Judge Paul Corupe thinks it's great that NoShame puts such detail into their releases, but does the DVD have to smell like someone slaughtered a cow?
The Sweet Perversion of Ercoli in the Yellow House of the Killer Three-Disc Set
Of all the previously untapped genres that have exploded onto DVD, none have made quite as big an impact as the giallo—those stylishly shot Italian thrillers with the hilarious, often completely nonsensical titles. A decade ago, few could even pronounce the term, but today, a steady stream of these sexy slashers has pushed the genre to the forefront of Euro-cult fandom. NoShame Films, a DVD outfit devoted to releasing the hidden gems of Italian cinema, wowed collectors last year with superlative releases of two top-notch gialli by Sergio Martino, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, and they've done it again withThe Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set, a highly enjoyable box set which offers Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight, a pair of stunning spaghetti mysteries made in the space of two years with almost the exact same casts.
Facts of the Case
In Death Walks on High Heels, French nightclub dancer Nicole Rochard (Susan Scott, All the Colors of the Dark) is terrorized by a darkly-clad man with brilliant blue eyes who demands that she reveal the whereabouts of a hidden a stash of diamonds belonging to her jewel thief father. Convinced that the mysterious man is her boyfriend, Michael (Simon Andreu, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), Nicole flees Paris for a seaside love nest with an English suitor, Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff, The Great Silence), but still cannot seem to escape her pursuer.
Death Walks at Midnight brings back Scott as fashion model Valentina, who experiments with a new hallucinogenic drug to help newspaper writer Gio (Andreu) with a story. Immediately, Valentina is overcome by a vision of a generously coiffed killer in dark glasses plunging a spiked metal glove into the face of a woman in the vacant apartment across the street. After coming to her senses, she demands to know if whole thing was simply imagined, or if the drug somehow set a repressed memory free. When Gio publishes his story, Valentina finds out that the murder did occur, and she must solve the killer's identity herself—if she doesn't wind up perforated first.
Though producer-turned-director Luciano Ercoli only directed a fistful of gialli—the two presented here, plus 1970's Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (due out soon from Blue Underground)—it's undeniable that he brought his own special twist to the Italian thriller. Unlike some of the more sadistic and sleazy gialli, which seem to exist only to fetishize the act of murder itself with a complete disregard for story or logic, Death Walks on High Heels, and Death Walks at Midnight are well-plotted films that make excellent use of intense imagery and a hypnotic use of flashbacks and visions.
Death Walks on High Heels is the real jewel here, a constantly winding path of murder, mayhem, and masquerade that notably departs from the giallo formula with a fascinating, Hitchcock-inspired plot twist half way through. Though somewhat convoluted, the carefully revealed back-story does make sense, and the film teases the viewer with the virtually indecipherable mystery until the very last frame. Every shot, especially those with Scott, is just beautifully captured by cinematographer Fernando Arribas, who uses dynamic compositions to emphasize the script's emphasis on eyes and seeing, an allegory that recalls The Bird with the Crystal Plumage—especially when Dr. Matthews is shot and almost killed in front of a patient, a blind man who only recalls the high-heeled footfalls of the suspect. Death Walks on High Heels eschews much of the nudity and violence that has become synonymous with the giallo, but it works incredibly well as a mind-twisting whodunit; it's easily among the finest, most well-crafted examples of the genre I've yet to see.
Death Walks at Midnight, based on a script by spaghetti western master Sergio Corbucci (Django), isn't quite as notable, but it's still an entertaining flick in its own right. A much more conventional giallo that again borrows from the Dario Argento school of thrillers, the plot makes a little bit less sense, but cranks up the visceral thrills to compensate. The creepy killer is the real attraction of this film—sporting wild hair and dark Elvis glasses, he brutally kills several girls with his sinister barbed gauntlet in Valentina's psychedelic-tinged memories, and keeps popping up in unlikely places through the narrative, scaring the model half to death until she can unravel the whole sordid story. Scott, also director Ercoli's wife, gets a much juicer role this time out, an incredibly strong heroine who's as sexy as she is smart, not content to just play the victim as she might in less accomplished films. Still, at more than 100 minutes, Death Walks at Midnight gets bogged down in the middle and probably doesn't have enough bloody killings to satisfy modern horror fans as Scott endlessly shuttles back and forth across Naples on wild chases with a variety of disbelieving friends and acquaintances. Still, Arribas' camerawork is as sharp as ever, and the film is simply a joy to look at.
NoShame Film's impressive The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set also benefits from an excellent presentation—both films are offered in gorgeous 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers, with bright, bold colors and not a speck of dust, debris or digital meddling to be seen. Purists will also be happy to discover that the films can be watched either in Italian with English subtitles, or in English with the included dub track (though switching on the fly has been disabled). As for extras, Death Walks on High Heels gets a pair of trailers and an image gallery, while Death Walks at Midnight gets a second gallery and can also be viewed in its English TV version, which adds a few inconsequential dialogue scenes, but suffers from some print damage. The major bonus feature is the set's third disc, a CD collecting the brilliant soundtrack work of Stelvio Cipriani, Ercoli's composer of choice. NoShame had previously offered a CD of Euro soundtrack cues with their DVD of The Last Round, but they were modern day covers; this is the real deal, and it's an excellent addition. Though none of the selections on this 18 track album are from these two films, aficionados of the Easy Tempo series and composers like Piero Umiliani and Piero Piccioni will flip for this platter of grooved-out organ and psychedelic instrumental funk.
Packaging both Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight together on the same release was a great idea by NoShame, but the inclusion of the Cipriani CD as an extra truly makes this an essential giallo release.
A stellar presentation of a DVD above suspicion.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Death Walks On High Heels
Perp Profile, Death Walks On High Heels
Studio: NoShame Films
Distinguishing Marks, Death Walks On High Heels
Scales of Justice, Death Walks At Midnight
Perp Profile, Death Walks At Midnight
Studio: NoShame Films
Distinguishing Marks, Death Walks At Midnight
• Still Gallery
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.