May 31, 2006

DECENT GIALLO - DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT – REVIEW 15


So this movie doesn’t have the Kudos as Profondo Rosso or the drug induced delirium of ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)’ but ‘Death Walks at Midnight’ does have its’ merits.

This is director Ercolis’ follow up to his previous giallo; the wonderfully titled ‘Forbidden Photographs of a Lady above Suspicion’, and like this movie ‘Death Walks….’ is an ‘unusual’ for a giallo as it contains less explicit sex and violence than others from this stable of genre.


The heroine does not feature nude in any sequence with only a bit of dress ripping at the end by some thugs.

‘Death Walks…’ moves along quite merrily and tantalises us with odd splashes of crimson but they take second fiddle to the intensity of plot knee deep in red herrings.

The murder weapon is quite a bit of genius and the misogynistic psycho-sexual representation is that of a spiked glove. This is used to bash the unfortunate victim into oblivion and can be explcitly viewed in the films terrific opening premise.


What the film is guilty of is the tendency to ‘plod’ for about 45 minutes in the middle of the movie. There are some saving graces however, Susan Scott plays the titular heroine and she plays the character with refreshing emancipation and hot headedness.

Susan Scott (real name Nieves Navarro) is very likeable in her characterisation of ‘Valentina’. It could be argued that this film is a vehicle for her talents and it is no surprise that she was in fact the wife of director Luciano Ercoli.

This gave Ms. Scott plenty of ‘exposure’ opportunity though she still didn’t quite manage to steal Fenechs’ crown.

Scott also was used as a fellow contemporary thesp up against ‘Edwige Fenech’ arguably one of the most well remembered of the giallo heroines.


Personally I preferred Susan Scott’s outing, although Fenech can play ‘wierded out’ very well and adds so much to the giallo atmosphere she also, personally, gets on my nerves after a while.

With Scott this didn’t happen and I found my interest in her role and character never waning even if shittily dubbed on the region 2 version I picked up.


Scott is definitely no ‘carcase for show’ and tears away from the ‘dumb cannon fodder/clothes horse’ we have come to known and love in Giallo and instead goes for a more ballsy portrayal.

The soundtrack too is fabulous and pulls out all the stops when it comes to some classic funky vibe only found in movies of this ilk courtesy of Mr Gianni Ferrio.

THE PLOT

For the plum story in a magazine, beautiful model ‘Valentina’ agrees to ‘trip’ under the influence of a new powerful hallucinatory H.D.S

At the peak of her trip and as Valentina looks out of her flat window into the flat opposite, she witnesses the horrifying slaughter of a young woman.


The woman is being repeatedly smashed in the face with a spiked glove which looks distinctly ‘medieval’ as well as a vicious means of dishing out punishment.

The perpetrator of this spiked fist fury is a small chap in a trench coat sporting some very ‘retro’ looking shades (dear, dear, early 70’s!)


When ‘Valentina’ returns to our world she begins seeing this little man cropping up all over the place leaving her baffled, bewildered and very edgy. Along comes ‘Veruschka’ (Claudine Lange) in her ‘covet from afar’ Rolls Royce and asks Valentina to help her find her sister who has mysteriously disappeared. Then she is whisked off to a mental asylum and in a rather ‘uncomfortable’ sequence of events gets left there.

Surrounded by madness and thinking it won’t before long she finds herself in bedlam Valentina asks the help of her boyfriend the chain smoking, instantly likeable Gio Baldi. (Simón Andreu).

With another death imminently looming Valentina finds herself in the thick of things and in a true femme fatale fashion way, out of her depth completely with all things nasty.

RETROSPECT

I wonder if Valentina was either a very popular name for feisty emancipated females of the 24-35 age bracket or a flash in the pan ‘heroine’ similar to dear Emmanuelle. This isn’t the first time I have come across this name in similar character format and I can draw parallels between this and ‘Baba Yaga’ (1973) Corrado Farinas’ smashing s/m tinted late ‘pop art’ entry.


Both feature Valentina as well as the mysterious ‘older’, melancholy but foxy aristo. In Yaga Valentina is a fashion photographer in this Valentina has switched to becoming the muse. I would need more evidence to back this up so will trawl away and see what I can find. Unless anyone in cyber land can help me out?

Plus there are the works of fabulous s/m comic strip cartoonist Guido Crepax to consider which may have had some significant cultural hold of Italy at the time? ah, questions , questions.

I believe there is a superior print as part of an Ercoli box set on region 1 but I sat through the Mondo Macabro Region 2 version, the print was clear but at certain points I noticed two bands of brown/yellow colour filtered on to the print so although no action was obscured the dip in clarity over these scenes were noticeable.


Region 2 is also dubbed and its a poor show with this and due to much translation loss it would’ve been a ‘nice to have’ and I find its’ better to follow subs in Giallos as I find the plot sinks in more making better sense of some of the most convoluted yarns.

Despite the couple of flaws, even if the ratio seemed slightly to cock and the print seemingly stained with gravy at irregular intervals, I don’t think it would improve on the main crux of the movie if it was the whistle and bells version or something less superior you were watching.

It’s an enjoyable bit of viewing but it is a good example of giallo done well and doesn’t seem to want to be anything more or anything less really. Borrow a copy.

The Movie; Death Walks at Midnight (a.k.a Morte accarezza a mezzanotte, La, Death Caresses at Midnight, Muerte acaricia a medianoche, La )

The Year: 1972

The Country; Italy / Spain

The Director; Luciano Ercoli

The Music; Gianni Ferrio

The Players;

Nieves Navarro (Susan Scott) as Valentina

Simón Andreu as Gio Baldi

Pietro Martellanza (Peter Martell) as Stefano

Claudie Lange as Verushka Wuttenberg

Carlo Gentili as Inspector Seripa




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