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Death Walks Twice: Two Films by Luciano Ercoli
Death Walks Twice, a new boxed set release from Arrow Video, re-issues two Giallo's directed by Luciano Ercoli that were previously made available on DVD together courtesy of the long, gone No Shame Films.
Death Walks On High Heels (1971):
Nicole (the beautiful Nieves Navarro as Susan Scott) is a beautiful French nightclub dancer who, when the movie begins, learns that her father Rochard, a professional jewel thief, was recently murdered on a train after stealing millions of dollars in diamonds and jewels. Shortly after the police inform her of this, she too is threatened by a mysterious and dangerous lunatic in a black ski mask hoping to coerce her into telling him where he dearly departed old man stashed the goods.
Nicole has no idea who the killer could be but was struck by how blue his eyes were. When she finds a pair of blue contact lenses stashed away amongst the stuff belonging to her boyfriend, Michel (Michael Aumont as Simon Andreu), she starts to wonder if he was behind it all. Worried that her life may be in danger, she gets help from Doctor Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff), an acquaintance of hers who just so happens to be an ophthalmologist! To keep her safe, he takes her back to England with him. Given that he and his wife, Vanessa (Claudie Lange), are in the midst of divorce proceedings he doesn't really seem to see anything wrong about what he's doing and even allows Nicole to pretend to be his wife while they hide out at a seaside home. Their idyllic life in hiding gets seriously rocked, however, when Michel shows and Robert is promptly shot by an unseen assailant.
Will the cops figure out who is behind all of this insanity before any more bodies start to pile up, or is Nicole doomed to live out what remains of her life in eternal fear of being murdered for her father's crimes? Only a blind man who exceptional hearing knows for sure!
Although Death Walks On High Heels is a little bit longer than it probably needs to be, it gives Giallo fans pretty much everything they could ask for. We get a few splashy, bloody and hyper-stylish murder scenes, a bizarre but effectives score courtesy of the great Stelvio Cipriani and a gorgeous lead actress in the form of Nieves Navarro (in one of her frequent collaborations with director Luciano Ercoli). The fact that the plot occasionally dips into somewhat ludicrous territory is secondary to the cheap thrills offered by the sex and the blood and the amazing camerawork from cinematographer Fernando Arribas.
The locations used for the portion of the movie that takes place in England look great and give the movie a different sort of feel when compared to so many other Giallos that take place in more cosmopolitan locations like Rome. Ercoli and Arrigas get the most out of this, and while there are probably a few too many red herrings and supporting characters introduced, most of this works quite well. Putting the beautiful Ms. Navarra (who was the director's wife for a while) front and center in the movie is never a bad thing and supporting work from Michael Aumont and Frank Wolff are quite fun.
Death Walks At Midnight (1972):
Death Walks At Midnight was director Luciano Ercoli's follow up to the success of 1970's Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and 1971's Death Walks On High Heels. Like its predecessors, the film proves to be an interesting and stylishly made thriller despite the absence of any truly over the top sex or violence (two staples of the Giallo sub-genre) save for a particularly grisly and fairly ruthless opening murder set piece.
In the film, a foxy supermodel type named Valentina (Nieves Navarro) is duped into trying a new experimental drug that has similar effects to those of LSD. She's given the drug and agrees to be a guinea pig and allow herself to be recorded on the condition that she remains anonymous. The tests begin and while under the drug she hallucinates that she sees a woman being brutally murdered by a man in some huge sunglasses with a spiky metal glove.
To her dismay, it turns out that she was photographed and that the findings of the experiment are made public in a scandalous newspaper article. Once this information is made public she finds that the man she saw in her hallucination is now stalking her in the real world. Not only that, but the police are starting to give her a hard time about some recent developments going on around town related to the murder she describes from her hallucination.
While the middle forty-minutes or so of this film are a little slow, they always at least look really good. Great sets, some wonderful camera movements, and of course, the lovely Ms. Navarro (credited once again under her preferred alias of Susan Scott) all add up to make Death Walks At Midnight a very good looking film. The ending as well is worth noting, as everything that has been building up during the first two thirds of the film all comes to a head in a wonderfully delirious conclusion. This is definitely a stranger film than your average Giallo, but that's to the picture's credit rather than its detriment and it makes the sometimes awkward pacing less of a problem.
Having said that, this is probably not the best giallo for newbies to start with, as it really is pretty out there. But for those who've seen most of the more well established entries and are looking to branch out into some more obscure titles, this little film is well worth tracking down. Ecroli's direction is nicely controlled and the script, from Ernesto Gastaldi and Spaghetti Western director extraordinaire Sergio Corbucci offers up plenty of wicked twists and crazy turns. The score from Gianni Ferrio is also pretty memorable and it does a fine job of accentuating the film's more dramatic moments, particularly the tripper set pieces that Ercoli incorporates into the movie when Valentina goes under the influence.
Both films are presented in brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and they look fantastic. Detail is strong in both features, especially in close up shots but hardly limited to those as you'll notice while the movies play out. There's excellent depth and texture here as well and color reproduction is beautiful. Black levels are nice and strong and there's very little actual print damage here, just a normal looking coat of film grain. The discs are also very well authored with each feature getting a pretty healthy bit rate. As such, there are no problems with any obvious compression artifacts nor is there any heavy edge enhancement or noise reduction to note. The aforementioned No Shame DVD release looked great for its time, but this Blu-ray offers a significant upgrade in clarity, detail, texture and depth.
Arrow presents both films in your choice of the original Italian and English soundtracks in LPCM mono audio with newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks. Regardless of which option you choose for either film you'll get nicely balanced audio with strong clarity, good resonance and decent range. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and the movies' respective scores sound noticeably more detailed and powerful than on the past DVD release. The removable subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read.
Both films contain audio commentary tracks from Tim Lucas and as anyone who has heard his commentaries before will tell you, they're well laid out, interesting and always worth listening to. For both films, Lucas lays out the history of the picture, presents some context for them in terms of how things may have influenced what we see, and notes plenty of interesting directorial and stylish flourishes. He does a fine job of offering up plenty of biographical detail not just on the key players like Navarro and Ercoli but on some of the lesser known accomplices involved in each production.
Extras for Death Walks On High Heels also include a new introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi that is brief at under two minutes but welcome regardless. More substantial and interesting is a newly edited archival interview with director Luciano Ercoli and actress Nieves Navarro that was conducted in 2012 entitled From Spain With Love. Here the two interviewees share some stories about their work together and wax nostalgic about some of the co-stars that they were involved with while working on these films. Master Of Giallo is a brand new interview with Ernesto Gastaldi that covers Death Walks On High Heels in quite a bit of detail from the writer's perspective. This thirty-two minute piece is pretty interesting as he details some interesting plot points and also gives his thoughts on what you need to work into your script to write a proper Giallo movie! Death Walks To The Beat gets composer Stelvio Cipriani on camera to share his memories of working on the film and to discuss what went into creating the score he provided for this feature.
Rounding out the extras are original Italian and English language theatrical trailers, menus and chapter selection.
Extras for Death Walks On High Heels also includes a quick introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, which gives a quick rundown as to his thoughts on the picture and some of his experiences writing it. Also included on the disc is the extended TV version of the film that runs roughly four minutes longer than the theatrical version of the movie. This is taken from a tape source and it's clearly cropped when compared to the widescreen presentation but it's an interesting alternate as it extends some of the strange flashback scenes and also pads out the confessional speech (we'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers). This version is presented in Italian with English subtitles and again, it's not in great shape but better to have it included here than to not!
This disc also includes two new featurettes. The first one is Crime Does Pay, a half hour interview with Gastaldi where he talks about writing Death Walks At Midnight and then some of the other crime and Giallo films that played such a big part in his career during the boom years of Italian genre cinema. He also talks about some interesting uncredited/ghost-writing jobs that he took in his early days and how he and his wife, actress Mara Maryl, basically arranged their careers around one another. The second featurette is Desperately Seeking Susan and it's a twenty-eight minute long visual essay by Michael Mackenzie that examines the collaborations between director Luciano Ercoli and actress Nieves Navarro in Giallo cinema.
Each movie is presented in its own clear Blu-ray case that comes with a DVD version of the movie inside it as well. The individual cover art inserts for each movie contain new artwork from Gilles Vranckx on one side and original poster art on the flip side. These fit inside a cardboard slipcover that also contains a limited edition full color sixty-page booklet with essays on the films from authors Danny Shipka, Troy Howarth and Leonard Jacobs that is nicely illustrated with original archival stills and posters as well as some unique artwork.
Death Walks Twice is Arrow at the top of their game. While completists may want to hold onto the older No Shame set for the extras that are exclusive to that release (it included a soundtrack CD), the presentations for both films are top notch and the new supplements extensive and interesting. The movies themselves hold up quite well, both pictures providing plenty of thrills and suspenseful entertainment with just the right amount of sex and violence to go along with it. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.