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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Luciano Ercoli's Death Box Set (Death Walks on High Heels / Death Walks at Midnight)
Luciano Ercoli's Death Box Set (Death Walks on High Heels / Death Walks at Midnight)
NoShame Films // Unrated // February 28, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Fans of Italian giallo thrillers will delight in NoShame Films' latest release, The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set, a package that includes Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972), as well as a music CD: The Sound of Love and Death - The Very Best of Stelvio Cipriani. The two movies fall well short of greatness but are solid examples of the genre, and both star the gorgeous Susan Scott (nee Nieves Navarro), also the director's wife.

For the uninitiated, the giallo - so named for the yellow-jacketed (giallo) pulp paperback thrillers popular in Italy during the 1960s and '70s - was a surprisingly rich genre for ambitious talent trying rise above budgetary limitations and program picture expectations. The best giallo compare favorably with the work of Alfred Hitchcock and other genre masters; they're often quite imaginative with intricately and sometimes ingeniously constructed screenplays. (Some are so good that it's surprising that we've not seen American remakes.) The advantages of the DVD format, allowing for 16:9 widescreen transfers and original Italian audio tracks, often accompanied by documentaries and booklets, help put these films into perspective which in turn has led to a mini-boom of reappraisal of the genre in America and elsewhere.

In Death Walks on High Heels (La Morte cammina con i tacchi alti), billed onscreen as "Death Walks with High Heels," a jewel thief is brutally murdered aboard a train, and investigators not only assume the murdered man had been responsible for the theft of 700 million French francs worth of diamonds, but that the jewels are now in the care of the man's daughter, acclaimed Parisian nightclub stripper Nicole (Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro), though she denies any knowledge of the crime.

Nevertheless, Nicole soon is stalked by a threatening figure with piercing blue eyes who, using a mechanical voicebox, demands that she hand over the diamonds. After finding blue contact lenses in the bathroom of boyfriend Michel (Simon Andreu), Nicole flees to England with admirer/benefactor Robert (American Frank Wolff), a married eye doctor whose wife (Claudie Lange) 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.

In Death Walks at Midnight (La Morte accarezza a mezzanotte), Scott plays Valentina, a photographic model tricked into taking a variant of LSD by her irresponsible journalist boyfriend, Gio (Simon Andreu again), 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.

Distraught, Valentina tries to convince Police Inspector Seripa (Carlo Gentili) and her former boyfriend, Stefano (Pietro Martellanza), 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 Valentina had seen during her trip! Was it all a hallucination, or did the acid trigger some long-lost memory?

Both films are pretty entertaining, though Death Walks at Midnight has a stronger, less-predictable screenplay, a bit more visual flair, and an exciting knock-down, drag-out climax. The most notable difference between the two pictures is that in Death Walks on High Heels Susan Scott gets nude at every opportunity while in Death Walks at Midnight Scott keeps her clothes on for the entire film and, oddly enough, she comes off as much sexier. High Heels has more of a postmodern/retro-camp appeal in the nightclub sequences, which are very dated and often quite silly. The high (camp) point comes during one of Nicole's numbers, a strip act done in blackface, with the blonde beauty adorning a close-cropped afro. Oh, Mammy!

Ercoli's use of what are supposed to be British coastal locations recalls Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, though the Italian and Spanish faces in the cast remain singularly continental in appearance. Both films overflow with amusing eccentrics and red herrings, adding to the fun.

Video & Audio

Both films are presented with their original Italian (2.0) mono tracks with optional English subtitles, as well as 2.0 mono English dubbed versions. The audio is okay but not impressive. Both films were shot in Techniscope, though Death Walks on High Heels uses the Chromoscope billing owing to the fact that someone other than Technicolor Rome did the lab work. Both pictures look good given the limitations and inherent graininess of the production format.

Extra Features

Death Walks at Midnight includes a strange TV Version that's panned-and-scanned, includes dialog in both subtitled Italian and English, and runs 105 minutes. A badly damaged analog master was sourced, one in an obvious state of decay, and its value is pretty limited except perhaps to die-hand fans of the film.

Death Walks on High Heels includes nearly identical English and Italian trailers (the English one bills the film as Death Stalks on High Heels). Both films include modest Poster & Still Galleries. A booklet with "liner notes and talent bios" reportedly is included, though this reviewer didn't receive one.

The CD is a lot of fun, a mix of great retro-lounge party music and distinctly Italian cues. It's a terrific extra.

Parting Thoughts

The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set isn't perhaps the best place to begin an exploration of the Italian giallo, but it's a good supplement to any collection. The set is nicely packaged and another winner from NoShame's growing list of interesting titles.

(Update: "I just wanted to inform you about the fact that NoShame Films has officially announced on its webpage," writes journalist Marcus Pawelczyk, "There are some discs of Death Walks on High Heels that have a replication problem and will stop playing on certain players. Please find enclosed the link with further details."

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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