New to Blu: Arrow Video - Death Walks Twice

Andrew reviews the forthcoming Arrow Video Giallo boxed set.

We were recently given
a copy of this set
for review. 
The Giallo subgenre of Italian neo-noir and horror often refers to the works of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, Mario Bava, Umberto Lenzi and arguably Ruggero Deodato.  Characterized by elements of the supernatural, the crime genre, the slasher thriller tinged with just enough eroticism to be sexy without being dirty, Giallo Films are at best pulp fiction drive in thrillers with just enough stylized technical proficiency to set themselves apart from the typical exploitation fare.  New to blu-ray this month, thanks to the studious efforts by Arrow Video, is a boxed set comprising two underrated and startlingly gory widescreen Giallo classics to new audiences by director Luciano Ercoli: Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight.  Mutually serving as precursors to the visually stylized work of Brian De Palma, these women in peril erotic thrillers just so happen to feature the same leading lady and director's wife, the voluptuous and stunning Nieves Navarro (billed as Susan Scott).  In anticipation of the forthcoming limited edition boxed set (only 3,000 units will be available), The Movie Sleuth takes a good look at these two original classics of early 1970s Italian Giallo horror. 

Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Eyes play a big role in the first of these two Giallo films, Death Walks on High Heels.  In the opening shot, a man with an eyepatch donning a suitcase full of diamonds is murdered on a train by a disguised assailant with piercing blue eyes, shot in widescreen close-up.  Thus begins what will be a woman-in-peril chase thriller about an exotic dancer (Navarro) who finds herself at the epicenter of a jewel heist plot and travels from France to England to evade sharpened knives and dark alleyways from nearly every corner.  At first she thinks the culprit may in fact be her boyfriend as she skips town with a well to do businessman, who himself may know more about the murderous jewel thief than meets the eye.  Ultimately Death Walks on High Heels is a sexy crime noir which fully exploits Navarro's naked body during extended and colorful stripteases set to stereotypical Grindhouse music by Stelvio Cipriani.  The soundtrack provides listeners with a score that accomplishes the rare feat of being totally off base and strangely perfectly appropriate for this kind of el-sleazo concoction.  

Look into my scary eyes!!!!

When Navarro isn't showing off her bare naked body paint covered behind to the camera in close-up, she casually lounges about the house naked or scantily clad, imbuing the picture with bona-fide eroticism.  Cheerfully flirting between scream queen and sex goddess, there's little reason to think too hard while watching these movies with Navarro cavorting about with bedroom eyes that seem to be begging for sex.  But Navarro isn't all Death Walks on High Heels has to offer.  There's quite a cacophony of twists and turns in the convoluted noir plot, moments of genuine terror and plentiful graphic violence.  There's a scene where a woman is murdered with gory close-ups of her breast, throat and face being slashed with a knife and the camera refuses to cut away.  Let's talk for a moment about camerawork, which is some of the most sophisticated and ornately stylized in recent memory.  Shot in 2.35:1 widescreen by Fernando Arribas, the film makes great use of close-ups, subtle zooms with camera pans, colorful lighting and a great use of beautiful countryside locale.  There's also, germane to whodunit noir thrillers, a cavalcade of eccentric and weird red herrings with many diversions and genuine surprises as the plot trucks on.  There's even a cross dresser who may or may not be the killer, keeping audiences guessing every step of the way.  This is the kind of story that could easily fly apart in the wrong hands but Ercoli and his editor Angelo Curi keep everything in check with many key flashbacks to earlier scenes bookending revelations in the story, including inter-cutting between past and present as a character is speaking to the camera.

Uh-oh!!!!! Mirrors mean sexy time!

Fans of the sexy Giallo thriller and newcomers to this kind of underground exploitation women-in-peril chiller are invited to give Death Walks on High Heels a closer look than the generic poster image of a woman being stabbed in the throat suggests.  Yes we've seen this kind of Giallo done to death over the years, with De Palma's Dressed to Kill arguably being the creme-de-la-creme of the crop.  Still, I had a blast watching this chunk of 1970s European sexploitation which displayed more visual flair, sensual pleasures and enough twists and turns in the story to make it worth your while.  If nothing else, Death Walks on High Heels shows off the many talents of the luscious Nieves Navarro who with her husband Ercoli have delivered a beautiful and stylish Giallo classic to be cherished for years to come.  Modern audiences may be a tad put off by the film's soundtrack which stinks to high heaven of Grindhouse sleaze.  But, those keenly aware of the film's Grindhouse trappings are in for some sexy thriller fun with more than a few tricks up its sleeve. 


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Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

The second collaborative Giallo effort between husband and director Ercoli and wife/central star Navarro is decidedly less reliant on sexuality with greater emphasis on psychedelic surrealism and a heightened style.  A variation on the same woman-in-peril scream queen chase movie laid out with Death Walks on High Heels, the loose companion piece Death Walks at Midnight once again stars Navarro as a damsel in distress under relentless pursuit by a ruthless killer.  The premise this time around throws a funky whodunit investigative twist into the mix by having Navarro play a fashion model (a step up from stripping) who submits to an experimental drug named HDS as part of a journalistic endeavor.  Upon ingesting the hallucinogen with her candid reactions documented for tabloid sensationalism, Navarro experiences a vision of a woman being murdered by an assailant with a spiked iron fist.  Unclear as to whether or not it was past, present or premonitory, Navarro soon finds herself being pursued by her envisioned attacker although to mess with the audience's perception, neither she nor we are entirely sure what is real or imagined during scenes of the iron fisted man breaking down doors and seemingly around the corner at her every turn.  

Nooooo!!!!! I hate ICP!!!!!

As with Death Walks on High Heels, the film features much of the same cast and crew and almost plays like more of the same with an alternate setting and a murder mystery psychic freakout.  Arguably the more surreal and stylistic of the two features, both movies bear the distinction of ornate visual style although the jazz oriented soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio can be a bit distracting due to tonal inconsistencies.  In other words, the score doesn't necessarily fit but can be an enjoyable listen in it's own right.  Navarro makes her scream queen face for the sake of the camera with her bulging eyes and terrified expressions, although she bears far less skin here than Ercoli and Navarro's previous collaboration.  Instead of having to frolic about scantily clad with many ogling extended takes of her bare behind, Navarro mostly assumes the role of fashion model turned hunted investigator who believes there's more to her psychic vision than pure fantasy.  Unlike the aforementioned High Heels, Midnight sports a far more satisfying payoff with many stunts, gory visual effects and a Helluva rooftop battle to the death.  If there's a criticism one can make of the first film, it's that it ends on something of a whimper as it draws near conclusion when compared to the second film.  

Yes. I love the sexual spikes of oral pleasure!!!!

Easily the superior of the two and far more stylized, Death Walks at Midnight is a solid Giallo thriller whose convoluted murder mystery narrative builds towards an explosive climax which more than makes up for the film's lack of skin cavorting about in the first film.  Both movies bear their fair share of twists and turns, but High Heels tends to disappoint when compared to the knock-around drag-out show down ending the movie.  Fans of the rich color schema of High Heels will be somewhat disappointed by the more sober approach to Midnight despite having many bizarre dream sequences.  Fans of the Giallo genre will be more than satisfied with the package and Navarro was quite the scream queen sex goddess in her day which is more than enough reason to give both features comprising Death Walks Twice a try.  Closer to the unfinished business ghost stories akin to Stir of Echoes and the recently released Restoration than Brian De Palma despite many of his trademark motifs in both pictures, Death Walks at Midnight is best known for presenting Navarro this time around as a spunky yet still sexy heroine doing all she can to piece together clues to her mysterious vision before death comes knocking at her door.


- Andrew Kotwicki