Cast: Robert Hoffmann, Irina Demick, Pilar Velázquez, Howard Ross, Patrizia Adiutori, Adolfo Celi, Philippe Leroy.
Director: Alfonso Brescia.
Screenplay: Peter Skerl, Gianni Martucci.
Cinematography: Alfonso Nieva.
Editing: Roberto Fandiño, Rolando Salvatori.
Music: Carlo Savina.
Original Title: Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco
The filmography of Alfonso Brescia follows a roadmap familiar to any Italian exploitation director. Start off at Peplum Avenue, head north toward Spaghetti Western Road, make a sharp left toward Naughty Sex Romp Station, then veer a slight right to Gialli Court before spending some time in Cheap Space Opera City. In a country that is known (and by some even revered) for its shameless disregard for intellectual property, it is notable that Alfonso Brescia would come under fire, if only through words, for making the third film in a series—Ator 3: Iron Warrior—without permission. The notion that Joe D’Amato would deign to mark a film a rip-off and deem it unworthy of canon status is deeply amusing in its irony.
All of this gets ahead of the present topic, though it is an interesting peek at the work of the man who would give the world Ragazza tutta nuda assassinate nel parco, almost perfectly translated to Naked Girl Killed in the Park in 1972. In fairness, there does seem to be a genuine attempt to create an actual film here that is missing from Super Stooges Vs The Wonder Woman or War of the Robots. Take the word “attempt” literally in this case. Moments of suspense and dread, though presented with apparent sincerity, are nonetheless clumsily presented few and far between. This minor mystery film, barely fitting the Giallo category, would be one of the few Brescia chose to grace with his real name in the credits, rather than his nom de plume Al Bradley, as if this were a film he could really get behind. The title alone indicates a keen attention to detail. Speaking of that title, how appropriate is it? Only a look at the events of Naked Girl Killed in the Park will say for sure!
The film opens in 1945 Berlin with grainy stock footage of an aerial bombing. Meanwhile, a woman and her son are bound to the floor of a house while a man in German uniform arms a bomb as a young girl watches on. The scene is filmed in black and white before the full color title sequence transports us to the future of fashion-conscious 1970s Italy. The film then re-open with the campy offerings of a carnival horror ride before revealing that the ride’s passenger is a dead elderly gentleman with a bullet wound in his head. Ok, in the park? Check, if a carnival counts as a park. They do call it an amusement park, so it can pass. Girl? Nope. Naked? Still nope. Must keep going.
The name of the murdered man is revealed on one of the most incompetently assembled newspaper props to grace cult cinema: Johannes Wanterberger. The German name so closely follows the opening scene that any mystery about what will be revealed about that character is immediately squashed. We learn via police investigation exposition that a million-dollar insurance policy had just been signed by him. We are then treated to a close up of stunning Spanish actress Pilar Velázquez as she receives a threatening phone call. She is Catherine, the daughter of Wanterberger, and the call accuses her of knowing who the murderer is. The next time we see her, she is approached by stone-faced Robert Hoffmann, who is playing insurance claims investigator Chris Buyer, who uses his piercing blue eyes to seduce ladies into revealing their insurance frauds, much to the envy of his colleague Martin (underplayed by Philippe Leroy from actual cinematic masterpieces Le Trou and The Night Porter).
After some scenes of seduction and intrigue, Chris manages to get invited to a quiet weekend at the family villa in the country. It becomes clear that the set pieces of the amusement park and now the Spanish villa are the reasons for making this film. The locations are beautiful and ripe for filming and populating with gorgeous people like Hoffmann, Velázquez, Torso’s Patrizia Adiutori, who plays Catherine’s antagonistic sister, and The Longest Day’s Irina Demick, who plays the youthful matriarch Madame Wanterberger. Add to the cast two servants and a voyeuristic mute stable boy and you start to have the eccentric group needed for an honest-to-god Giallo. Unfortunately, Brescia’s film neglects the base titillation and stylishly surreal nihilism of proper Gialli in favor of absurd family soap opera dramatics.
At this point, there is a need to cling to whatever interest we can in the leaden story. The over-the-top dysfunction of this family is the only place to find purchase, however tentative. Sister Barbara vacillates between biting attacks on Catherine and open flirtation with Chris. Mommy Wanterberger has a hard time knowing whether to be hospitable or hostile. Hoffmann manages to convey an absolute lack of emotion at just about every uttered syllable. He barely ekes a smirk during a voyeuristic late night walk, where he catches a sexual assault-turn-sexual encounter between sister Barbara and “mute stable boy” Günter. It is a scene specifically calibrated to give audiences some poorly-timed titillation to break the monotony.
There are occasional scenes of the family being spied from the shadows by Günter, as well as shots of the prowling feed of a mysterious gentleman with a cane. Oh yeah! There was a murder, wasn’t there? Let’s try to make this a murder mystery again. Enter Inspector Huber (played by Adolfo Celi, the villainous Emilio Largo from Thunderball), who is not above a little antagonism himself. He makes it clear that the family is virtually ruined, save for any money they collect from Wanterberger’s life insurance. He also pushes the blackmail angle as the reason for his death, hinting that the dead man had something to hide while he was alive. Catherine, who continues to receive threatening phone calls, finds her weak heart deteriorating, and is told by her doctor to remain in bed under sedation. This gives sister Barbara the chance to seduce Chris. A saxophone-laced sex scene between the two is displayed before a sudden transition and we (finally) have it!
The titular naked girl killed in the park turns out to be Barbara Wanterberger, lying face down with a slit throat the next day. Sadly, not the amusement park, but a park anyway. It is a strange scene with the entire family, the police, and a crowd of photographers gleefully clicking away at the naked woman. It goes on for quite a while, as if shouting, “Here she is! The Naked Girl! Killed in the park! We didn’t lie!” Click click click go the camera shutters. Hoffmann continues his stone face. All watch. Yup, she’s still naked. Returning to the question of the appropriateness of this film’s sensational title, one can only conclude that the answer is “kind of.” While there is some literal truth to it, the extreme lascivious exploitation film that such a title would suggest is misleading for what turns out to be a thoroughly bland movie.
If there is anything plot-turning about this death, it is the point at which Naked Girl Killed in the Park finally decides it wants to be a Giallo. It is also the most facile and sleazy, but it provided a title that probably got the attention of many fellows of ill repute. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about the kind of film Brescia was trying to make. Scenes of Catherine getting threatening phone calls or being stalked in her own house almost achieve a measure of genuine suspense. A glut of red herrings (people watching from the shadows, closeups of rings, characters introduced and immediately shoved aside) reveal an attempt to make a real mystery, but the proceedings are confused by some of the more puerile, albeit entertaining aspects of this film.
Barbara’s dead hand was clutching a button immediately identified as belonging to Günter, the mute stable boy. A search is ordered for him before we cut to a scene of people leaving Barbara’s funeral. Catherine points out a sandy-haired man she has seen following her, and who she suspects has been making the tortuous phone calls. She convinces Chris, decked out in a jacket with an impressively large fur collar, to embark on a dull car chase that goes nowhere before they return home to find Momma Wanterberger wasted and dancing in front of a portrait of her late husband before she passes out at the exact moment the power goes off in the building.
This is as good an excuse as any to have the maid Silvia head into the cavernous basement to change the fuse, only to meet her end at the end of a straight razor. Very little time is wasted before the owner of the razor is identified as Günter. He attacks Chris upstairs, but gets immediately knocked unconscious, and a long look at his shirt reveals a missing button. Shocking! After Günter is taken away by the police, a very blunt Inspector Huber makes no bones about accusing the late patriarch Wanterberger of being a Nazi on the run. Catherine, already upset by this encounter, receives another phone call which leaves her in a dead faint. We also see at this point that the caller is a woman’s hand playing recorded messages.
In some inserted scenes clumsily meant to remind the audience that these characters exist, we see conversations with Chris Buyer’s co-worker, and then another scene featuring a waitress at the amusement park who was briefly introduced earlier in the film while Chris was attempting to initially seduce Catherine (by for some reason taking her to the very amusement park her father was just killed). Meanwhile, Madame Wanterberger suddenly insists on getting Chris drunk while insisting he call her Magda. After seeing Robert Hoffmann play Chris Buyer with virtually zero emotion, the scene of him as a goofy, giggling drunk is hysterical to behold. Suddenly, he is wracked with stomach pain an leaves the scene before a sudden storm brings the ghost of Johannes Wanterberger to haunt Magda Wanterberger, revealing her complicity in the black and white bomb killing from the very beginning of the film, and sending her flying to her death off of the top floor balcony.
This ghost scene is one of the most visually interesting of the film, if only because it sends Magda wandering in terror all over the villa, opening doors and treating the audience to the full splendor of the architecture. More reason to believe Brescia saw the villa and decided to make a movie there just for the location. The ghost is then revealed, with complete anti-climax, to be Chris Buyer in a wig. Yes, the man who was there on false pretenses turns out to be there on false pretenses! The whole film was his revenge plot, as he is revealed to be the young boy from that opening scene, though no effort is really given to explain how he survived the bomb intact. Chris proceeds to give the classic villainous expository monologue revealing his plot to the portrait of now-confirmed war criminal Herr Wanterberger. Catherine, who overhears his mania, enters the room with a pistol and opens fire. He laughs off her shots, she crumples to the ground, her heart finally succumbing to complete failure.
The film could end here, but I suppose they wanted to tie up a few loose ends, like who was the woman playing the recorded phone calls? It is probably not worth the time to synopsize here, Celi’s Inspector Huber provides us with one hint of a moral lesson against some of the smug participants in the drama. If Largo thinks you are scumbag, you must be pretty bad! Too bad a moral compass was the last thing this film needed. Despite the interesting locations, there is little style to speak of from either the costumes or the cinematography—two elements that a Giallo film should prize above all else, save overt sex and violence. Naked Girl Killed in the Park is probably best left to the completists.