Director: Luciano Ercoli
Script: Ernesto Gastaldi & May Velasco
Cast: Simon Andreu, Susan Scott, Peter Martel, Carlo Gentili, Ivan Staccioli, Claudie Lange
Running time: 102 minutes
Death Walks at Midnight is another nicely shot giallo thriller by Luciano Ercoli, a director who seemed to specialise in these so-called ‘yellow’ Italian thrillers during the early nineteen seventies. This was the third film to be shot by director Ercoli (sounds like bacteria!) with the same leading lady, namely Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott). The previous of which, Death walks in High Heels, also featured in Arrow Video’s Death Walks Twice… (Highly collectable) box-set, and is now being released separately, like this movie, too.
Valentino (Susan Scott) agrees to help a journalist friend out by being a test subject for a new hallucinogenic drug so he can write about her experiences. Understandably she goes a bit delirious, and is later convinced that she saw a murder happening in her mind’s eye; a murder committed by a weird-looking man with a spiked glove. Because of his subsequent newspaper article about her, Valentino gets fired from her agency job and vows to have nothing more to do with journalist Joe, who tries to apologise. She runs to her boyfriend Stephano, who also isn’t happy with her recent unwanted publicity. The newspaper article also brings her to the attention of the killer she saw during her out-of-body experience and he begins to stalk her.
Death Walks at Midnight becomes a rather surreal tale of mind-bending drugs and dream-like murders, with a good dose of conspiracies and betrayal thrown in for good measure. It also features the usual inept giallo cops, an unsympathetic boyfriend and an anti-hero who’s more often than not quite annoying in his treatment of the poor heroine. There’s also the normal kind of plot contrivances that you see in Italian features of this ilk, contrivances that are shoehorned into the script just to keep the story moving along in vaguely the right direction.
Fans of lounge- jazz music will ‘dig’ the cool soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio, while most cineastes will enjoy Lucianno Ercoli’s stylish framing of shots. In fact, like Ercoli’s other gialli, Death Walks at Mindnight is nicely shot and well-made, and features some interesting, if not particularly endearing, characters.
Sadly, the film is a little slow-paced and, to my mind, there are too few murders to hold the viewer’s interest. I also found that Scott’s acting could be a little OTT at times, but she’s such a charismatic actress you generally don’t care. Oh, and what’s with the dead cat?!
Things do pick up again towards the end, resulting in an exciting action-packed final 15 minutes or so to reward those who’ve managed to stay awake through the slower, more confusing middle bits…
Overall I think Death Walks in High Heels might be the stronger of these two Arrow releases, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in Death Walks at Midnight so I’d certainly recommend that fans of Italian thrillers check it out.
Arrow Video are distributing Death Walks at Midnight on DVD and Blu-Ray. As per usual for Arrow Video there are plenty of special features including:
An introduction to the film by the director (2 mins);
An audio commentary with author, and editor of Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas;
Desperately seeking Susan (28 mins) – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the giallo collaborations between the director and actress Nieves Navarro, aka Susan Scott. These include the films: Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1970), Death Walks in High Heels (1971), and Death Walks at Midnight (1972). Death Carries a Cane (1973) was the director’s next giallo. Mackenzie talks about the strong characters Scott plays, which are rather atypical for this kind of film subgenre.
Crime does pay (31 mins) – an interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi who explains how to write a good giallo and talks about Death Walks at Midnight being his second screenplay for the same producers.
Death Walks at Midnight – the TV version (106 mins) – contains scenes which aren’t in the theatrical cut, scenes which have only previously been seen on Italian television.