Why is it that when fans of Italian giallo talk excitedly about the genre, people are quick to find an exit? Is it because they don’t want to be subjected to a one-sided conversation about gloved killers, scantily-clad-yet-impossibly-chic women, and plenty of orange-hued blood? It’s an understandable reaction, as giallo fans (they insist on being called aficionados) are a cultish lot, trying to convert others to their holy cause in the hope of resurrecting their beloved film genre. Italian genre cinema is not for everyone, but for an extended period, between the late ‘50s until the early ‘80s, its ailing film industry realized it couldn’t subsist alone with celebrated auteurs like Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and others. Italian studios looked to the success American and British distribution/production companies like American International Pictures, Hammer, and Amicus had with exploitation films, so they ramped up productions in a variety of genres: horror, science fiction, historical epics (pepla), crime actioners (poliziotteschi), Westerns, and mystery thrillers (gialli). The Sixties and Seventies were particularly prolific and, as attitudes towards sex and violence loosened up, many countries were extremely happy to distribute Italian genre films—profits for everybody! The factory-like production schedule meant that films needed to be made cheaply and quickly, cranked out by competent, if not always visionary, filmmakers. Directors like Mario Bava, Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento filmed quickly and yet imbued their work with style, attracting acclaim and international notoriety, while other filmmakers languish in obscurity.
The giallo is based on Italy’s pre-Fascist past of seedy crime fiction books and magazines with bright yellow covers (giallo is “yellow’ in Italian), gracing newsstands to tantalize would-be readers. Most film historians would say that Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) started the genre, but giallo filmmakers would also be indebted to Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and German crime films (krimi). Giallo films usually had an international cast of Italians, Germans, French, and Spanish, led by a noted American or British lead actor. (Unlike the USA, co-productions between European countries, including faraway places like Canada and Japan, have been the norm for decades.)
Besides the cultists, there’s also a perception that in order to enjoy watching a giallo, one must pore over film history to appreciate the genre, which can be very exhausting, especially if it’s late at night and you’re in the mood for satisfying carnage and gratuitous nudity. (Which is harder to come by on this side of the Atlantic nowadays, let me tell you. What’s a horndog to do?) What constitutes a giallo is debated furiously by historians and cinephiles, creating another reason for people to avoid the genre. (Arguments between film geeks often devolve into violence, as seen in the “Citizen Kane” sketch of The Kids in the Hall. I would faint if members of “Film Twitter” were to meet up and debate in person.) If a film features a labyrinthine mystery plot with narrative twists that strain credulity, including a red herring or two, garish scenes of gore, scenes of unexpected nudity, and a bottle of J&B whisky, it’s a giallo. Forget about film history—revel in the giallo’s lascivious delights. One of the more sordid examples of giallo, Nude per l’assassino AKA Strip Nude for Your Killer, from journeyman director Andrea Bianchi. It’s a notorious example of the genre, replete with ridiculous amounts of nudity (the “Oh really?” look my partner gave me during a drawn-out, full-frontal nude scene of a woman walking around a dimly lit house will forever haunt me), strange characterizations, and tasteless mise en scène concoctions. It’s also demonstrative of why gialli are accused of being misogynistic, violent, and full of gratuitous nudity–hallmarks of exploitation cinema. It’s also the final giallo of Edwige Fenech, the uncontestable Queen of Gialli, and her swan song is unforgettable. (Yes, she’s naked frequently.)
Fashion models and employees connected to the Albatross Modelling Agency are murdered brutally one by one by an unknown killer. Photographer Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo) and fellow photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech) seek to solve the mystery and the motive behind the killings. Caught between the police and the killer, Carlo and Magda continue to investigate, even at great personal peril, so that the killer is stopped, and their innocence confirmed. Will they solve the case or will they be the latest victims?
Strip Nude for Your Killer is pure sleaze and there’s nothing wrong with that. Released in 1975, well after the giallo heyday of 1969-1973, it is a “greatest hits” package of everything that makes a giallo entertaining to watch, but with a funky music score, courtesy of frequent giallo composer Berto Pisano (Interrabang, Giallo in Venice), that would not be out of place in a blaxploitation film. While Strip Nude for Your Killer is highly derivative, it revels in its lurid subject matter and makes no apologies for being a pure exercise in exploitation cinema. The film is directed competently by Bianchi, who is also credited as co-writer of the screenplay, and it offers sordid pleasures its entire 98-minute running time.
In gialli, there are seldom “heroes” to cheer on, just a collection of scheming, shallow characters who slink about, drinking copious amounts of J&B, daydreaming of their various fetishes, and in many cases living out their kinky thrills. Strip Nude for Your Killer’s main male character, Carlo—I hesitate to use the term “protagonist”–contributes to a woman’s death at the start of the film, caused by an illegal abortion, aiding a doctor in covering the death up by depositing her body in her own bathtub at home. His actions create the revenge motive for the unknown killer—the dead woman was a model working for Albatross (Italians are nothing if not subtle) and the killer, clad in an all-black leather jumpsuit and motorcycle helmet, begins a killing spree by stabbing the doctor repeatedly in front of his home. Carlo is a shameless womanizer, meeting a buxom redhead, Lucia (Femi Benussi) at a spa and hitting on her mercilessly, promising to make her a star model at the agency, until she relents, and they have sex in a sauna. Agency owner Gisella (Lia Amanda) is displeased that he brings Lucia to the agency, another “whore” he’s frolicked with, though she herself has multiple affairs with several female models, including Lucia later in the film. Gisella’s impotent husband Maurizio (he can only make love to a blowup doll!) harasses the Albatross models, including Patrizia (Solvi Stubing) and Doris (Erna Shürer), begging and whimpering for sex in a pathetic display. Even the model couple, Stefano and Doris, attempts to blackmail Gisella for money, but they too are dispatched in grisly fashion by the killer. Only Fenech’s Magda avoids unseemly traits, though she’s aghast that Carlo likes to “ruin” coffee by adding milk! Dairy choices aside, nobody expects a collection of saints in a giallo.
Strip Nude for Your Killer is clever in disguising the killer in a leather bodysuit and motorcycle helmet, allowing them to go on a murderous spree while viewers try to solve their identity. Part of the delight in watching gialli is recognizing the red herrings created to distract us—if a person seems too obvious to be the killer, they usually aren’t. (To be fair, there have been some truly pedestrian gialli that don’t bother keeping the façade of being a mystery thriller, but they are few in number.) Trying to solve the mystery and identify the killer from the cast of characters is great fun, though I stumble in my detective skills—if I can’t identify the killer in a Murder, She Wrote episode, what hope do I have for a giallo? (Thank god Columbo shows us the killer in the opening scene in any episode!) With each murder, Bianci cuts away to flashes of the dead woman, Evelyn, in her bathtub, creating an unsettling effect and highlighting the personal connection to the killer. I would never spoil Strip Nude for Your Killer’s, uh, killer, but I do have to say that they have an usual MO: Several victims discover a running faucet in their homes, only for the killer to emerge and strike once the water has been turned off—murderous rage and disregard for water conservation! If you come home one night and find a sink running, turn around and call the police!
Edwige Fenech is an Italian treasure and Strip Nude for Your Killer is her final giallo. The Algerian-Italian starlet is revered by exploitation fans for her beauty, but she’s also a very good actor. Though she only made seven gialli from 1969 to 1975 (Top Sensation, Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon, Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, The Case of the Bloody Iris, and Strip Nude for Your Killer), she is closely connected to the genre, more so than other gialli veterans like Carroll Baker, Barbara Bouchet, or Anita Strindberg. In Italy, she’s likely best known for her mid-to-late-Seventies foray in the commedia sexy all’italiana genre, but her performances in gialli are cherished by international fans. Strip Nude for Your Killer is not her best giallo outing, but she never fails to impress as Magda, even if the viewer cannot help but feel disappointed that she seems to fall for Carlo’s repulsive charms. Magda is a determined fashion photographer who isn’t afraid to investigate grisly killings and despite being framed by the killer for the murders, she perseveres along with Carlo until the truth is revealed. She is the first character who discovers a clue that connects all the Albatross victims that the police have missed. (It should be noted that police in gialli are typically inept or ineffectual.) Fenech’s chemistry with Castelnuovo’s Carlo is memorable, at times playful like an old married couple, at times very sensuous—Carlo may be a serial womanizer, but it’s Magda who controls their relationship, knowing full well his true persona, something rarely accomplished by other actresses in gialli. Though Strip Nude for Your Killer might not be her strongest giallo showcase, Edwige Fenech demonstrates why she became so sought out by many Italian directors during her lengthy film career.
Gialli are salacious thrillers that partly inspired the slasher subgenre with their distinctive mix of sex and outrageous murders. (I’m still irritated that Friday the 13th Part II ripped off Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, but I digress.) Taking all the outdated attitudes and fashion into consideration, the genre can be very pleasurable for the open-minded cinephile. The proliferation of gialli from the late Sixties started to wane by 1975’s Strip Nude for Your Killer, but that doesn’t mean the film is any less entertaining than its predecessors. It will never be confused with revered gialli like Umberto Lenzi’s Orgasmo, Dario Argento’s The Bird with Crystal Plumage, or Sergio Martino’s Torso, but it is still a lively cinematic escape. What could be more soothing than settling into a comfortable chair late at night, allowing the hedonistic characters on-screen to wash over you like J&B whisky? (I still don’t know why Italians were obsessed with J&B in the Seventies—didn’t anybody drink wine?) If you do encounter a rabid giallo fan in your travels, just relax, smile, and keep a cool head—you never know, they could be a killer in disguise! ★