Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975)

Strip Nude For Your Killer was very much my introduction to world of sleazy Italian cinema.  Sure, I'd seen some Giallos and quite a few Italian zombie and cannibal movies, but, though often startling and shocking in their own ways, they hadn't prepared me for the sheer, unapologetic sleaziness of Andrea Bianchi's movie.  Ostensibly a Giallo, Strip Nude For Your Killer deploys all of the established tropes of the genre -  the mysterious leather clad killer, the stalking of victims, high body count and a motive rooted in a past wrong - but takes them to a new level of depravity. Opening with an illegal back street abortion gone wrong and ending with the main male character trying to force his girlfriend into anal sex, from start to finish, Bianchi makes clear his intent to push the boundaries of the genre to the limit. Eschewing the glossy, 'artistic' look favoured by many other Giallos, Bianchi goes for a far grittier look, with a fair amount of the action taking place in the chilly-looking back streets of Milan.  Despite the plot being centered around a photographic studio specialising in glamour shoots, there's nothing glamourous about the location itself.  But what really differentiates Strip Nude from other Giallos of the era are the levels of sex and nudity.  There is a lot of flesh on view, justified by the photographic studio setting, of course.

Another notable aspect of the film is that virtually none of the characters are remotely likeable.  The 'hero' Carlo, in particular, is a reprehensible creep.  A professional photographer who uses his profession as an excuse for stalking attractive women and persuading them to strip naked with promises of modelling jobs and photo shoots, Carlo displays no redeeming features in the course of the film.  His colleagues at the studio, both male and female, are no better.  The owner is equally exploitative of the models, abusing her power to seduce them.  Her impotent husband likewise abuses his relationship with her to grope and attempt to rape the women.  About the only character who emerges as reasonably likeable is photographer Magda (Edwige Fenech), who ends up in a relationship with Carlo which is exploitative on his part as you might expect.

Despite Bianchi's relentless focus upon sex and sleaze, the various murders are inventively staged in true Giallo fashion, but are generally even more brutal than usual for the genre.  But even classic Giallo sequences are subverted to expose the sheer sleaziness of the scenario.  Virtually every example of the genre features a suspense sequence in which a character is stalked by the killer.  In Strip Nude For Your Killer this sequence involves a fat man in his underpants, a blow up sex doll, ('Only you can make it happen for me', he tells it, having just failed to force himself upon a model thanks to erectile dysfunction), in one hand a knife in the other, is stalked in his own home by the murderer.  It's a scene so sleazy it has burned itself, indelibly, into my memory.  Yet, aside from from adding to the film's down market ambience, the sequence has a higher purpose, with the killer's stabbing of the victim mirroring his earlier failed attempt at rape: whereas his sexual impotence prevented him from penetrating his victim, the killer has no problem in penetrating his body with their knife.  Indeed, throughout the film a clear equivalence is made between the act of murder and sexual intercourse: the victims are usually in a state of undress, lying in a stereotypical post-coital position.

The opening scenes of the abortion gone tragically awry aren't just there for shock value, (abortion was undoubtedly a taboo subject not only in seventies Italy but also many other markets), but also provides the key to the whole plot.  The killer turns out to be a relative of the girl who dies during the abortion which, it turns out, Carlo helped her organise, thereby effectively making him responsible for everything that subsequently transpires.  But more than that, the abortion scene sets the tone for the whole film, in more ways than one.  The fact that women are being deprived of the legal right to make decisions about their own bodies is, in essence, simply another form of the exploitation seen throughout the movie.  Indeed, re watching Strip Nude For Your Killer in the light of the on going sex scandals in Hollywood was a fascinating experience.  All of the misogyny and exploitation of the entertainment industry of 1975 lid bare here clearly hasn't changed.  Women are nothing more than objects to be used, abused and, in the film, murdered, by those in positions of power.  Even obviously intelligent and capable women like Magda are ultimately objectified: patronised, manipulated and sexually exploited by Carlo.

Strip Nude For Your Killer is tremendous fun, dark, sleazy and exciting.  Which isn't to say that it doesn't have its problems.  The plotting is often obscure, with some developments seemingly coming out of left field, and the killer is revealed as a character who has enjoyed so little screen time that we've almost forgotten who they are.  But Bianchi moves it all along at sufficient pace that that the film never feels as if it is flagging.  He even manages to pull off a Hitchcock-style surprise with a character who seems to being built up to play a significant role abruptly killed off relatively early on.  The most fascinating thing about Strip Nude For Your Killer is that it effectively has its cake and eats it too, in that it is an exploitation film about exploitation.  Like a tabloid newspaper, it can justify all of the female flesh on display on the grounds that it is actually exposing this sort of exploitation.  But the message is clear: exploitation is a function of power.  More specifically, it is the result of the abuse of power.  All of the power relationships seen in the film are abusive and exploitative.  Giselle, the studio's owner is abuses her husband, using her position to manipulate her models into sexual affairs.  The husband, in turn, abuses his relationship with her to sexually exploit various models.  One of these, Dora, has a physically abusive partner who beats her up.  For his part, Carlo, exploits Magda's professional admiration to get into bed with her.  While Bianchi's film tries to be even handed - there are as many female abusers as there are male - the reality of the situation is that, in a patriachal society, power generally lies with me, who use it to exploit women.

Trashy, sleazy and outrageous, Strip Nude For Your Killer is enormously satisfying to watch - the very epitome of schlock cinema.  It is also widely available on DVD in this English-language version, which features better than average dubbing.  So, go ahead and watch it - it is an experience you'll never forget!



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