Two classic examples of early 1970s gialli from the hand of Luciano Ercoli (FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION).
In DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT, model Valentina (Susan Scott) is cajoled into trying out an experimental hallucinatory drug by journalist boyfriend Gio (Simon Andreu). While under the influence of said medicine, Valentina's giggles turn to panic as she experiences a vision of a mysterious man in shaded tinted glasses ramming a spiked glove repeatedly into the face of an unknown woman.
Suitably freaked out by her vision, and left paranoid as a side-effect of the drugs she's trialled, Valentina is hardly comforted by sceptical Gio. Small wonder she ends up falling for arty neighbour, the more sensitive Stefano (Pietro Martellanza).
In the meantime, no-one seems to believe Valentina's story - apart from the murderous man from her hallucination, who appears to now be stalking her. The plot thickens when the cops liken her story to that of a killing committed six months previously. With the help of mysterious brunette Verushka (Claudie Lange), perhaps Valentina can solve this case before her own life is endangered.
DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (or STALKS, as the English title card states on this print) is next.
It opens with retired, one-eyed jewel thief Rochard being attacked in his cabin on a train. His throat is slashed, his assailant then ransacking his belongings in search of ... something. All we know of this killer is that, behind their balaclava mask, they have piercing blue eyes.
Next we meet Parisian strip-club dancer Nicole (Susan Scott again). The local cops have called her in for questioning regarding her father Rochard's murder. It transpires that it coincided with a huge jewellery theft, and their theory is that whoever killed Rochard was searching for the booty. Did he give them to Nicole prior to his death, the police ask. She insists not, and is backed up by her boyfriend - hard-drinking cad Michel (Andreu). The cops are unconvinced and warn that Nicole is in danger. She shrugs this off and returns to work.
Before long, however, she's being plagued by telephone calls made in a robotic voice akin to Stephen Hawkins (more so on the English dub track). This fella wants to know where the diamonds are hidden. And still, she doesn't take this terribly seriously ... until the culprit breaks into her apartment and threatens her directly with a cutthroat razor.
When she's given reason to believe Michel may be responsible, Nicole flees to London with middle-aged suitor Robert (Frank Wolff) - but the terror follows her. Who is hounding Nicole, and is it really just the jewels they're after?
Made virtually back to back with the same stars - Scott and Andreu - in each case, these two films were previously released onto US DVD in a gorgeous set by the ill-fated NoShame brand. Here they are together again, courtesy of Arrow Films Video, and is together that they belong: they really do complement each other perfectly.
Ernesto Gastaldi wrote the screenplay for both features and in each case is both faithful to giallo conventions while playfully subverting them on occasion. His female characters are vulnerable yet resourceful; his men are bastards even when they ultimately emerge as heroic. His plots are convoluted (especially in the case of MIDNIGHT, which has the audacity to introduce additional characters - necessitating additional exposition and a quick round-up of events by a main character - during its final act) to the point of being borderline laborious.
They're also steeped in an ageless charm, bolstered immeasurably by affably natural performances from their stars, Fernando Arribas's stunning widescreen cinematography and predictably beautiful scores from the ever-dependable Stelvio Cipriani: from casual jazzy chic to subtle menace, Cipriani runs the gamut here throughout both films - with iconic results at every turn.
In terms of sex and violence, these films are comparatively tame when held up alongside the likes of DEEP RED, TORSO, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? etc. But they're absorbing from beginning to end and hold enough mystique to sate the needs of all but the most jaded giallo enthusiast.
Ercoli's iconic thrillers are now being released as a four-disc, dual format double bill by Arrow on both sides of the pond. We were sent screeners of the set's two blu-ray discs to review.
Both films are presented as generously sized MPEG4-AVC files, in 1080p HD. Respecting their original 2.35:1 ratios, these uncut and remastered transfers are excellent. Deep blacks and warm colours are true in look and feel; light filmic grain is retained along with pleasingly fine detail. There is no obvious noise reduction and a keen sense of depth can be felt throughout. Very occasional debris is evident but, by and large, the prints are stunningly clean.
In each case, lossless HD mono tracks are available in options of original Italian and English dubbed. Clean and clear in each instance, there's nothing to gripe about in playback. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read across the board (each film has two sets of English subtitles - the translations between English and Italian dialogue are at times significantly different). We also got the option on each disc of watching the films with either their Italian or English-language titles.
Each disc opens to an animated main menu page. Pop-up menus include scene selection menus allowing access to the film via 12 chapters apiece.
Bonus features are plentiful across the two 50gb blu-ray discs.
Gastaldi provides optional 2-minute video introductions to each film, revealing a few writer's tricks along the way.
Tim Lucas is on hand to proffer typically excellent audio commentary tracks. Over the course of both films he imparts a whole heap of knowledge regarding the background of their making, and the main players - as well as pointing out plot subtleties and highlighting very European quirks (such as, for example, the women there being stronger than their American counterparts when it comes to handling sexually sleazy men). Taking time out to explore side avenues such as the use of J&B whisky in 70s gialli and future careers of even peripheral cast members, Lucas is fluid and engaging throughout. These tracks make for the ultimate companion pieces to the main features.
MIDNIGHT gets a new 31-minute interview with Gastaldi entitled "Crime Does Pay", in which the prolific writer discusses his favourite themes and motivations for writing some of his biggest hits.
Michael MacKenzie narrates through a considerately edited montage of clips and stills, affording us more background detail on Scott (birth name Nieves Navarro) in "Desperately Seeking Susan". This is a solid piece in its own right but, inevitably, there is some overlap to be experienced if you've already sat through the essential commentary tracks.
HEELS brings Gastaldi back to reveal more secrets of the trade, as well as tantalise us with the prospect of a forthcoming "how to" book he's working on, in the most enjoyable "Master of Giallo" featurette (32 minutes). There's a lot to take in here (as with all the other interview-based extras, this is in Italian with English subtitles), as Gastaldi talks FAST! But it's all good, most entertaining. Filmed in Rome, in November 2015.
Almost as good is a 24-minute featurette entitled "From Spain With Love" shot in 2012. This finds Ercoli and Navarro speaking leisurely about their break into films and, ultimately, this famous giallo thriller. Good memories and warm personalities always make for a winning combination, as is proven here.
"Death Walks to the Beat" is a priceless treat for fans of maestro Cipriani: an all-new interview with the composer/conductor. It opens with him performing a version of the film's iconic opening score on his home piano, and then unfolds into a hugely agreeable chat with the great man as he talks us through his career and turns his attention to this marvellous film. This was filmed in October 2015.
Two trailers complete the on-disc extras for HEELS.
What more could you possibly want? Reversible cover artwork for each of the keepcases contained within the outer box? A 60-page colour collectors' booklet with nice stills throughout, and great essays from Troy Howarth, Leonard Jacobs and Danny Shipka? You got it!
Limited to 3,000 copies on both sides of the Atlantic, this set is a must-have for giallo fans.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
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