UK Release Date: 28th March 2016
Runtime: 105 minutes / 103 minutes
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Writer: Ernesto Gastaldi, May Velasco, Dino Verde
Starring: Nieves Navarro, Simón Andreu, Frank Wolff, Pietro Martellanza, Carlo Gentili, Claudio Pellegrini
Synopsis: Two films from the Italian giallo horror boom of the early 1970s, featuring murder, mayhem and bucketloads of blood.
Derived from the Italian word for the yellow covers of cheap mystery stories, “giallo” cinema was hugely popular in Europe in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Perhaps its most famous filmmaker was Dario Argento, with films such as Deep Red heralded as among the best horror movies ever made. In the early 1970s, giallo filmmaker Luciano Ercoli teamed up with his Spanish wife Nieves Navarro for Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972), which are being released as double bill boxset Death Walks Twice on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Films.
Both films in the set are obviously characteristic of the genre, focusing on intricate mystery narratives centered around Navarro’s “woman in peril” and punctuated with splattery, garish sequences of ultraviolence. Each film packs in a fair share of narrative surprises and has enough excitement to offset the low budgets, shlocky filmmaking and often laughably poor acting. Giallo is rarely the pinnacle of filmmaking, but it’s often incredibly entertaining.
In Death Walks on High Heels, Navarro stars as the stripper daughter of a diamond thief who is brutally murdered on a train. She is then pursued by an assailant with piercing blue eyes and flees to England with a punter, only to discover that the prospect of a brutal death has followed her. Meanwhile, in Death Walks at Midnight, a drug-fuelled vision sees Navarro’s model tormented by a man who kills with a spiked glove and is determined to hide his murderous secret.
It’s the only spot on the coast where the sun comes out… sometimes.
Neither film in the Death Walks Twice set is without flaws. Both showcase the vision of a director in Luciano Ercoli who refuses to be reined in and is just as prepared to deploy an oddball zoom or a strange tracking shot as he is to splatter the frame with claret. He often overreaches, but this does give the film a unique visual style that means no two scenes are ever the same. It’s clear that this is a filmmaker who loves the camera and is determined to use it exactly how he wants, even if it gives his films a rather rough quality. This same roughness transfers into Navarro’s performances, which are all flesh and screaming, without much in the way of emotional depth.
Death Walks at Midnight is by far the better of the two films, with its spiked glove a pleasingly bizarre weapon of choice. Ercoli does a solid job of maintaining a consistent sense of suspense throughout the film, helped by Claudio Pellegrini’s genuinely creepy presence when he appears in the frame. The film weaves towards a conclusion that is more zany than it is intelligent, but Navarro is a pretty compelling lead and the arterial spray arrives often enough to sustain the momentum of the storytelling.
This cannot, unfortunately, be said for much of Death Walks on High Heels, which is an entirely different proposition. It’s more of a mystery thriller than the straight horror of its counterpart and is more driven by the narrative twists and turns of its third act than the ludicrously over-cranked violence that characterises the giallo subgenre. There’s a certain plodding monotony to the opening hour or so, but it really comes alive when the machinations of the plot start to creak into gear and there are some genuinely surprising revelations in amongst some violence that has the power to shock even in the desensitised 21st century.
If you are determined about something, it’s bound to come out in the way you walk.
There are certainly aspects of the Death Walks Twice films that are dated and will seem hokey to a modern audience, but it does give them a certain ropey charm. They’re films held together by the sheer desire of the people who made them and, for all of their flaws, they deserve to be seen as relics of a subgenre that was once a major player in horror cinema. With films like Amer and Berberian Sound Studio attempting to resurrect elements of the giallo for modern audiences, it’s worth taking a look at the genre’s exploitation roots… and marvelling at the bloodshed.
It’s the usual solid bunch of extras from Arrow, including audio commentaries from critic Tim Lucas and a number of newly edited interviews with director Luciano Ercoli. There are also brand new chats with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who provides introductions for both films. There’s also a video essay charting the collaborations between director Luciano Ercoli and star Nieves Navarro.
Pop or Poop?
It’s tough to come out of the Death Walks Twice double bill thinking that you’ve experienced an essential work of cinema or a genre classic. However, the two films are hugely entertaining slices of seventies shlock that showcase the vision of a director with a demented desire to combine brutal, splattery violence with a camera that never sits still. Nieves Navarro makes for a decent lead in the classic “scream queen” mould and both films have some great surprises up their sleeves.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Death Walks Twice is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Arrow Films.