Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hubrisween 2016 :: Y is for The Young, the Evil and the Savage (1968)

Taking a break from packing her unmentionables into a large steamer trunk, a woman fiddles with her radio, finds a station she likes, and then retreats into the bathroom, where her tub is almost full. When maximum bubble depth is reached, the woman strips and hops in. Meanwhile, someone with black-gloved hands is currently cranking up the volume on that radio. Why? To drown out the noise while this dastardly mystery guest sneaks into the bathroom and strangles the poor woman, holding her underwater for a spell, too, just to be sure she’s dead.

The killer then unceremoniously pulls the naked body from the tub and then roughly stuffs the corpse inside that trunk and seals it shut. From there, the trunk goes on a mini-Hitchcockian adventure as it keeps switching unwitting hands as it’s first loaded on-top of taxi, which takes it and the still unseen killer to the train station, where it barely has time to be loaded onto the luggage car before the train departs.

Upon reaching its destination, the trunk is soon lost in a jumble of similar containers; all tossed on the roof of a van, which is also carrying several potential suspects -- sorry, I mean, several teachers returning from an extended holiday break to St. Hilda’s Academy, an exclusive continental boarding school for girls -- well, except for Mrs. Clay (Lvova), who has just been hired on. Also along for the ride are Di Brazzi (Benedetto), the gym teacher and swimming instructor; Richard Barrett (Damon), the riding instructor; La Floret (Pogozzi), the head groundskeeper; and Miss Martin (Masing), who fills Clay in on the general workings of the school, and how most of the teachers and students are still on break, leaving only a handful of strays at the Academy. She also warns the new governess that the “Bug House” -- a small domed building, which houses the eccentric biology professor's menagerie of flora and fauna, is essentially the designated campus make-out spot. So if one of her charges goes missing, best to check there first.

Meanwhile, since this is a European girl’s school we find what few students remain lounging by the pool; about ten in total. Lucille (Brown) is very excited that Richard is returning so they may continue their illicit (and slightly skeevy) affair. Now, there is a bit of a jealous rivalry between her and Betty Ann (Trentini), Richard’s star pupil, for his affections, compounded by Lucille’s irrational fear of horses. And then there’s the ever perky and constantly wisecracking Jill (Smith), who is currently enamored with a new present from her father: a pair of walkie-talkies, which she intends to somehow incorporate into her mystery writings; the heroine of which is a master spy.

When the van arrives, they are greeted by the headmistress, Mrs. Transfield (Stapleton), who instructs Floret to just store all three (shockingly similar) trunks in the basement of the main building for now. She also reminds Richard that any *ahem* fraternizing with the students is strictly verboten, which essentially goes in one ear and out the other as he immediately meets up with Lucille in the Bug House, where we find out how much they really missed each other. (Hint: it was a lot, but she more than he -- he typed ominously.) 

Later, as things settle down, someone with a squeaky pair of shoes prowls around in the basement, whose unseen owner moves to make sure a certain trunk is still secure. But the killer is interrupted by Betty Ann. Apparently, one of those arriving trunks was hers, and in the low-light she accidentally tries to open the wrong one -- it's the last mistake she’ll ever make...

With The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963 -- released in the States as The Evil Eye) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), Mario Bava not only established a genre but then successfully redefined it. Deriving its name from the yellow-tinted covers of the lurid paperbacks on which many of them were based, the giallo (yellow) is kind of hard to define and yet easy to differentiate from your standard and more conventional European thriller. The main difference is they tend to be more focused on the “how” instead of the “why” as their Rube Goldbergian plots start to unravel, with a protagonist seeing something they shouldn’t have, usually a murder, and then getting in over their heads as a seemingly unstoppable chain of events, usually made worse by the protagonist’s efforts to stop them, play out, again, usually leading to more bodies and more confusion, false leads and a metric ton of suspects.

And just when things seem to be coming into focus, nine times out of ten the investigation is focusing in the wrong direction, making it nearly impossible to decipher what’s really going on until the climactic reveal. And as the genre evolved, it became bloodier and more psycho-sexually motivated, meaning more graphic carnage and nudity wrapped up in a pretty pop-art, candy-colored shell.

Always the catalyst, perhaps Bava was trying to change the genre yet again when he teamed with British screenwriter, Tudor Gates, with whom he had recently collaborated with on Danger: Diabolik (1968), for Cry Nightmare, which was intended as comical spoof on the genre conventions he helped establish as a killer systematically works his way through the students and faculty at an all girl’s school. Unfortunately, the producers weren’t really looking for any kind of experimentation and just wanted the same old same old same old; and so, Bava was soon ousted and Antonio Margheriti was brought in, who reworked the script with Franco Bottari and Giovanni Simonelli and rechristened it, Nude... si Muore, which translates into Die Naked or Naked You Die (1968).

A journeyman director who went where the current box-office breeze blew him, be it science fiction, horror, musclemen and Styrofoam boulders, spies, or westerns, Margheriti -- usually credited as Anthony Dawson, seemed to finally find his true niche with delightfully gonzo space adventures of the crew of Gamma-1, beginning with The Wild, Wild Planet (1966), which was followed up with War of the Planets (1966), then War Between the Planets (1966), and finally, The Snow Devils (1966) -- and please note all four of those were shot and churned out in one calendar year. Wow. 

Anyhoo, considering its country of origin, the normal genre conventions, and salacious title, Naked You Die is a rather chaste and bloodless affair (-- even the opening murder only shows a little rear-end due to some strategic bubbles), as the killer’s choice of weapons is manual strangulation.

And who is it that’s doing the strangling? And why? Well, things begin to unravel as the search for the missing Betty Ann intensifies. Since she was last seen heading to retrieve her trunk, the over-imaginative Jill has already pegged Floret, the man in charge of such things, as a murderer. And while all the girls are confined to their rooms, Mrs. Transfield calls for one more search of a nearby park by the staff before calling in the police, leaving Mrs. Clay behind to make sure her charges stay put. 

Asking permission to take a shower, Lucille uses this as a ruse to cover her escape so she can meet up with Richard again. This she does, sneaking out the bathroom window, only he’s not in the Bug House and, instead, she finds Betty Ann’s body and screams. Running into Richard on the way out, she tries to show him the body but it's now gone. Of course, he doesn’t believe her.

Lucille's screams also alerted Mrs. Clay, and so, with his own hide on the line if they get caught, Richard runs interference, allowing Lucille to sneak back into the dorms the way she got in. To cover her tracks, she still needs to take that shower. Unfortunately, a loud noise from outside frightens her off. Turns out this was just that pervert, Floret, pulling a Belushi from a nearby tree, who got a little too excited at the free show and lost his balance. Meantime, Lucille left the water running, which draws in a curious Cynthia (Longo), who decides to not let the hot water go to waste. This, too, is the last mistake she’ll ever make. 

But this time the killer is unable to remove the body before it's discovered by Jill, who, again, thinks Floret is the killer, knowing full well he likes to hide in the trees and watch them bath. But Floret didn’t kill anybody; he did, however, see the real killer, which is why he is found later, when the police are finally called in, impaled on his own scythe.

While questioning Jill, Inspector Durand (Rennie) is shown a dress found at the crime scene. Jill recognizes it belongs to Lucille. She also asks to help out with the investigation, and when rebuffed decides to solve the case on her own, starting with planting one of her walkie-talkies in Durand’s makeshift command post as an ersatz listening device. Lucille, meanwhile, is convinced someone is after her and is packing to runaway with Richard. She’s supposed to meet him at the pool around 3am but when words comes Durand wants to question her next, she makes her friend Denise (Valturri) go in her stead to explain the delay to Richard. Again, he’s a no show but someone else is.

And yet this isn’t quite the last mistake Denise makes as the killer, decked out in some scuba gear, attacks and tries to drown her in the pool. See, luckily for Denise, a suspicious Jill was listening in on Lucille’s interrogation, heard about the pool rendezvous, and decided to check up on her. Diving in after them, Jill manages to fend off the killer, who flees into the woods, saving the other girl. Sweeping the park the police find Di Brazzi in half of a wet-suit, who claims it’s all part of his weight loss regimen; they also find Betty Ann’s body.

Okay, if it wasn’t obvious enough already, I think it’s safe to say Lucille is the killer’s real target. As to who and why, Durand thinks it’s financial, knowing Lucille is about to come into a large inheritance on her 18th birthday, which is currently being controlled by a distant cousin. But Lucille isn’t so sure, thinking maybe the ever-elusive Richard is getting a case of cold feet and wants to get rid of her and keep his cushy job. As to why would the killer bring that first body to the school? Well, the short answer is he needed it.

See, when the police find another body in a lime-pit near the school, the face is disfigured beyond recognition but her clothes and ID say it’s Mrs. Clay. They also find a shocking piece of evidence in her room: a written confession, saying she killed them all and then committed suicide in shame. 

Lucille, meanwhile, has decided to give Richard one more chance, sneaks off, and heads to a neighboring house where he’s hiding out. She spies him through a window and heads inside, only to discover he’s dead -- well, almost, and being puppeteered by her cousin, Pierre (Lvova again), who shoves the body down some steps, and then gives chase, looking to stab his niece to death, too.

Yeah, turns out that first victim was the real Mrs. Clay, with Pierre taking over her identity to get close to Lucille and kill her, then get away with it by framing the corpse for a murder-suicide, making him the sole beneficiary of all that money. Again, the inspector had this pegged from the get-go but Jill is the one who winds up saving everyone’s hash; once more spoiling the killer’s plans by going all Nancy Drew and trailing Lucille, putting herself in the right place at the right time to prevent another murder, never hesitating, putting herself in mortal danger, and saves the day long enough for Durand to wrap things up.

Co-financed by the Woolner Brothers, who had successfully imported Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Naked You Die was released domestically by American International Pictures as The Young, the Evil and the Savage (1968), which I can only guess is a wild and shameless grope on the name recognition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). It also saw a release under the alternative titles Schoolgirl Killer and The Mini-Skirt Murders. Anyhoo, AIP chopped nearly twenty minutes out of the original cut, which, having only seen the original Italian version, might’ve helped instead of hindered as the film does get kind of repetitive in spots and definitely could’ve used some tightening up.

As it plays out, Naked You Die (1968) honestly feels more like one of those hair-brained krimis that Constantin-Rialto were constantly churning out in Germany at the same time, which were based on the byzantine plots of author Edgar Wallace, where investigators tried to unravel the serpentine schemes of some master criminal to save some hapless heroine from either being cheated out of her rightful inheritance, being sold off to a white slavery ring, or getting her head chopped off by some guy dressed in a gorilla costume. Here, Pierre’s plot of carpet-bombing the school with bodies to obscure the real target would’ve fit right in, though in hindsight the character was obviously dubbed over by a man and played by a woman who was pretending to be a guy pretending to be a woman with mixed results as they try to give the whole game away in the first reel.

And while Bava was kicked off the production early you can still sense his presence and influence in the film when it comes to set-ups, shots and color schemes. The eerie location was maximized beautifully, and kudos to the costume and wardrobe department for all those wonderful and varied but still matching school girl uniforms. The film’s headache-inducing soundtrack by Carlo Savina also appears to be Neal Hefti’s Batman TV-suite with the serial numbers filed off -- only instead of horns it’s a harpsichord, meaning he probably owes Vic Mizzy an apology as well . And while the comedy-spoof angle was aborted, the film still comes off with a soft touch -- juvenile even, which will probably disappoint most genre fans, especially those drawn in by that salacious title.

So, yeah, when first encountered this flick wasn’t what I expected at all. But after some adjustment I did wind up liking it a whole lot. And I especially loved the wild card amateur sleuth angle that Jill represented, played beautifully by Sally Smith, who is so freaking adorable I can’t even even. Say what you will about her sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, but I love how tenacious and proactive she is, diving into danger with only minimal hesitation. (Mostly so she can make a wisecrack at her own expense. The film later reveals this might all be due to family genetics as Jill’s 00-father proves to be an international spy who just happens to drive an Aston-Martin.) 

And credit to the police, too, who are on the ball from the get go; as it was at their insistence on elimination prints from the staff and finding the real Mrs. Clay so fast, which really screwed the pooch on the killer’s timetable, that allowed Jill’s window of opportunity to be the heroine -- with a little help from the not quite dead as we thought Richard, who, between you and me, was kind of a slap-happy creep.

I guess a departure from the norm best sums up Naked You Die / The Young, the Evil and the Savage. It’s also brings the mystery of “whodunit” back to the forefront, with lots of plausible suspects and motivations, which is usually lost in the blood, boobs and gore of its contemporaries and would become even more lost as the genre progressed / devolved into the 1970s. For while Bava always seemed more interested in the act of killing and the “angels in the wreckage” of the aftermath, Margheriti seemed more interested in motives and detection of what led to these terrible acts and preventing them, which kinda makes you wonder how awesome and actual bona fide collaboration between Bava and Margheriti would’ve turned out. Alas, this is as close as we’ll ever get.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 25 down with only one more to go! Can you believe? I sure can't!

The Young, the Evil and the Savage (1968) BGA :: Super International Pictures :: Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc. :: American International Pictures / P: Virgilio De Blasi, Lawrence Woolner / D: Antonio Margheriti / W: Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, Mario Bava, Franco Bottari / C: Fausto Zuccoli / E: Otello Colangeli / M: Carlo Savina / S: Mark Damon, Eleonora Brown, Michael Rennie, Sally Smith, Patrizia Valturri, Ludmila Lvova, Luciano Pigozzi, Vivian Stapleton, Ester Masing, Giovanni Di Benedetto, Malisa Longo, Caterina Trentini

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