|Japanese Chirashi flyer for the cinema release for Dario Piana's TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE|
Sylvia (Gioia Scola), a fashion model, is found dead in the wreck of a car after storming out of a party at the home of Alex (Giovanni Tamberi), the head of a model agency (who spends his time playing a decidedly unsexy primitive computer program named Porno Game). She had been raped by an older man in a jacuzzi - and betrayed by her fellow models, who held her down as the man ravaged her. Sympathy is in short supply, with Alex telling her: “Find another agency, bitch!” Sylvia takes his car and disappears into the night.
The next day, Alex and the three other models that were at his house (Lauren (Randi Ingerman), Michelle (Helena Jesus) and Leslie (Nora Ariffin)) are shocked to discover that Sylvia’s charred body was found in a burnt-out car. The police, however, rule out Sylvia’s death as an accident or a suicide when autopsy reports find a bullet hole in her skull and a gun nowhere to be found. The Inspector (François Marthouret) also says it is strange that the crash happened four hours after Sylvia supposedly fled the party. The models had been filming a music video for a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song (!) with director David (François-Eric Gendron), who quickly replaces Sylvia with Melanie (Florence Guérin), a new model who had just flown in from New York. Work continues on the futuristic music video, which - for no apparent reason - features elaborate, and very real, ornamental daggers. Which David tells Alex are: "From the fevered mind of a weird guy in New York." Another prop - an iron maiden - proves to be lethal when someone replaces a rubber spike with a real one. It soon becomes apparent that those present at the party the night Sylvia died are being hunted down one-by-one ...
Carlo Vanzina’s NOTHING UNDERNEATH had been a loose adaptation of a scandalous literary thriller that had been highly critical of the Italian fashion industry. So stinging had its portrayal been that all but one fashion house refused to allow its clothes to be used in the film. It’s debatable whether Dario Piana was interested in a similar critique of the fashion industry as being vapid and morally bankrupt, or the seemingly endless scenes of fashion modelling and female flesh in tight lycra was simply intended as titillation and nothing more. In what could be read as a meta approach, Piana seems to making an almost anti-thriller for the first forty minutes, or so, by mirroring the music video backdrop for scenes of all-style-and-no-substance: models on speedboats, sexy dance moves at a club and the seemingly de-rigueur for its time silhouetted sex scene set to a power ballard with added wailing saxophone. Vanzina had the good sense to use the modelling scenes to compliment and drive the narrative in NOTHING UNDERNEATH and not grind everything to halt whilst they play out, as happens here. However, when you might be ready to question whether this is a giallo at all, the film shifts gears into slasher/thriller mode - with Piana succeeding with a handful of well-constructed, exciting suspense set pieces and chase scenes.
|Under age 14 not admitted! Italian newspaper advert for TOO BEAUTFUL TO DIE under its Italian release title|
TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE boasts a memorable looking killer, whose compulsory leather black gloves are complimented by a generic fashion model mask. The film opens with four models wearing the same mask, which at once portrays a homogenous ideal of beauty and succeeds in depersonalising them. Again, much could be read into this, but the likelihood is that Piana chose it because it looked good and did the job of hiding the identity of the killer. Its inspiration is likely the famous Grace Jones pop video for her 1980 song Private Life. Perhaps there is something meta to this after all.
Whilst the film may have debatable pretensions to other things, the second half succeeds with the giallo lunacy that we all love turned up to ten. It will probably come as a surprise to no one that the curved, ornamental daggers become weapons of choice for the killer. In logic solely known to the giallo, and with echoes of the ongoing bus holiday in spite of multiple murder in Umberto Lenzi’s EYEBALL (1975), we are expected to believe that the making of the central pop video continues despite one of the models being impaled inside an iron maiden the day before! Then you have the models who are all eagerly complicit in facilitating gang rape (filmed in slow motion no less), but one of them becomes the de-facto heroine for a good portion of the film. Plus, the killer’s motivation and sudden temperament shift are also one for the ages. If Piana had spread out the thriller elements - which he has a definite flair for - evenly across the film it would have made for a much more rousing and less uneven viewing experience.
Filmed in Italy’s fashion capital Milan (and some interiors in Rome), the reviews of the film in Italy were unsurprisingly sniffy. In November of 1988, La Stampa newspaper called it “confused” and suggested that the giallo cycle was at the end “… and no longer worth talking about”. In what was almost certainly a bit of publicity fluff, it was suggested that top models were tricked into appearing in the film (!): “Direction and production flew for kilometers in order to secure the top models of the moment (from the United States, Singapore, Mozambique). Then forgetting to warn them that they were not shooting the usual commercial but a feature film.” Telesette Magazine: "Worse than the number 1 of the Vanzina brothers, the newcomer Piana comes from advertising cinema, he directs the actors like puppets on backdrops of annoying and unmotivated brightness. Absolutely ridiculous setting." Whilst not as successful as the first film, it was the 38th highest grossing film in Italy that year - ahead of such high profile films as Tim Burton's BEETLEJUICE and some other genre faves such as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER.
|Models vs. murderers. It doesn't get any more Italian than that!|
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dario Piana cut his teeth in the world of commercials (directing over 650); which stood him in good stead for the superficial world of the giallo in the late 1980s. He went on to direct a couple of genre films in the United States: THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE (2007) and LOST BOYS: THE FIRST (2010).
Roberto Cacciapaglia’s heavily PSYCHO (1960) inspired score adds the necessary thriller elements to complement Piana’s pop music sensibilities. In addition to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, songs by Toto and Huey Lewis and the News are utilised (probably the first and the last time in a thriller).
French actress Florence Guérin has a solid CV in European horror and exploitation, with such titles as CALIGULA AND MESSALINA (1981), Jess Franco’s FACELESS (1987) and Luigi Cozzi’s THE BLACK CAT (1989) (an unofficial sequel to Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980)). She suffered a tragic car crash in 1998, in which her young son died and left her in a coma. She recovered enough to restart work but abandoned her ‘erotic’ persona under the name Florence Nicolas. TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE was the first role for North American Randi Ingerman, who became a successful fashion model in Italy after being rejected as being too short in the States. Tragedy also followed her when she had a miscarriage after being told falsely that her husband had been unfaithful to her on an Italian TV prank show. Giovanni Tamberi appeared in Ruggero Deodato’s horror/giallo PHANTOM OF DEATH the same year.
Helena De Jesus (here listed as Helena Jesus) was one of the first successful black supermodels and appeared of the covers of Vogue, Grazia and Elle. Originally from Mozambique, she moved to Italy and subsequently promoted African models. Nora Ariffin was also a top model from Singapore. She was reportedly handpicked by Dario Piana for the film and is now a successful real estate broker based in New York. Gioia Scola was also in the gialli EVIL SENSES (1986) and the same year as TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE she appeared in OBSESSION: A TASTE FOR FEAR and UNTIL DEATH (an episode of Lamberto Bava’s BRIVIDO GIALLO TV series). She also appeared in the giallo BUGIE ROSSE in 1994. Her last role was in 1995, the same year she was implicated in a cocaine scandal that saw her arrested as part of an anti-mafia bust in Naples. She was ultimately acquitted, but it seemed to have ended her screen career.
Despite its relative success, TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE was not followed by a direct follow-up. However, Carlo Vanzina directed a belated sequel to his own 1985 film in 2011 called THE LAST FASHION SHOW.
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female: 3 / male: 2
1) Female discovered dead with bullet hole in the head in burnt out car
2) Female killed inside iron maiden
3) Female stabbed to death with ornamental dagger
4) Male stabbed with ornamental dagger
5) Male shot in back