Luciano Ercoli, 1972
Starring: Nieves Navarro, Simon Andreu, Carlo Gentili, Claudine Lange
Valentina, a model, agrees to be a research subject for her boyfriend Gio, a journalist interested in studying the effects of hallucinogens. She takes the drug (called HDS, perhaps an obvious stand-in for LSD, unless I missed something in translation) and he records and photographs her experience – but is unaware that she has witnessed a man wearing a spiked glove beat a woman to death. Gio doesn’t believe her and publishes the article, not keeping her identity anonymous like her promised, and nearly ruins her career in the process. Meanwhile, Valentina believes that the killer has begun to stalk her, but no one, not even the police, will believe her claims.
A loose follow up to Death Walks on High Heels, Death Walks at Midnight is the third of Luciano Ercoli’s films to involve screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and actors Nieves Navarro (Ercoli’s wife), Simon Andreu, Claudine Lange, and Carlo Gentili. I have to admit that out of the three (including Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion), I enjoyed this last film the most. It avoids the hysterical, panicking heroine of Forbidden Photos and has a more up-to-date sense of style than the ‘60s-included Death Walks on High Heels, which is as much a heist film as it is a giallo. This last entry has plenty of goofy moments, but the script is just wacky enough to be effective.
Unlike the earlier two, this has a lot more of what I would describe as key giallo elements. The protagonist witnesses a murder and is threatened by the killer, has a love interest who assistants (albeit reluctantly) in solving the mystery, and there are artists and models involved. And like Death Walks on High Heels, after a certain point I honestly couldn’t tell you what the hell is going on with the plot, thanks to numerous red herrings, plot twists, and other nonsequitors. The film’s central murder weapon, a grim-looking glove with metal claws, references Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, as well as German krimi films like Creature with the Blue Hand. The early tripping sequence – one of the film’s best scenes – adds a certain amount of sleaze and through Navarro is a model (rather than a stripper, like in Death Walks on High Heels), Ercoli finds plenty of opportunities to showcase her physical assets.
Refreshingly, her Valentina is a good example of a tormented female protagonist who doesn’t become hysterical 10 minutes into the film and holds her own for quite some time – she even throws a rock through the window of her no-good boyfriend as revenge for him possibly ruining her career. Her solid sense of confidence and self-worth leads her to believe that she really has witnessed a murder and that the killer is after her – even though her boyfriend and the police are skeptical. And though she occasionally succumbs to frustration, such as one scene where she is abandoned in on a hostile country estate by a woman she believed was an ally, she doesn’t sink into madness as quickly as some of the other films in this loose genre (such as Ercoli’s own Forbidden Photos). Nearly everyone in the film is selfish and opportunistic, especially Valentina, but she’s somehow likable despite this and even contributes to the film’s welcome sense of humor that keeps the overall tone fairly light.
Death Walks at Midnight also has the most robust conclusion out of all three films, including a knockdown, drag out fight in Valentina’s apartment that extends to the roof of her building. Simon Andreu, who was in his fair share of Italian and Spanish giallo/horror films, would not have been out of place in an Italian crime film. This is perhaps his best role in an Ercoli film and while the film’s first act belongs to Navarro, he manages to steal the concluding scenes. Unfortunately the middle lags a bit, though every conceivable giallo subplot is thrown into the mix, including drug smuggling, a sojourn to a mental hospital, and an unstable boyfriend who is also a talented sculptor. Keep an eye out for some hilariously costumed drug dealers, looking as stereotypical as possible. And speaking of costumes, though Navarro isn’t given anything as zany as what she wears in the first film, she does get to spend a night on the town while wearing what seems to be a metal wig.
Though this certainly isn’t a giallo masterpiece, Death Walks at Midnight is a hell of a lot of fun and manages to break out of some genre stereotypes on one hand, while playing them up on the other. Unfortunately, as of now, it’s hard to get ahold of. A couple of years ago No Shame released a lovely, three-disc box set of both of Ercoli’s “Death Walks” films and a disc of prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani’s music for both films. Right now it’s highly out of print and is quite expensive, but hopefully someone will release a nice Blu-ray box set with these two and Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion.