DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS
Color, 1971, 108m.
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Starring Susan Scott, Frank Wolff, Simón Andreu, Carlo Gentili, George Rigaud, José Manuel Martín
Arrow Films (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC), NoShame (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Color, 1972, 102/106m.
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Starring Susan Scott, Simón Andreu, Peter Martell, Claudie Lange, Carlo Gentili, Ivano Staccioli
Arrow Films (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC), NoShame (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Mondo Macabro (DVD) (US R0 PAL ) WS (1.95:1) (16:9)
DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
As the Italian giallo craze took hold in the early 1970s, a number of directors tried their hand at offering new twists on what was already a firmly established formula. Though he only directed three titles that really qualify, Luciano Ercoli acquitted himself well in the arena of black-gloved killers and damsels in distress to earn a permanent slot in the second tier of thriller specialists. Following his languid but stylish 1970 thriller, Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion, Ercoli turned out two Italian-Spanish shockers in quick succession utilizing most of the same cast and personnel, with Susan Scott (a.k.a. Spanish-born Nieves Navarro) taking star honors in both as leading scream queen.
In 1971's Death Walks on High Heels, Scott stars as Parisian nightclub performer Nicole Rochard whose wild routines consist of blackface, gold wigs, and garish backgrounds straight out of an LSD trip. After her jewel-thief father turns up knifed in the throat on a train, she becomes the next target of a threatening man in black whose only attribute is his piercing blue eyes. Creepy phone calls and an intense interrogation at knife point make her more than a little nervous, especially when a pair of strategically placed blue contact lenses reveal the culprit could literally be anyone. Is it her booze-swilling boyfriend, Michael (The Blood Spattered Bride's Andreu)? Or how about a British doctor (The Lickerish Quartet's Wolff) prone to sending her flowers and skulking around her dressing room? One thing's for sure; when Nicole agrees to accompany the latter for a getaway to an isolated village on the coast, her ordeal is far from over. Slick, nicely shot, and boasting a wonderfully catchy score by Stelvio Cipriani, this engaging thriller packs in one killer of a plot twist way into its running time and manages to generate thrills without diving too far into the sleaze department. Sexuality is more implied than depicted, though Scott's backside gets more than its fair share of camera attention.
Likewise, the bloodshed is restrained to a couple of very savage knifings and some brutal fisticuffs, a combination Ercoli repeated in his next film, 1972's Death Walks at Midnight. This time Scott returns as the more demurely clothed Valentina, a fashion model who takes an experimental hallucinogenic drug at the behest of reporter Gio (Andreu) under the condition he doesn't photograph her face or reveal her identity (which kind of defeats the entire purpose). Faster than you can say Blood and Black Lace, she witnesses a gory murder with a woman's face punctured by a spiked metal glove. Did it really happen in the apartment across the street, or did she imagine the whole thing? When Gio's story hits the street, sinister threats indicate that she really did see far too much and might be next on the madman's list. Aided more or less by Gio and her boyfriend, Stefano (Martell, aka Pietro Martellanza), she tries to piece together the mystery while dodging several people who clearly seem to want her dead.
A slower burner than its predecessor at first, Death Walks at Midnight makes very little sense at any point but easily makes up for it by tossing in crazy twists every five minutes or so. This really pays off in the last half hour, with the plot suddenly swerving in several different directions that will keep even the most adept mystery buff scrambling to keep up. Once again the story climaxes in a nasty, punch-driven showdown, though this time Ercoli stages the action atop an apartment building with an engaging action sequence that still packs quite a punch. Again the entire film is beautifully shot, this time accompanied by a delicious easy listening score by Gianni Ferrio including a catchy main theme, “Valentina” (be prepared to croon along with the main titles).
Both films bowed together on American DVD in 2006 via NoShame's excellent The Luciano Ercoli Death Set, which present the films with their English and Italian soundtracks (complete with optional subtitles). Surprisingly, both films were almost completely shot in Italian and work far better that way, and the mono audio sounds nice on each option. Death Walks at Midnight was previously released on DVD in 2003 in the United Kingdom from Mondo Macabro in a soft, compromised transfer that cropped the compositions to just under 1.95.:1; here the full scope ratio is preserved, and the extra breathing room helps considerably. Also, the UK DVD used a rather inorganic stereo version of the main theme over the opening titles, while the NoShame disc retains the original mono version which blends in more smoothly. The three-disc NoShame set also adds on a very welcome collection of rare Cipriani music entitled The Sound of Love & Death. Though no music from these films is present, Euro music fans will delight at the 18 tracks included here including a pair of cues from What Have They Done to Your Daughters? as well as groovy selections from The Night Child, Evil Eye, Cara sposa, La polizia ha le mani legate, Nightmare City, Dedicato a una stella, and more. The DVD for Death Walks on High Heels also includes a poster and still gallery, plus the very wild trailer in its English and Italian incarnations. The Death Walks at Midnight disc includes another gallery, plus a very odd bonus feature, the (letterboxed but non-anamorphic) TV cut of the film which features an additional four minutes of footage, mainly more cop padding. Last but not least is a thick illustrated booklet featuring liner notes by Chris D. as well as bios for Ercoli, Scott, Wolf, and actor Luciano Rossi. The transfers themselves were converted from PAL masters, imperfectly but better than usual, making a fine way for most people to acquaint themselves with these films for many years. NoShame also issued the pair together on Italian DVD, albeit in stripped-down versions with no English options and some major synch issues.
The increasing English-language craze for gialli ensured that these films would eventually get another pass on Blu-ray, and Arrow Films stepped up to the plate in 2016 with Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli, a limited 3,000-unit combo Blu-ray/DVD set that ditches the CD in favor of far more extras. The image quality is tremendously improved on both with a much richer, more detailed appearance, in addition to a slightly darker and golder appearance with more clearly resolved, textured film grain. If you saw Arrow’s release of What Have You Done to Solange?, it’s a similar story here. The Italian and English tracks are present here in robust LPCM mono tracks on the Blu-ray, with English subtitles options either for the dub track or a very different, new translation from the Italian dialogue (which is quite a bit more coherent for both films). The language selection also plays either the Italian and English opening and closing titles, with the English cards reading Death Stalks on High Heels and Cry Out in Terror respectively. Both features also contain solid new audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, who covers Ercoli’s more economical, script-dependent method of making gialli compared to his more flamboyant peers, similarities to the work of Brian De Palma, the histories behind virtually ever actor who appears in front of the camera, and the state of the Italian thriller at its height in the early ‘70s before burn out began to set in. The extended Death Walks at Midnight TV cut is ported over here as well (the same SD, non-anamorphic transfer), and very prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi is all over both releases via new video intros and a pair of featurettes, “Master of Giallo” (32 mins.) and “Crime Does Pay" (31 mins.), just two of the several Freak-o-Rama bonuses here. The former is more of an abstract primer in thriller filmmaking and story construction in which he talks about his own definition of a giallo (Argento doesn't qualify) and even picks apart the plot of Once Upon a Time in America, which he told Leone was "beautiful" but "bullshit." The latter is much more career specific, covering his research (or utter lack thereof) for westerns and historical films, his entry into thrillers, and various stories of plagiarism and producer demands.
In the 26-minute "Death Walk to the Beat," Stelvio Cipriani chats at length about how he got his start and covers some of his early hits as well as his willingness to tackle any genre. He only talks about High Heels a little bit with a discussion about using vocalist and composer Nora Orlandi to perform all the memorable vocalizing, but he covers some of his other work in detail and even performs solo piano renditions of his themes for The Anonymous Venetian and Tentacles (which he amusingly refers to twice as an "important" film!). Both Ercoli and Navarro are interviewed separately at their home (they married just after shooting both of these films) for the 24-minute "From Spain with Love," in which they cover their unpleasant first meeting, their impressions of the funny Andreu, the pleasure of working in the Italian equivalent of film noir, and their impressions of working during Franco's dictatorship over Spain, which Navarro seems to defend in kind of an odd way. In the 28-minute "Desperately Seeking Susan," regular Arrow visual essayist Michael Mackenzie dives into the fascinating chemistry between the "other" giallo queen (after Edwige Fenech, of course) and emphasizes how her radically changing appearances throughout the trilogy of their gialli reflect the dense, twisty games being played with the audience by the recently deceased filmmaker. The Italian and English theatrical trailers are included for Death Walks in High Heels are also included, and the package also comes with reversible sleeve art for both titles featuring the original posters and new artwork by Gilles Vranckx as well as a booklet with essays by Danny Shipka, Troy Howarth, and Leonard Jacobs.