Review Date: February 12, 2006
Released by: NoShame
Release date: 2/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
For years the figureheads of the giallo have always been Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and to a lesser extent, Lucio Fulci. There are of course countless others who have had a hand in shaping the popular Italian thriller genre, and the folks at NoShame are determined to make us remember. Last year, NoShame released a director’s series of gialli by the excellent Sergio Martino. They rescued films of his, like The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
, from obscurity and helped make sure he’d be a name not long forgotten in the genre. This year, NoShame is back again with yet another forgotten gialli alum, Luciano Ercoli.
Although he began his work in the genre with his debut, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion
(due out from Blue Underground next month), it is his next two films that have gained more notoriety. The Death
films, as they’ve been dubbed by fans, consist of Death Walks on High Heels
and Death Walks at Midnight
(there is a third in the series, Death Carries a Cane
, which also stars Susan Scott, but has no involvement from Ercoli). NoShame has paired together Ercoli’s two death films, along with a bonus soundtrack CD, in a new three disc DVD set. Martino was a director worth remembering, can the same be said for Luciano Ercoli?
Death Walks on High Heels
starts off as most gialli do, with a murder set piece. A high class safe cracker is traveling alone on a continental train, only to have his neck slit before it docks. We learn that the safe cracker had a daughter, Nicole Rochard (Susan Scott) and that 700 million francs worth of diamonds has been stolen in Paris. Police suspect Nicole knows the whereabouts of the diamonds, but Nicole claims innocence. The police are the least of her worries however, as she begins to get menacing phone calls by a man with a voice scrambler. As we see Nicole through the eyes of the voyeuristic killer, it is clear that somebody likes to watch, and that her life is in danger.
Nicole is a dancer, and is currently seeing the posh Michel (Simon Andreu). Her skilled stage gyrations begin to entice someone much higher on the social ladder however, the respected Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff). Despite the doctor’s marriage, the two vacation to a countryside getaway, where they themselves pretend they are married. Somebody knows their secret however, and will make sure Nicole pays, not only for her adultery but for her knowledge of the diamonds. The police are right on the stalker’s trail, but as we know the resolution in a giallo is never clear cut. There will be twists a plenty, right to the closing credits.
Death Walks on High Heels
is the first in the Death
series and also one of the first gialli to be released post-Plumage
. The giallo rules were not really set in stone yet, and as a result the film plays much more like poliziotteschi. The investigation is more at the forefront, and murders seem more an afterthought. The short, tacked on murder at the start goes unanswered until nearly an hour into the film, when another murder takes place on screen. Then, it is still slow going until an undeniably unhinged and twisted finale. Instead of stalking scenes, we are treated mostly to extended stripping scenes and love promenades to a breezy and erotic music score. Although never all that stylized, the rich photography and the seductive soundtrack make for an entertaining aesthetic experience, even if the film can’t cut its bulky midsection.
Certainly not a great giallo, or even really much of a giallo at all, Death Walks on High Heels
still has its charms. Written by frequent Sergio Martino collaborator, Ernesto Gastaldi, the movie is filled with his twists on egg shells, where one twist quickly begets another so that nothing is certain until the credits role. There is a particularly bold twist that happens midway through that completely offsets the trajectory of the narrative, and while it makes a good twist, the movie’s pacing momentarily suffers because of it. The entourage of twists during the final ten minutes mean that several of the characters have to go into Bond-esque exposition and motive explanation, but it all happens with an investigative glee. You’ll be spent after all the twists (and the plodding second act), but when all is said and done, walking in heels could be much worse.
Death Walks at Midnight
begins with a mysterious experiment one of Italy’s most famous models, Valentina (Susan Scott). She agrees with her on-again, off-again journalist boyfriend Gio (Simon Andreu) to test out a new drug, HDS. She’s injected with the drug from a doctor, and suddenly begins having vivid hallucinations. She sees a woman, helpless, and a man with aviator glasses in close pursuit. Then, with a swoop of a spiked glove, the woman is murdered right before Valentina’s eyes. It was all just a hallucination though, right? She couldn’t have been there.
After her HDS trip is revealed to the papers and she loses her job, Valentina finds out that her hallucination was indeed reality. That same woman in her dream was murdered, and six-months ago another woman was murdered with that same spiked glove. Adding to the suspense, that same man in the aviator glasses begins to show up in Valentina’s periphery. Nobody else seems to witness him though, and the police are beginning to suspect that she is merely imagining everything. We all know though, that gialli are way to twisted for even a dream, and in the end everything is explained except for the significance of “midnight” in the title.
Much more like a giallo than Death Walks on High Heels
has more deaths, more gore and more style than Ercoli’s previous film and is generally more entertaining. It still suffers from the same second act slump that his previous film had, although at least there are a few kills to offset the expositional monotony. The spiked glove is surely one of the coolest murder weapons in giallo’s history, even if it is only used for that single opening murder. The gore in said scene is also notable too. I had particular glee in seeing an actual chunk of flesh flying through the air as the killer pulled his fist out of the victim’s face. How’s that for artful discussion?
In all seriousness, Ernesto Gastaldi’s script has a strong depth, as there are several clever little bits of dialogue that happen outside of the main narrative, with background performers commenting on the action or the times themselves. There’s one particularly funny bit where Valentina’s butler picks up several of her shopping bags of clothing, only to comment on how light they are and how people today seem to be paying more money for less clothing. Those little exchanges in the script, as well as several witty little dialogue transitions help add character to the film beyond its standard gialli elements.
Luciano Ercoli’s two Death films are les concerned with the thrill of the hunt and more at home with the facts of the case. Ercoli has much more fun solving the murders than he does setting them up. This gives his films a distinction over the gialli of Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino, where resolutions were arbitrary compared to the glee had showcasing murder. Ercoli always stuck with the facts, and there is a particular charm in the way all his characters scramble at the end of his gialli to piece together increasingly robust cases. One answer comes in, and two others immediately disprove it. Ercoli’s gialli are drier, longer and talkier than most films of the genre, but they do stand out. They are the work of a unique directorial vision, and while they may not be as immediately entertaining as gialli by the aforementioned auteurs, they certainly have their own dignified charm. Most gialli run from murder to murder, showcasing bloody style, but Death Walks
at its own leisurely pace.
The back of the box boldly states that both films have been “digitally remastered in hi-def from the original vault 2p negatives,” and for the most part these transfers live up to that claim. Both are anamorphic and in their wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and both look considerably cleaned up compared to previous home video releases. Of the two films, Death Walks in High Heels
is without a doubt the better looking. The print is in impeccable shape, and there isn’t a single blemish or scratch to be found. Edges are sharp, and detail is strong, if a bit grainy at times. Color saturation is generally quite good, although several of the stylish red lights in the film do tend to bleed slightly on the edges. Minor complaints aside, this is an overall solid looking print that looks much cleaner than it has any right to.
By comparison, Death Walks at Midnight
is a little grainer less detailed than High Heels
. The print itself is also considerably more ridden with blemishes, with the odd scratch line visible too. Colors aren’t quite as vivid either, although reds are handled better this time around, as evidenced by the bloody shots above. A quality restoration, if not quite as good as the work done on High Heels[/b].
In the preferred NoShame tradition, both films have been presented in both their English and Italian language tracks. Like previous NoShame releases of the same kind, the Italian tracks are the way to go, as there are several instances of drop-out found in the English tracks (especially on Death Walks at Midnight
). I counted no less than five big drop-outs during the English track on Midnight
, and a few of them are prolonged for more than a few beats. Like the video transfer, the audio on High Heels[/b] is all around better than Midnight
, as the entire Midnight
track comes off a little muffled. There is even some slight digital clipping that registers at the start of the film, and pops up during some of the louder bits too. Even if Midnight
offers problematic audio tracks, overall everything is at least audible and relatively clear. Death Walks on High Heels
has some nice mono mixes, while overall Midnight
The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set comes in a regular sized amaray case with a double sided disc holder clipped in the inside of the case. The two films are housed on the holder, while the big extra gets its own space on the actual amaray case itself. The big extra is an album showcasing the talents of European composer Stelvio Cipriani, whose work is featured prominently already in Death Walks on High Heels
. The CD, called “The Sound of Love & Death” offers 18 tracks from 70s Italian films of all genres, adding up to just shy of an hour of music. Although it is a shame some of the music from High Heels
could not be included, there is still a great mix of toe-tapping Italian goodness that is mellower than Morricone and more poppy than Ortolani, for an overall more light and exotic musical sound. Right on the heels of their great poliziateschi remix bank for their The Last Round set, NoShame is proving that great extras can be more than just behind-the-scenes interviews or commentaries.
The extras on the films themselves are fairly sparse. Only Death Walks on High Heels
has trailers, both of which are tinted and psychedelic in the same way the trailers for early Sergio Martino were, and are cut together with skill. There are brief poster and still galleries included on both as well. The only major extra is the television version of Death Walks at Midnight
, which runs a few minutes longer than the actual cut of the film. Considering it is a TV cut, it is no surprise that the added footage is composed of a few for the most part superfluous dialogue scenes. Considering the dodgy quality of the television cut, with all its scan lines and audible buzzing, and the fact that it is in a totally compromising pan and scan ratio, I’m not sure anyone will want to sit through to make it to the deleted scenes. It would have been better if the scenes were just added on as deleted scenes, or if the television version had a chapter menu detailing where the extra scenes are. So despite my relative disinterest to the TV cut, I can’t really fault NoShame for trying.
The final extra is NoShame’s typically detailed insert with several essays on the film, genre and participants. While some interviews or even a commentary would have been nice, it is tough to complain about what has been included in this three-disc set.
Luciano Ercoli’s two Death gialli are slower and more elaborately plotted than your typical Italian yellow, but the more complex plotting lends for a grandiose finale that packs more twists than Chubby Checker. Death Walks at Midnight
is generally preferable to its older brethren, if only for the wicked spiked glove weapon. Still, both are lusciously shot in 2.35, and the video has been cleaned up nicely by NoShame. Both offer English and Italian language options, although there is a fair difference in quality between both and between the mixes for the films themselves as a whole. With an added music disc and some other interesting little extras, NoShame makes sure giallo fans don’t go home empty handed. Even if the films don’t equal the quality of NoShame’s Sergio Martino gialli, the effort put into these discs certainly do.
Death Walks on High Heels
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Death Walks at Midnight
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 48 minutes (Death Walks on High Heels), 1 hour 42 minutes (Death Walks at Midnight)
- Not Rated
- 3 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- Italian Mono
- "The Sound of Love & Death" music CD
- The extended TV cut of Death Walks at Midnight
- Theatrical trailers
- Poster & still galleries
- Collectible Booklet