Death Walks at Midnight (1972)
Directed by: Luciano Ercoli
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Guido Leoni, Mahnahén Velasco, Sergio Corbucci
Starring: Claudie Lange, Nieves Navarro, Pietro Martellanza, Simón Andreu
AKA LA MORTE ACCAREZZA A MEZZANOTTE
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, in ARROW VIDEO’S ‘DEATH WALKS TWICE’ BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 103 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Valentina, a model, is tricked into taking a variant of LSD by her irresponsible journalist boyfriend, Gio, who publishes damaging photos of Valentina in his magazine, Novella 2000. Worse, during Valentina’s trip, she apparently witnesses a murder in the vacant apartment across the courtyard, in which a man with dark sunglasses bludgeons a woman to death with a spiky iron glove. She tries to convince Police Inspector Seripa and her former boyfriend, Stefano, that a crime has been committed but no one will believe her. Further complicating matters is news that a woman had indeed been murdered in the apartment with an iron glove – only that was six months before, and both the murderer and victim look nothing like the two people Valentina had seen during her trip….
I decided to watch Death Walks At Midnight immediately after I’d done the majority of the review for Death Walks On High Heels, and it was a good way to see the two movies, with one almost coming across as a variant of the other. They don’t just have the same director and writer, and therefore the same style, but also feature some of the same cast members, including Nieves Navarro and Simon Andreu who again play boyfriend and girlfriend, with Andreu again not being the nicest of guys. Opting, as I often do, not to skim other reviews to get an idea of how well this movie was thought of, I had quite high hopes for this follow-up because, in addition to the perennially underrated Ernesto Gastaldo, none other than spaghetti western legend Sergio Corbucci [one part of the spaghetti western Holy Trinity that comprises the three Sergios; Leone, Corbucci, Sollima] contributed to the script, though I don’t feel that it quite matches its predecessor. It’s certainly an enjoyable thriller, and definitely picks up considerably in its final third, but overall just doesn’t come off quite as effectively, with Gastaldi [I’m guessing that he was the man most responsible for the screenplay] not working out his story so well, and Luciano Ercoli not seeming quite so focused on it, though that’s certainly not to say that the film doesn’t have its moments and isn’t a decent watch.
Immediately noticeable in this one is that the music, by Gianno Ferrio, is distinctly inferior to Stelvio Cipriani’s in the first film, the title song being an average effort with very badly recorded vocals which I just couldn’t make out at all. Anyway, we then immediately get into the scene where Valentina is given a hallucinogen called HDS as some kind of experiment, not knowing that her journalist boyfriend Gio is recording the experiment and going to publish it in the paper he writes for, including pictures. I was rather disappointed that Valentina was describing all these weird things that she was seeing but which we weren’t seeing at all, but the murder that she witnesses, despite not being overly graphic considering that a spiked iron glove is the weapon, is startlingly staged, partly reflected in one half of a pair of glasses, and partly shown so that Valentina thinks that she’s the one being killed. She’s justifiably angry with Gio when she finds out she’s been tricked, though she’s also got another guy, an artist called Stefano who used to be her boyfriend and with whom she still sometimes seeems to sleep with. We soon get a really tense scene where Valentina has been summoned to an apartment and is menaced by the same killer she saw in her drugged state. Stefano lives in the apartment opposite, and Valentina sees him, but he neither notices nor hears her screams for help because he’s busy exercising with music on!
Good stuff, but Death Walks At Midnight then seems to stall. It’s obvious that the man menacing Valentina is the killer, and there’s plenty of other intrigue what with another creepy guy following her, there being no evidence of the murder that she apparently saw, a similar killing having happened some time before [yes, it’s rather like The Girl Who Knew Too Much], the sister of the killer’s previous victim turning up to aid the heroine but possibly with an agenda of her own, and other stuff, but the film seems to be almost wasting time as its characters talk over and over about what has happened. At least, for example, Deep Red, despite taking ages to really get going, had a strong atmosphere, intriguing characters etc. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the middle third of Death Walks At Midnight at all though, as it seemed to settle into a pleasant laid back groove with much time spent in 70’s Italian nightclubs full of horrific, but at the same time slightly cool, fashions and truly danceable music [Ferrio’s music does shine in these scenes] which indicated to this writer that things haven’t really changed since 1972. There’s just not enough edge to the proceedings though, and the film does really seem to be marking time when we get to a semi-comic car chase, but eventually does revive where Gastaldi [and co.] give us the typical giallo scene where the killer reveals his or herself and we get a big confrontation, only instead of this occurring at the film’s climax, it occurs with half an hour to go, so the killer can get away and bodies can now start piling up very quickly, not to mention the plot twists.
The climax is a terrific all-out, brutal action sequence – despite a bit when somebody is knocked off a roof and it’s so obvious that the stuntman clearly jumps rather than falls – which just about makes up for the fact that, except for the opening sequence, we don’t see any of the murders in the film, just the aftermaths, and there’s not much suspenseful stuff which, as before, is largely discarded in favour of police procedural stuff, only that actor Carlo Gentili doesn’t have someone like Fabrizio Moresco as a foil. There’s plenty of odd diversions though, like the Oriental kids who live in the same apartment block as Stefano, or a sequence in an asylum where Valentina is harassed by inmates doing a weird dance, while one twist certainly caught me by surprise. And, perhaps to make up for Death Walks On High Heels, not only do we have somebody order a glass of J&B whisky, but a bottle is glimpsed beside somebody’s bed and we even partially glimpse what looks like a poster of it. There’s still a lot to like and enjoy in Death Walks At Midnight, which I think is probably more appreciated by die-hard giallo fans rather than folk who enjoy a lot of the films in this genre but find serious flaws in many of its lesser offerings [kind of like myself], but I feel that it could have benefitted from losing 15 minutes or so, and overall it just lacks the freshness of Death Walks On High Heels.
Ercoli’s direction is less stylish than in the previous film but still has some bravura moments and certainly allows the viewer to enjoy as wonderfully tacky 70’s interior design as one can imagine. In total contrast to Death Walks On High Heels, Ercoli doesn’t similarly show off his wife in Death Walks At Midnight, but Navarro is still sexy and gives a stronger performance than before. Claudio Lange had a relatively small role in Death Walks On High Heels but is given a much larger part here and prove herself to be a decent actress, and Luciano Rossi also returns as a criminal with a hugely irritating laugh. Ferrio’s score does let the side down a bit in some cues which almost play against exciting moments rather than with them, but has its share of good moments too. Containing even less dark and disturbing material than Death Walks On High Heels, Death Walks at Midnight may have its issues but still intrigues, is fairly entertaining, and definitely makes for a fine double bill with its predecessor!
Arrow’s Blu-ray of Death Walks at Midnight to me looked a little less sharp than Death Walks On High Heels, and seemed grainier, though the latter wasn’t a big problem for me and overall the movie still looks great. The highlight amongst the special features must be the extended Italian TV version of the film which contains footage deleted from the cinema cut. I watched 15 minutes of it and didn’t notice any extra bits, but will watch further on another time and may amend this review in due course.
Overall, this package [the two movies have been available together before, though with few extras] is an essential purchase if you lean towards the Italian side of things and love a good, twist-filled mystery!
SPECIAL FEATURES FOR LIMITED EDITION BOXSET [3000 COPIES] CONTAINING DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS AND DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
*Brand new 2K restorations of the films from original film elements
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio
*Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
*Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing on the films from authors Danny Shipka [Perverse Titillation: The Exploitation Cinema of Italy, Spain and France], Troy Howarth [So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films] and writer Leonard Jacobs
DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT
*Audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas
*Introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
*Extended TV version of the feature
*Crime Does Pay – screenwriter Gastaldi reflects on his career in the crime film-writing business, including a look at Death Walks at Midnight
*Desperately Seeking Susan – visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the distinctive giallo collaborations between director Luciano Ercoli and star Nieves Navarro
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx