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us title: Death Walks at Midnight
italian title: La morte accarezza a mezzanotte
year: 1972
director: Luciano Ercoli
composer: Gianni Ferrio
full details: IMDB
overall score: 84

Bottom Line: Must-See
A quintessential example of the genre.

WARNING: Spoilers Below

score analysis

I have to admit that I've had a bit of writer's block in approaching this film. Maybe it's because I still don't know how I feel about it. Luciano Ercoli's 3rd and final Giallo in a series that is loosely connected via its cast (specifically Ercoli's wife Nieves Navarro, Simón Andreu and writer Ernesto Gastaldi), performs well on the Giallo Score and is very entertaining at times.

But there's something off here. 

Perhaps it's Nieves Navarro's portrayal of Valentina as the vibrant and headstrong female protagonist. Something rarely seen in Gialli and a role that takes some getting used to. Instead of the sexy, barely dressed and slightly vulnerable supporting female character seen in the first two films, Valentina commands a greater amount of respect from the audience and any sort of love or nude scene seems inappropriate.

Or maybe it's the underemphasis on the mystery. Most of the running time is spent on Valentina pursuing (or being pursued by) the mysterious man in the glasses. All of the lose ends are eventually tied together by the end film but the explanations are a bit ridiculous (even for Giallo standards). As suggested on our podcast covering this film, this might be due to the fact that the script was written backwards, with the final scenes written first and all the exposition leading up to the ending written after.

Nevertheless, there is a lot going on in this film that keeps it securely locked within the Giallo characterization. The most obvious of which is the early scene where Valentina witnesses a murder under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug and then spends the rest of the film trying to decipher what she saw. This trope of the "establishing scene" is used often in Gialli and can be a very effective plot device. The added flavor of the experimental drug allows Gestaldi to exploit the "uncredible witness" trope to an even higher degree than in The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. After all, experimental hallucinogenic drugs alter reality way more than tranquilizers and Scotch!

The films scores a perfect 10 on signatures but loses points for the omission of any nude scenes. Considering all of the skin on display in Death Walks on High Heels it seems odd that Ercoli would allow his wife to keep her clothes on for this film. But again this is probably more related to her role as the film's protagonist. As for the black gloves, I applied a slightly more liberal interpretation of the rule here. There are black gloves everywhere, but they're not specifically linked to a killer. However, the decision to include them in the points was influenced by the extremely iconic shot of Valentina with a noose around her neck and a black glove over her mouth.

Despite my waffling on this film, Death Walks at Midnight seems to be a solid entry in the Giallo canon. The pacing never seems to drag and only slows when appropriate to accommodate a suspense scene. Ercoli's demonstrates his usual prowess for visual style and Gianni Ferrio's swinging soundtrack is used sparingly enough to be effective. As far as a recommendation, this really is a must see Giallo. However I would suggest that those who haven't seen any of Ercoli's Gialli watch them in chronological order to really get a sense of how this cast and crew evolved over their 3 year period of working together.

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score breakdown

Hint: Hover over a score item for more details
Staples : 50/60
Italian Director10 points
Hidden Identity10 points
Black Gloves5 points
Amateur Detective5 points
Classic Period (1970 - 1975)5 points
Motivation: Blackmail/Gain5 points
Avoid Capture: Killed by Police or other character5 points
Director > 15 points
Standards : 24/30
Body Count >= 34 points
Flashback Revelation3 points
Italian Location3 points
Mistaken Identity2 points
More than one killer or accomplice4 points
Suspects >= 34 points
Urban Location4 points
Signatures : 10/10
Animal, Number, Color, or "Death" in title1 point
Chase scene1 point
Comic Relief Character1 point
Death from Falling1 point
Dolls/Dummies1 point
Foreigner1 point
J&B1 point
Photography/Glamor/Modeling/Art1 point
Prove Innocence1 point
Visual Misinterpretation1 point
Total Points : 84/100



Death Walks at Midnight might be Luciano Ercolis final gallo, but it's not the last instalment in the Death series. Spain's budget answer to Edwige Fenech and George Hilton, Nieves Navarro and Simón Andreu, both appear in Maurizio Pradeaux's 1973 giallo Passi di danza su una lama di rasoio (aka Death Carries A Cane). Pradeaux also directed one other giallo, the 1977 giallo comedy Death Steps in the Dark. It features some of the dumbest characters I've ever witnessed in the genre.

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Published: 2015-04-09