Whilst enjoying a bubble bath and listening to the radio, a young woman is attacked by a maniac in a black leather trench coat with matching gloves, her death throes accompanied by the smooth grooves of “Nightmare” - the theme song composed by Carlo Savina, which sounds like Shirley Bassey warbling a John Barry reinterpretation of the Sixties Batman theme. Hmm, must be giallo time. Right off the bat, Italian exploitation jack-of-all-trades Antonio Margheriti delivers on the title with the naked victim stashed inside a trunk delivered to an all-girl’s school, but the bulk of the film is bloodless and light-hearted.
At St. Hilda’s College, a bevy of beautiful schoolgirls go gaga for hunky horse-riding tutor Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), who is having a secret affair with seventeen year old heiress, Lucille (Eleonora Brown). During a late night rendezvous, Lucille finds a fellow pupil lying dead in the basement, having seen her flirting with Richard only hours before. The corpse vanishes mysteriously, but when another friend is strangled in the shower, Lucille realises the killer is really after her, presumably to eliminate all witnesses. Police Inspector Durand (Michael Rennie) arrives to investigate, but the case is eventually cracked by schoolgirl Jill (Sally Smith), a keen amateur sleuth obsessed with spy thrillers and mystery novels.
Naked You Die boasts a bewildering array of alternate titles including Schoolgirl Killer, The Miniskirt Murders and The Young, the Evil and the Savage, but actually started out as Cry Nightmare - a comedic murder mystery co-devised by British writer Tudor Gates and none other than Mario Bava. Seemingly conceived as a spoof, the script was eventually passed on to Margheriti who reworked the film into an uneasy mix of straight suspense and campy humour. Like many Italian thrillers this has an unsettlingly lax attitude towards mature men seducing underage girls. House of Usher (1960) and Black Sabbath (1964) star Mark Damon essays an especially smug, misogynistic “hero” whom the script implies is justified in slapping around these “hysterical” girls and seducing them because, hey, they’re sexy. Michael Rennie, star of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) redresses the moral balance with his paternal detective, but arrives late in the game and can’t do a great deal with his stock role.
By far the most engaging character in the film is Jill, the bubbly, wide-eyed schoolgirl sleuth with an overactive imagination. British actress Sally Smith launches into her role with such gusto, you can’t help wishing the mystery were more worthy of her. While the rickety plot meanders in all directions and borders on the nonsensical (e.g. with a killer on the loose, Lucille opts to run away rather than confide in the kindly Inspector Durand), the film is nonetheless an ebullient affair rife with incidental pleasures: the obligatory creepy handyman (Euro-horror regular Luciano Pigozzi) spies on the sexy girl in the shower scene; a suspenseful if silly set-piece where the killer clad in scuba gear tries to drown Denise (Patrizia Valturri) in the school swimming pool before Jill leaps to the rescue; a ludicrous gender-bending twist (spoiled by the Italian dub) and the tense climax capped by a sweet moment where someone finally says thank you to Jill. Equally amusing, the closing scene implies the resourceful and adventurous Jill’s father is James Bond.