College student Elizabeth Seccles (Christine Galbo) witnesses a graphic murder on a riverbank while canoodling with her Professor, Enrico Rosseni (Fabio Testi). The couple remain silent out of fear of their relationship becoming public but when further killings occur, and Enrico becomes a suspect, Elizabeth confesses to witnessing the brutal attack. She is then forced to assist in the investigation to help clear the Professor and help track down the killer.
This modish giallo feature is the first part of the unofficial “schoolgirls in peril” trilogy, which also includes: What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (1974) and Rings of Fear (1978). Following Dario Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1971), Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Aldo Lado’s Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971), What Have You Done To Solange? emerged as a slightly more stylish sex thriller in 1972, with the giallo movement gradually becoming more refined before peaking in lustre with the masterful Deep Red in 1975.
Director Massimo Dallamano, DOP on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, here delivers a work featuring classic gialli traits, from the black gloved psychopath/ sexual deviant, to the curious lay-detective and peripatetic POVs. An emblematic story is augmented with subtexts on sexual obsession, male dominance and the corruption of youth. While the adolescent elements are certainly more prominent within this specific trilogy, the others are common gialli staples, here embellished with welcome depth.
Our protagonists canoodle in a boat to Ennio Morricone’s evocative score, complimenting post-coital activities before their passion is crudely interrupted by the first repugnant killing. WHYDTS? then descends into the type of lurid murder mystery that defined the giallo movement and Morricone’s style deviates into psychedelia for the latter half suspense and terror sequences: incorporating thudding warbles and sharp orchestral stabs while chipper numbers adorn scenes in which the young lovers amble about 1970s London.
The story slightly saunters in the set-up but WHYDTS? is strikingly shot, edited, performed and enriched by another expertly polished HD rendering/ transfer from Arrow Films. Dallamano hones suspense and drama with distinguished expertise, aided by excellent camerawork and a plot bolstered by complex characters, conflicts and themes. Meanwhile contradictory parallels and adolescent metaphors unify for a spirited subtext that makes the clichéd surface set-up seem slightly more esteemed.
WHYDTS? is then suddenly and radically meat-hooked into titillating terrain towards the final third, at the introduction of Solange, played by I Spit On Your Grave star Camille Keaton. Her character provides a fresh context for the finale to unfurl. The latter half also benefits from the multifaceted mystery elements as the identity of the killer remains continually ambiguous throughout, without the cheap distraction of novelty red herrings to distract the viewers’ attention.
More murders occur and while their natures remain unsettling, they are not offset or sensationalised by an over-abundance of gore. The violence occurs mostly off screen, is considerably understated or deployed in a subtle and ultimately more effective manner. Yet WHYDTS remains massively unsettling, disturbing at a deeper level due to the nature of the murders and the involvement of adolescents being pried on by looming, bug-eyed maniacs. Meanwhile the aforementioned subtexts resonate sneakily and unnerve at a subliminal level, but this is also due to the manner in which the story has been captured and relayed. For example: a father of one of the victims is briefed on the nature of his daughter’s demise by being shown x-rays of her corpse with the instruments still embedded. Dallamano opts to focus on the father’s face and his reaction to the images instead of the images themselves.
WHYDTS? is a slick, grubby, important and intelligent work in the giallo canon. While the first half promenades well-chartered ground, twists, budding relationships and bludgeoned dogs eventually veer the story into fresher regions, providing great drama and character depth. There is also some surprising comedy, both intended and otherwise, as WHYDTS? glides into the surreal/ pseudo-psychedelic. Comparisons to Hitchcock’s Psycho are evident, as they are (and were probably more so at the time) in the majority of gialli features. Hitchcock himself would go on to direct his most giallo-like work a few years later with his neck-tie murder movie Frenzy, which was also set and filmed in 1970s London but WHYDTS? is a genuine example of the classic horror sub-genre and a welcome re-/discovery.
Once again Arrow have here delivered a crisp HD rendering and a blu-ray graced with fascinating extras. A brilliant video essay about WHYDTS? by Michael Mackenzie deconstructs the film, exploring its production, themes and unofficial sequels. The disc also includes interviews with actors Fabio Testi, Karin Baal and producer Fulvio Lucisano. A worthwhile purchase for Arrow collectors and giallo fans.
Words: Dan Goodwin