Welcome to Italian cinema history 101. NAKED YOU DIE began life as CRY NIGHTMARE—a script brought into development by legendary genre maestro Mario Bava. After a dispute with the films producers Bava abandoned the project which was subsequently re-written and directed by fellow Italian genre vet Antonio Margheretti (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE). Prior to release, Bava’s name was unceremoniously dumped from the credits for his “story” contribution, and the rest is what arrives on DVD from the Giallo Gods at Dark Sky Films.
It’s not difficult to notice where Bava and Margheretti differ in their Giallo styles, but despite there being no record of Bava’s original script for comparison; it’s still easy to see where the two minds might have met on the film that finally did grace the screen—a tongue-in-cheek murder mystery.
NAKED YOU DIE will do well to tickle the funny bone of fans that enjoyed the 1962 British film WHAT A CARVE UP and the later American release MURDER BY DEATH. The simple plot involves a killer stalking the Spartan assortment of lovely ladies and lothario teachers that inhabit a posh boarding school in the lush Italian countryside. The killer is out to get his hands on the fortune of Lucille (Elenora Brown, TWO WOMEN) but can’t seem to manage to kill the right girl. In the mean time Lucille has a fiery affair going on with a greasy riding instructor—Richard (Mark Damon, BLACK SABBATH) who plays a decidedly creepy game of “King” Richard and Little Red Riding Hood as foreplay—none of which seems to be much issue with the Headmistress or the local police department (quite a sign of changing times, when High School girls making out with their teachers is dismissed with little more than arched eyebrows). The only other notable character is Jill (Sally Smith) an Agatha Christie wannabe with an orange miniskirt and a pair of walkie-talkies who is convinced that everyone is going to die unless she solves the mystery.
Opening with a signature black gloved kill, set in the favorite Giallo locale of a bathtub, Margheretti establishes that only a few years after Bava has helped to create the cinematic Giallo style, with THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, that the genre was already predictable and ripe for this type of cinematic skewering. The problem is that Margheretti takes a lot of easy outs and instead of making the film fun—employs a “NAKED GUN” formula of hitting out for low impact laughs. The most successful include the wildly out-of-place and yet raucously infectious title song “Nightmare” which is an insane Shirley Bassey-meets-Batman brain bash of utter cheese. Less successful is a bit scene near the close of the film where we learn that amateur sleuth Jill’s famous father is actually Agent 009. Still, missed jokes are hardly the most egregious error that Margheretti’s film suffers. The cinematography from Fausto Zuccoli—who later went on shoot the chunkblower ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST—is so flat and uninspired that it’s almost impossible to overcome the even-lighting and built any visual suspense. It seems that Margheretti should have covered his bases better, that way when the humor went dry at least the film could fall back on some solid thrills.
It’s hard to beat NAKED YOU DIE up too much, if for no other reason than it still manages to come off as an entertaining film—albeit one with absolutely no originality, save the erratic score. Fans of Bava will always wonder if the maestro could have pulled off the same manic performance he managed to wrangle out of lesser films like DR. GOLDFOOT, instead of the more uneven direction of Margheretti. If nothing else, it seems a foregone conclusion that Bava’s version would have at least looked better.
Not an epic failure by a long shot, and still worth a look for students of the Giallo—more for its curiosity than its quality—NAKED YOU DIE works on a few shallow levels but is missing too much of the requisite horror and hilarity to be considered a truly successful spoof.