When a young schoolteacher is gang-raped and murdered in a classroom by her own students the police assign Inspector Duca Lamberti (Pier Paolo Capponi) to close what seems a very clear case. However Lamberti wants to know what drove these wayward youths to commit such a vile crime. His investigation uncovers a pattern of criminal behaviour among the delinquent teens that are collectively under the influence of a mysterious and elusive woman Lamberti is determined to track down.
Despite that exploitative title, Naked Violence (I Ragazzi del Massacro) contains naught but the most fleeting nudity and barely any violence. It is an atypically sober and restrained early thriller from Euro-crime auteur Fernando Di Leo; the first of many Di Leo films adapted from the crime fiction of Ukrainian-born Italian writer Giorgio Scerbanenco. Alongside Di Leo classics Milano Calibro 9 (1972) and Manhunt (1972), Scerbanenco's writing also inspired Luigi Cozzi's giallo The Killer Must Kill Again (1975) and Romolo Guerrieri's Young, Violent, Dangerous (1976). Today Naked Violence is hailed in Italy as a seminal crime film. A restored version screened at the Venice International Film Festival in 2004 as part of the "Italian Kings of the B’s" season that finally woke many Italian critics to films and filmmakers hitherto dismissed as trash.
Supposedly Di Leo altered the story significantly from Scerbanenco's book. He pruned the plot down to a minimum whilst hammering home some moral outrage over the corruption of Italian youth and the responsibility born by both their elders and the state at large. Here Lamberti's superior are largely uninterested in unearthing those forces that orchestrated the crime. They just want to lock up these long-haired layabouts. For his part Lamberti seethes with righteous indignation. He clearly wants to bash their faces in, Maurizio Merli-style, but in lieu of his superiors strict "no violence" policy, opts instead to psychologically dismantle the teen suspects one by one. Confined largely to Lamberti's office the first act is almost a stage play. Yet while Di Leo deftly handles the claustrophobic drama the same level of restraint is not evident in Silvano Spadaccino's absurdly over-emphatic score which trumpets every plot twist and new character entrance.
Filming its long-haired (often hilariously bleach blonde) delinquents in sweaty, wide-angled close-ups the film does not muster much empathy. They are uniformly characterized as hormone-addled, easily manipulated, thrill-seeking opportunists or, in the case of one guilt-ridden gay character, neurotic wimps. Even Lamberti initially exhibits little patience for the wishy-washy liberalism espoused by the mini-skirted social worker played by future giallo sexpot Susan Scott; star of among others Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks At Midnight (1972). This being an Italian film he eventually changes his mind after he sleeps with her. Nevertheless it is Scott's character that articulates the film's purported thesis that society is collectively responsible for the delinquents' actions. Simply demonizing them is no solution. However the film is much more one-dimensional than it believes itself to be. Like a lot of Di Leo films the solution is too pat. The plot eventually settles on a phantom bogeyman as the root of all social evils instead of pinpointing flaws in society at large. After a third act that is borderline sitcom, where Lamberti and Scott's character more or less adopt one of the delinquents (Marzio Margine) in a bid to coax him into spilling the beans (all set to the jauntiest easy listening pop), the film bows out with a hysterical (though mercifully non-explicit) flashback and a twist ending. One that clearly wants to be as shocking as Psycho (1960) but feels out of step with the film's socio-political aspirations up to that point and also crass and, for some viewers, borderline offensive.