Luciano Ercoli, 1971
Starring: Frank Wolff, Nieves Navarro, Simón Andreu
After a jewel thief is murdered on a train, police believe that his beautiful daughter Nicole, a nightclub dancer, may know the location of some valuable missing gems. She denies this, but a masked man with blue eyes and a strangely altered voice begins harassing her, first over the phone, and then by breaking into her apartment. She meets up with a wealthy man who enjoys her dancing, Dr. Matthews, who takes her out to his country home in England for a few weeks of safety and solitude. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t take long for the man with the blue eyes, and the case of the missing diamonds, to follow her again.
Death Walks on High Heels is the first film in a loose double feature from director Luciano Ercoli along with Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Both of these Italian-Spanish co-productions star Ercoli’s wife, actress Nieves Navarro (listed as Susan Scott), and Simón Andreu, and were penned by famed giallo screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, all of whom had earlier teamed up on Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1971). Like that film, Death Walks on High Heels rotates around a central plot twist and, unlike a conventional giallo, has an air of the heist film about it, as the whole thing is really about a cache of missing diamonds.
This certainly has a more European, jet setting feel so common in giallo films, with shots in Paris and London, and includes some giallo must-haves like a moment of surprising gore and plenty of nudity. Nieves Navarro is scantily clad for most of the film, which opens with her performing two — count ‘em, two — striptease scenes. Navarro was trying to give giallo superstars like Edwige Fenech some competition, but her character type is a welcome addition to the genre. In all three of Ercoli’s films, her characters are sexy, confident, and not easily frightened by the antics of the killer. This is certainly a welcome change from the hysterical, paranoid damsel in distress. Even though Nicole is attacked and harassed — and believes her boyfriend could be the masked man — she still holds her own.
The strangest thing about Death Walks on High Heels is that unlike the other giallo films coming out in the 1971 and 1972 boom, the sense of style is very similar to the swingin’ 60s look for earlier efforts like Deadly Sweet, Death Laid an Egg, Naked You Die, or The Frightened Woman. It’s odd to think that a giallo film would feel dated among its peers, but I think this is part of the film’s charm. It certainly works with Nieves Navarro’s appeals and the camera loves her — she manages to keep its attention despite a series of occasionally hilarious outfits and some lengthy scenes where she tries on different sexy outfits. This also brings a refreshing amount of sleaze to the film that is one of my favorite things about the genre, but is occasionally missing from the more serious entries.
The sleazy elements unfortunately fade away in the third act, when Ercoli ramps up the violence and the plot thickens — in fact it gets so thick that it’s a little dizzying. Carlo Gentili, as the Inspector (a role he would reprise in Death Walks on High Heels), is allowed to really strut his stuff in the second half of the film and brings some much needed comic relief. His style of detective is best described as laid back, though he somehow has remarkable insight and often stumbles across the right answers. And keep your eyes peeled for lots of other genre actors, such as co-star Simón Andreu (The Blood Spattered Bride) and Luciano Rossi (Fulci’s City of the Living Dead).
Death Walks on High Heels is not the greatest giallo, but it’s well worth watching for fans of the genre. 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 with this film, Death Walks at Midnight, and a disc of composer Stelvio Cipriani’s music for the two films (he also worked on films like The Frightened Woman, Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, and so much more). 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.