After the success of his first film as a director, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Luciano Ercoli directed two more giallos before moving on to other genres. These two films, Death Walks on High Heels, and Death Walks at Midnight have been lovingly restored and upgraded by Arrow Video into a very nice boxed set. Besides sharing similar titles, Ercoli also used the same actress, Nieves Navarro - here going by the stage name Susan Scott (his then girlfriend, later turned wife) as the lead in both films as well as using the same writer, similar themes, and genre tropes. Made in 1971 and 1972 respectively, it's interesting to see how Ercoli had grown and matured in just one year. Death Walks on High Heels is directed well but without any particular flair. Death Walks at Midnight is wonderfully shot and full of style while still developing its story in a mature manner.
In Death Walks on High Heels, Navarro plays Nicole Rochard, daughter of a famed jewel thief who learns, as we see in the opening sequence, that her father has been brutally murdered. It seems a large quantity of diamonds had recently been stolen and someone suspects that the father knows where they’ve been hidden. Soon the killer begins stalking Nicole, hoping she may lead him to the booty. Quickly, Nicole runs away with Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff) to a small village in England, but there too, death stalks her.
I should have mentioned that Nicole is a strip-tease artist who is so popular she takes it off for two different clubs a night. In the first place, she inexplicably dons a short-haired afro and black face. This is actually where the good Dr. Matthews sees (and videotapes!) her, before following her to the next club and generally trying to catch her attention/grab her affections. Between clubs, the boyfriend successfully seduces her by rubbing the black-face-removing cold cream on her breasts. None of this has anything to do with the plot of the film, and the whole stripper act is quickly dropped, but it does illustrate how completely blunt and unsubtle the film is.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its charms, as its quite an enjoyable little bit of cinema. And lets be honest, giallo isn’t a genre exactly known for its subtlety. For the most part, the film gives you exactly what you are looking for in this sort of thing - plenty of sex, lots of bloody violence, and a mysterious killer. What it lacks in nuance and artistry it makes up for in pure entertainment value.
In Death Walks at Midnight, Navarro plays Valentina, a model living in Milan. She is convinced by her journalist boyfriend Gio (Simon Adreu) to take an LSD-type drug and let him record the results. As expected, things do not go well and Valentina helplessly watches a woman get murdered by a man with a spiked glove in the building across the street. Or does she? Turns out there was a similar murder to what she saw in that building but it happened months ago and that murderer is already behind bars. When the real (?) killer begins stalking her, Valentina can’t tell if she’s losing her mind or is in real danger.
While it is still full of many of the tropes of the genre, and the plot doesn’t always make sense, Ercoli really upped his game and turned Death Walks At Midnight into one of the high-water marks of giallo. The cinematography is lush and beautiful and Ercoli infuses it with a number of fantastic-looking shots that often best even Dario Argento’s work. The tension is developed like a master and the horror of the situation is palpable.
Both films are presented in a brand new 2K restoration and they look great. I always feel like I need to make caveats for these sorts of films as 30-year-old prints of rather low-budget genre movies are never going to looks as good as Blu-rays of modern blockbusters, but both these really do look great. Colors are bright, blacks are crisp, and details are strong. There is the normal amount of grain present, but I only noticed a very few number of small defects in either film. Audio likewise is good. Both films have Italian and English soundtracks with optional (and new) English subtitles. There were no problems with hiss or distortion and both the scores and the vocals sounded good with decent range.
Each film includes audio commentaries from film historian Tim Lucas, who does a good job of laying out the history of the films, putting them in context, and giving additional details on the production of the films. Death Walks on High Heels also includes interviews with Ercoli and Navarro from 2012, plus additional interviews with writer Ernesto Gastoldi and conductor Stelvio Cipriani. Death Walks at Midnight includes a completely different interview with Gastoldi where he discusses both the movie and writing for the giallo genre in general. There is also a long visual essay that discusses the film collaborations between Ercoli and Navarro. Additionally you can watch a special TV cut of the film which includes four extra minutes not included in the theatrical cut. Those scenes are presented from an obvious tape source and it shows a great deal of wear and tear, but is fascinating nonetheless. As usual Arrow has packaged the films in a nice case with reversible covers and a generous book featuring long essays on the film.
For giallo lovers the Death Walks Twice is essential. Both films are excellent representations of the genre and Arrow has created a really terrific boxed set with plenty of extras and a high-definition upgrade that makes it looks as good as it likely ever will.