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No Shame Films presents
The Luciano Ercoli Death Box (Death Walks on High Heels/Death Walks at Midnight) (1971-1972)

Valentina: What if I'm killed? Ever think of that?
Gio: Oh, great, our magazine would scoop the competition.

- Susan Scott, Simon Andreu

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 28, 2006

Stars: Frank Wolff, Susan Scott, Simon Andreu, Carlo Gentili, Claudie Lange
Other Stars: Georges Rigaud, Peter Martell, Ivano Staccioli, Luciano Rossi
Director: Luciano Ercoli

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore, nudity, sensuality, eye surgery, drug use, cruelty to animals)
Run Time: 03h:29m:25s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 882853002291
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+AC+ B

DVD Review

As most of the big names in the Italian suspense thriller, the giallo, have been released on DVD (with Four Flies on Grey Velvet still being held back by Paramount), it's only natural that the studios turn to less well-known representatives of the genre. But that doesn't mean that they're any less intriguing, entertaining or gruesome. Case in point: this set of two similarly-titled pictures from Luciano Ercoli, starring his wife Susan Scott (Nieves Navarro) in the lead. With some brilliant set-pieces and some excellent suspense, they more than hold their own with the likes of Argento and Bava.

Death Walks in High Heels (La Morte cammina con i tacchi alti, 1971) is a twisted tale that has a complicated plot structure guaranteed to surprise, but all the classic elements of the giallo are here in spades, from black-gloved murderer to psychosexual weirdness. Scott stars as high-class Parisian stripper Nicole Rochard, who is being stalked with threatening phone calls culminating in a visit from a blue-eyed maniac wielding a straight razor, going on about some diamonds. When she discovers blue contact lenses in the possession of her lover Michel (Simon Andreu), Nicole panics and leaves the continent for England with her obsessive fan, surgeon Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff). But the bodies continue to pile up, and matters become even more complicated when Nicole receives a threatening visit from Dr. Matthews' wife Vanessa (Claudie Lange).

By far the more brutal film of the pair, it's also the most sexually twisted, with throwaway cross-dressing, sexual obsession and POV voyeurism shots aplenty. It's frequently witty, with brazen silliness showing up at times; one example of the latter is a drunken Michel being taken by the police to throw up out a window; the film cuts to an overhead shot of the stoic bobby being splattered with vomit below. The middle-aged inspector (Carlo Gentili) disables suspects with karate chops, raising the kitsch factor far up. That comic relief is necessary since several of the killings are truly horrific, with savage cruelties being inflicted in quite convincing manner. The central romance between Matthews and Nicole is steamy though somewhat nonsexual; the highlight of their relationship is their participation in an even more erotic bout of eating than that in Richardson's Tom Jones.

The followup, Death Walks at Midnight (La Morte accarezza a mezzanote, 1972), from a story by director Sergio Corbucci, provides an equally engaging mystery while including a particularly iconic murder weapon. Supermodel Valentina (Scott) is convinced to take a hallucinatory drug by yellow journalist Giovanni Baldi (Andreu) as part of an experiment for his tabloid. But during her trip she sees a woman being viciously killed by a man armed with a spiked iron glove. She attempts to laugh it off, but then she learns that a woman really was killed in such a manner six months before, and things become even worse when she spots the killer on the street. Before long, she's been pulled into a web of intrigue involving serial murders, drug trafficking, tapdancing lunatics and of course the gloved killer. But since her bout with the drug was so well-publicized, the police are not particularly interested in her plight, believing it to be either a flashback to her hallucinations or a publicity stunt cooked up by Baldi.

This is an interesting piece of drug chic from the early 1970s, and it has some terrific suspense sequences. Particularly good is the photography, which makes the most of the moody settings and ominous shadows. Scott is particularly engaging in this picture, combining a classical beauty with a highly expressive face. She is quite sympathetic in her predicament, reacting to the disbelief of everyone around her with a slow burn and a sardonic humor. It isn't surprising that she would spend much of the rest of the 1970s doing Italian sex comedies. Carlo Gentili plays a police inspector in both films, and although not the same character they're barely distinguishable. The setpieces, and especially the armored glove, however, set the picture apart and make it a definitely memorable experience.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks just fine, with plenty of detail and no significant artifacting. Some people have reported seeing PAL conversion artifacts on No Shame's transfers, but even on close inspection I don't see any such problem. One sequence that is heavily red does appear oversaturated and the result makes the line structure readily apparent, but otherwise I was quite satisfied with the appearance of these pictures, which display virtually no damage.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: 2.0 audio tracks are provided in both Italian and English; the dubbing work on the English track is quite good and many of the cast members appear to be speaking their lines in English, but tastes for which one is best may vary; as usual for Italian films, both the English and the Italian tracks are dubs, and the actors may have been speaking practically any language on the set. Midnight includes a portion that was dubbed into English for export, but not into Italian, so that remains in English language. There is plenty of hiss (worse on Midnight) and no significant lower range. For some inexplicable reason, switching audio tracks on the fly is disabled.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:44m:27s/00h:29m:20s

Extra Extras:
  1. Soundtrack CD
  2. Galleries
  3. Television version of Death Walks at Midnight
Extras Review: No Shame makes up a deluxe package with each film on its own DVD, plus a bonus CD featuring music from films scored by Stelvio Cipriani, who provided the music for Death Walks in High Heels, though oddly enough that film is omitted from the cues provided on this CD. Fans of Euro lounge music will certainly be happy to have the disc nonetheless. An Italian and English trailer for High Heels appear on that picture's disc, but no trailer is to be found for Midnight. Each DVD includes a weak gallery of a poster and five very poorly reproduced photos from their respective movies. Midnight includes as a significant bonus the longer (by nearly four minutes) television cut of that film, which is badly panned-and-scanned. The additional scenes are mostly conversations in subtitled Italian, while the film proper is in English. It's kind of a mess and little more than a curiosity, but it certainly is nice to have the availability of this alternate cut. Finally, there's a solid booklet in tiny type that unfortunately is grey on grey and thus rather difficult to read without a magnifier and a strong ligh, at least for my aged eyes. But the content, an essay plus substantial bios of three of the stars, is certainly worth the struggle.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A closely tied pair of blood-soaked gialli, with the usual fine transfer and some useful extras. Highly recommended for the fan of the subgenre.

 


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