AKA LA MORTE CAMMINA CON I TACCHI ALTI
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, in ARROW VIDEO’S ‘DEATH WALKS TWICE’ BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 105 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A jewel thief is slashed to death on a train. His daughter Nicole, a famous nightclub performer in Paris, is questioned by the police about some missing diamonds but she claims to know nothing. Nicole is then terrorised by a masked man with piercing blue eyes who, using a mechanical voicebox, demands to know where her father has hidden the stolen diamonds. After finding blue contact lenses in the bathroom of boyfriend Michel, Nicole flees to England with admirer/benefactor Robert, a married eye doctor whose wife is all too aware of her husband’s infidelity. Stashed away by Robert in a remote seaside village, Nicole is bored but at least safe … until the stalker suddenly reappears….
When I review an older film, I tend to spend a bit of time researching it, basically because I enjoy finding out information and I feel that readers may enjoy reading a bit of background, but Death Walks On High Heels is one film that there doesn’t appear to be a great amount of detailed knowledge quickly accessible, while I hardly knew anything about it myself, so, rather than scour all of the special features on Arrow Video’s Blu-ray of the film [though of course I did check out a few] for information, information that will be more fun for someone who buys the film to find out for him or herself, I’m just going to write this review without my typical ‘background information’ paragraph. Along with me deciding not to give much of the plot away, this means that this review may be shorter than normal, but that should be no reflection at all on what is a thoroughly enjoyable giallo, the second from director Luciano Ercoli [the first, and the one generally reputed to be the best, being Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion], which isn’t quite a classic of the type, and which may actually disappoint a few fans of this fascinating, if eternally disreputable, genre because it’s less over the top, weird, dark or vicious then we have come to expect, but which should please those just after a really good mystery story full of surprising twists and turns which certainly kept me guessing. Watching it, I was filled with admiration for screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who used to constantly churn these things out, and who I still feel isn’t as known and respected as he should be.
The film opens in great fashion on a train [makes a change from seeing a plane landing] with a man, obviously in disguise, hearing a knock at the door of his room, going to answer it, and having his throat slashed in an extremely well edited moment. Then come the titles and a perhaps inappropriately jaunty, sunny piece of music that I swore I recognised from a Mario Bava film and indeed is by the same composer Stelvio Cipriani who scored Baron Blood, whose main theme gets a very close variant here. We meet our heroine and her boyfriend, and what struck me right away is how much this film seems to be a showcase for the female star Nieves Navarro, billed as Susan Scott in the credits, who was actually the wife of the director, the lucky and proud filmmaker just wanting to show off what he’s got; she strips, dances, parades around in sexy outfits, even erotically eats what seem to be some sweets while her companion just watches and smokes in an especially beautifully shot scene with lots of close-ups of her mouth. As an actress….well, she’s no Edwige Fenech, that’s for sure, but she certainly doesn’t disgrace herself.
The first quarter of this film sure moves fast, with Nicole immediately seeming to be in peril, leading to a genuionely uncomfortable bit where she’s forced into her bed by her stalker and he runs his razor all over her body which made me wonder if I was going to see some nasty New York Ripper-style slashing until I realises that she was seemingly the main character of the piece. Thinking it may be her heavy drinking [in fact almost everyone seems to drink in this movie and yet there isn’t a single bottle of J&B whisky in sight!] boyfriend Michel [who understandably has trouble accepting her job as a stripper], she rather quickly takes up with older admirer Robert and flees with him to England. Now it always makes me laugh the way these films that are set in the UK populate the English countryside with familiar looking Latin performers, and Ercoli doesn’t really attempt the odd, wry view of the country that directors like, say, Lucio Fucli attempted with their giallos, while one seaside cottage is obviously not British as it has olive trees growing beside it. Nonetheless the village Nicole find herself living it has its uneasy qualities, and there are some good little moments, like when Nicole hears the voice of the killer whilst she’s in the local pub, only for it to turn out to be a vicar with a tracheotomy! And why is the neighbour Hallory looking suspicious? And who is the person observing her through a telescope? And why, in an especially unusual touch, does the film appearing to be withholding obvious information from us when we see Nicole receive a mysterious visitor who offers her money?
Why indeed, and I’m not going to give much else away at all, as part of the effect of this particular story hinges upon an event half way through which really does surprise [kudos especially to Gastaldi for pulling this off], after which the viewer is made to adopt a different perspective. An emphasis on the police investigation into the increasingly complicated plot means that the film doesn’t quite provide enough thrill scenes, despite some reasonably well done fighting [though replete with those exaggerated sound effects which are sometimes out of synch] in the final reel, and only two on-screen killings, though they’re quite memorable; a sadistic razor slashing and an archetypal giallo moment where the killer shoots someone while a witness is in the same room…a witness who is totally blind. There’s also some nice bits of humour here and there, from pub-goers gossiping about Nicole and Robert, to a suspect puking on a cop’s helmet, to the humorous relationship between Inspector Baxter and his aide Baxter, which is warm and funny and really the heart – such as it has one – of the film. The main focus though is mainly on story, and it generally comes up trumps, piling on the twists so that you really have to keep up and re-access what you’ve been seeing, and the film does this all the way to the very last scene. Just as importantly, the tale does hold up to scrutiny when you think about it, something that you can’t say about many present day blockbusters, especially one that was just released in cinemas the other day, while the script even has some lines which pertain to a certain wit:
“You may learn many things in ten years, and yet ten lifetimes wouldn’t be enough to understand a woman” [I agree].
Ercoli’s direction isn’t as stylish as, say, Dario Argento, but along with cinematographer Fernando Arribas, does use colour vividly in many scenes, like an early bit with Nicole and Michel in her apartment which is bathed in red from a flashing hotel sign, and is good at putting together montages. As usual the cast seem to be speaking different languages but mostly come across okay. The standout for me was actually Fabrizio Moresco’s cop Bergson [I was struggling to recall where I’d seen this actor before, though I was sure it was in a film I’d seen often, and it was as one of Juan’s sons in Sergio Leone’s brilliant A Fistful Of Dynamite], who has some great little underplayed comic moments like when he downs a drink and asks the barmaid out for a date as he rushes out of the pub half drunk. Stelvio Cipriani’s score has some catchy motifs though it’s that lilting main theme that is most prominent and perhaps overused. Death Walks In High Heels may be considered a fairly minor giallo, and it certainly could do with the tension being ramped up a bit, but it’s an entertaining and often genuinely surprising thriller and I had a pretty good time watching it.
Death Walks On High Heels looks fabulous on Arrow’s Blu-ray, and I really can’t fault it with its terrific colours and impressive depth which really brings out the quality of the cinematography. I had the Italian track on for most of the time but occasionally switched over to the English track, which sounded okay though the Italian subtitles seemed to be slightly better written than the English dub. I watched the featurette with Gastaldi about giallo writing, which was most interesting [he criticises Argento for cheating the audience], and heard about 15 minutes of Tim Lucas’s commentary, which appears to be as erudite and informative as usual.
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 ON HIGH HEELS
*Audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas
*Introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
*From Spain with Love – featurette comprising newly-edited archive footage of director Luciano Ercoli and actress Nieves Navarro, interviewed at their home in Barcelona
*Master of Giallo – screenwriter Gastaldi on Death Walks on High Heels and how to write a successful giallo
*Death Walks to the Beat – a career-spanning interview with High Heels composer Stelvio Cipriani
*Original Italian and English trailers
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx