluted and complicated than it needs to be, and somewhat hampering the film in doing so.

Technical credits are top-notch, however, with excellent production values, good locations and stylish cinematography by Marcello Gatti. Another great asset is the musical score by Stelvio Cipriani, even though he is, for all intents and purposes, recycling cues from WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? with some slight alterations here and there. But there are more musical treats than just the main theme. Most notably, Commissioner Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya, has her own theme – an upbeat, jazzy tune simply called ‘Papaya’, which is an excellent, catchy piece. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming this tune to yourself for days afterwards.

Much credit for the film’s success must also be attributed to the first-rate supporting cast which is made up of numerous dependable Italian actors. Franco Fabrizi (a regular face in 1970s cop thrillers) is both likeable and charming as Cassinelli’s partner; a man more fond of using his brain than his gun; ubiquitous stuntman/actor Giovanni Cianfriglia is chillingly effective as the brutal, stone-faced assassin; and Bruno Zanin really holds his own as the rather pathetic, short-sighted bomber. Mention must also go to lovable supporting players such as the bespectacled, nerdy-looking Francesco D’Adda, here enjoying a bigger role than usual as Kennedy’s assistant; Franco Moraldi as the chief of police; and Elio Jotta–best remembered for his sinister turn as Barbara Steele’s husband in Riccardo Freda’s THE GHOST (1963)–as a shady minister.

The only substantial female role is that of Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya; played by the attractive Sara Sperati. Sperati started her career in 1973 as the July playmate in Italian men’s magazine Playmen, before graduating to film roles, following KILLER COP with MARK THE NARC (1975) and roles in some Nazisploitation flicks. She ought to have gone on to a long, fruitful career in Italian genre cinema but, unfortunately, Sperati completely dropped out of sight in 1976 after only seven film appearances, which is a great shame considering what an appealing and characteristic screen presence she had. In this film, Sperati is particularly charming and sexy – her short hair giving her a look that is different from that of her subsequent films.

The English fandub uses the Italian Cecchi Gori DVD (which was without English options) as the image source; combining it with an English audio track from a Swedish VHS release. The final result is highly satisfying; with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer from the Italian disc looking splendid. Picture is sharp and clear with solid colours. Some very mild grain and a couple of scratches and dirt show up on occasion but on the whole the transfer looks very good. The English audio has been synced up perfectly with the image and sounds very clear and nice and is without any hiss or background noise. The English dub track also has the advantage of featuring Arthur Kennedy’s own voice, which is a great plus, and the dubbing of the Italian actors is quite more than adequate. My only gripe with the fandub stems from the fact that the print is taken from an Italian source and there are no translations given for the native text that appears during the film. This includes some newspaper headlines, a message the bomber scribes to the police, some notes exchanged between two characters in a bugged room, and the coda at the end of the film, all highly annoying as these examples are important to the plot.

While not in the Top Ten Euro crime films, KILLER COP is an excellent and engaging thriller that benefits tremendously from its excellent cast and well-developed characters. It’s too bad that Luciano Ercoli never made another cop thriller because this is one of the finest films he made in a career that was all too short. The wonderful English fandub is a joy to behold and without doubt the best way to appreciate this underrated gem. Very highly recommended.

(Johan Melle)