The Films (3.5/5 - Death Walks on High Heels, 4.5/5 - Death Walks at Midnight)
The giallo for those who are reading this and may not be aware is a genre of Italian thriller that blended extreme violence, lurid sex, and occasionally bizarre and illogical plots They are usually quite stylish in their design, though some like the popular Fifth Cord certainly go for a more straightforward visual aesthetic. For a certain group of fans, of which I include myself these films are an addiction. They were initially inspired by paperback mystery thrillers that were popular in Italy, these books featured yellow covers, and the Italian word for yellow is giallo, and thus the genre had a name from the very beginning.
During the initial DVD boom of the early 2000's gialli were released quite frequently by genre labels due to the popularity of Italian horror with home viewing audiences at the time, but many of those early releases have gone out of print, and not many have seen re-release on the Blu-ray format outside of the films of some of the more iconic directors like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Sergio Martino.
Arrow Video in their seemingly never-ending mission to release the coolest genre cinema in the best possible editions have gotten their hands on a number of gialli recently and have been getting them on to Blu-ray in some pretty nice packages. This month they have released a pairing of film's by the director Luciano Ercoli in a set entitled Death Walks Twice featuring 2 of Ercoli's entries into the giallo genre Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight. These were released in the past on DVD by the now defunct No Shame DVD label and have been long out of print on American shores for some time, and have been in serious need of an upgrade.
Death Walks on High Heels is chronologically the first film in the set. The film stars Ercoli's then wife Nieves Navarro (under the more American pseudonym Susan Scott) as Nicole Rouchard. Nicole is a nightclub dancer in France, and as the film begins, her Father, who is a jewel thief is quickly and suddenly murdered while on a train after committing a very lucrative robbery. Almost as soon as she finds out about her Father's murder she too is attacked, by a man with blue eyes in a black mask. She soon finds a pair of blue contacts in the possession of her boyfriend, and comes to the obvious conclusion that he tried to kill her to get access to the jewels she is assumed to have.
Nicole, however, decides to run to off to England with Robert, a man who has an eye for her, who just so happens to be in the midst of a divorce. The pair set up in his seaside vacation home, while the divorce is going on, and she hopes that the cops figure out who is behind her Father's murder, and her attack. Unfortunately, violence isn't far behind when Robert is shot, and her ex-boyfriend happens to show back up on the scene.
Death Walks on High Heels is an interesting entry in the giallo genre. Everything you could want in a single giallo is here in this film, and then some. There is some solid violence strewn throughout the piece. The plot has enough wild twist and turns to keep even the most diehard fans watching, and Navarro makes a quite decent lead. The problem is that the film could probably have been about half an hour shorter, and been much better. I don't mind a film that throws everything it wants at the screen idea-wise, but it feels like Ercoli and his collaborators didn't really know what direction they wanted to go, and just decided to put all their ideas on screen good or bad, and in this case the result affects the pacing of the film enough that it is quite noticeable. That being said the film is overall a solid giallo thriller that is sure to please hardcore genre fans.
Death Walks at Midnight is fantastic. It improves on Death Walks on High Heels in almost every conceivable way. The film again stars Nieves Navarro (again using the name Susan Scott). In this film she plays Valentina, a model who is given a dose of an experimental hallucinogen. While under it's influenced she is recorded to observe her behavior, however, while under it's influence she also sees a woman murdered by a man using a spiked gauntlet. She believes it is an effect of the hallucinogen. That is until she is released back into reality, and an article on the drug is published in the newspaper. When this happens the killer she thought was a hallucination begins stalking her.
Death Walks at Midnight is a much tighter film in general than it's direct predecessor. It starts out with a bang, and though it doesn't maintain a solid pacing throughout, it does enough interesting things in it's running time to keep things moving solidly along. All this builds up to a conclusion in the third act that is an absolute blast to watch, and is strong enough to recommend the film on that alone. Navarro performs will in this film, and Ercoli's direction is again quite solid here. For giallo enthusiasts this film is a must.
Audio/Video (4/5, 4/5)
Arrow Video again does tremendous work bringing obscure genre oddities into the HD universe. Both Death Walks films are presented in 2:35:1 1080p AVC encoded transfers. Detail is strong with both films, colors are more natural in these films, and are reproduced well, and blacks are solid. There is a nice organic grain structure throughout both films presentations. There are a few minor instances of damage from the source material, but it's very minor is surely not a distraction.
The audio is presented in both English and Italian LPCM mono tracks. The tracks sound quite good with both films scores and dialogue coming through nicely.
Arrow really went all out for their release of Death Walks Twice. The Blu-ray contains commentary tracks on both films by the always informative Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark). Both films features introductions by screenwriter Ernersto Gastaldi. Both films feature extended interviews with Gastaldi about each and the High Heels disc also sees him go into detail about how to turn a script into a giallo. High Heels also features a featurette featuring interviews with the late Ercoli and the still quite living Navarro. It also features an interview with composer Cipriani. Midnight features an excellent visual essay on Navarro, and an extended TV version. Both films feature theatrical trailers. The set is rounded off with a booklet of liner notes by Danny Shipka, Leonard Jacobs, and Troy Howarth.
The Death Walks films have received excellent treatment by No Shame films on DVD, but it was certainly time to get them back in print and in HD, and Arrow has done that with style. The Blu-ray editions for both films look and sound amazing, and they are loaded up with fantastic extras.