Welcome to St Hilda’s College, less a finishing school for young ladies than a school where young ladies get finished off. It’s an establishment rife with jealousy, petty rivalries and lesbian crushes … and that’s just the staff!
Behind this inimically voyeuristic setting and its magnificently lurid title (a literal translation from ‘Nude … Si Muore’), Antonio Margheriti’s pacy and entertaining giallo is a classic whodunit bracketed firmly in the Agatha Christie tradition … only with a surfeit of jailbait in the kind of short skirts that immediately identify ‘Naked You Die’ as a film made in 1968. That it was released in some territories as ‘The Miniskirt Murders’ tells you all you need to know.
Things begin with the murder of a woman who remains unidentified until the final act. She’s naked when the killer strikes (in the bath), thus justifying the title. It is, however, one of the primmest bits of exploitation you’re ever likely to see, with nary a nipple or a glimpse of the delta of Venus to be seen. (Later, when another victim buys it in a shower – also unclothed – they fall with such balletic grace as to wind an entire shower curtain around their body.) The corpse is bundled into a trunk, the trunk strapped to the roof-rack of a taxi, transported to a station, manhandled onto a train, and finally transferred to a mini-van for the last stretch of the journey to St Hilda’s. Where it – and its grisly contents – are then shunted offstage for a good hour and twenty minutes.
In the meantime, we’re introduced to some of the girls: high-spirited wannabe crime-writer Jill (Sally Smith), stuck-up Betty Ann (Caterina Trentini), sexually precocious Lucille (Eleonora Brown) and her loyal friend Denise (Patrizia Valturri). Lucille is carrying on with riding teacher Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), much to the chagrin of equestrian Betty Ann. Denise knows all about it but is sworn to secrecy. Jill, though popular, pisses off the staff right royally with her tall tales and tendency to melodrama.
And speaking of the staff, a quick round-up: there’s headmistress Miss Transfield (Vivian Stapleton), newly promoted Miss Martin (Ester Masing), recently arrived relief teacher Miss Clay (Ludmila Lvova), the aforementioned Barrett, the elderly Professor Andre (Aldo de Carellis) and groundskeeper La Floret (Luciano Pigozzi). Miss Transfield tuttingly disapproves of Barrett’s popularity with the girls, Miss Martin owes her promotion to an implied dalliance with Miss Transfield, and La Floret gets his jollies spying on the girls’ shower room.
Not the kind of place you’d want to pack your daughter off to. And even less so once the murders start and the stately Inspector Durand (Michael Rennie) and his sidekick Detective Gabon (Franco de Rosa) turn up and ploddingly start putting the pieces together as the body count increases.
Between Fausto Zuccoli’s opulent widescreen cinematography, Carlo Savina’s jauntily inappropriate score (the sleazy saxophone as La Floret peeps on a disrobing Lucille predates just about every 1980s soft-core/erotic thriller soundtrack ever written), and a stratospherically high eye-candy quotient – look out for the achingly gorgeous Silvia Dionisio (she of ‘Waves of Lust’ fame) in a supporting role – it’s difficult to keep your eye on the ball, never mind an eleventh hour revelation of a crucial inheritance that tips you off to the why if not the who.
As well as being thoroughly entertaining and solidly made, ‘Naked You Die’ toys with identity, perception and gender confusion in a way that lays the groundwork for, amongst others, the two great gialli of Dario Argento’s mid-period majesty: ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Tenebre’. At the other end of the spectrum, Andrea Bianchi’s unapologetically seedy ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ also owes it a debt of dishonor. The sacred and the profane: ‘Naked You Die’ can claim one hell of a birthright.