Death Walks on High Heels
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Although less celebrated than some of his better known giallo peers such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Sergio Martino, late producer-turned-director Luciano Ercoli contributed three hugely entertaining and memorable entries to the genre including this, his 1971 sophomore effort, Death Walks on High Heels.
Spanish-born model and actress Nieves Navarro stars as Nicole, an exotic dancer who finds herself terrorized by a black-clad assailant determined on procuring her murdered father s stolen gems. Fleeing Paris in hopes of evading her knife-wielding pursuer, Nicole arrives in England only to discover that death stalks her at every corner.
With the scene-stealing Navarro at its center, Death Walks on High Heels manages to subvert the conventions of the giallo film by having a ballsy, well-rounded female protagonist to root for representing a welcome departure from the neurotic stereotypes found elsewhere within the genre.
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In "Death Walks at Midnight," Scott is Valentina, a model who is tricked into taking an experimental hallucinogenic drug. While under the drug's influence, she witnesses a murder in the building opposite her own. Naturally, no one believes her, except for the killer. Soon it is learned that a girl was murdered in the other building, but the murder took place six months ago. What murder did Valentina witness? This is a very enjoyable giallo with gruesome murders involving a Medieval spiked glove, several plot twists, and a great surprise ending that threw me for a loop.
"Death Walks on High Heels" is the best of the two gialli in this collection. It is a classic Italian giallo. It is loaded with numerous twists and turns and red herrings. Everyone is suspected of being the killer. The ending wasn't quite as shocking as in "Death Walks at Midnight," however, it was a better thrill ride. It definitely kept me guessing. Scott plays Nicole, a stripper, whose jewel thief father is murdered. When the diamonds he was suppose to have been carrying aren't found, the killer threatens and attacks Nicole. Again, no one believes her. She leaves the county in the arms of a playboy doctor and travels to a secluded island, but the killer manages to find her.
Great 70's pop music and beautiful scenery accentuate both movies, which are prime examples of the Italian giallo. Susan Scott (Sergio Martino's "All the Colors of the Dark") is perfect as the heroine who is walked all over by death. Simon Andreu ("The Blood Splattered Bride") is good as the leading man in both features. My only problem is that so many of the same actors appeared in both movies that I thought the second feature was a continuation of the first. Nevertheless, "The Luciano Ercoli Death Box Set" is a great buy and a must have for all fans of Italian gialli!!!
What's most refreshing about the film is that Valentina is such a great character. She's feisty and confident, often in peril but always resouceful. Susan Scott gives a delightful performance and steals every scene she is in. The film also looks gorgeous and the No Shame DVD showcases it in stunning widescreen. It's also stuck well and truly in the seventies, and the collection of outfits and wigs that Valentina sports are a constant supply of amusement. The complex story takes a lot of concentration to figure out, and it can get a bit slow in the middle of the film, but luckily the viewer is most likely to remember the opening (the murder) and the climax (a rooftop brawl where the whole cast seems to muck in and slug it out with each other), and forget the draggy middle section. The spiked glove killing is the most extreme sequence in the whole film. Seemingly inspired by a similar weapon in "Blood and Black Lace", the scene gives the viewer a powerful jolt with it's unflinching depiction of the assault (although the victim here takes a battering to the side of the head whereas the poor girl in "Blood And Black Lace" takes a full whack in the face!), and the rooftop fight sequence also features detailed depictions of pummelling that look pretty painful, so the bloodthirsty viewers out there should be satisfied.
The second film, "Death Walks on High Heels" features Scott as the heroine once again, but this time, her role is that of a stripper named Nicole which means we get to see more of her naked than we did in "Midnight". Scott is able to carry the film effortlessly once more, even though her character here is rather more hard-edged, and she still steals the show, especially in a couple of pretty loopy striptease numbers, as well as the many changes of costume and wigs she sports throughout. And although once again in peril, Nicole is a character tough enough to take what's thrown at her with panache.
The complicated plot this time involves a missing hoard of stolen diamonds that is being sought after by various greedy people. Nicole is the daughter of one of the original criminals responsible for the theft, so she soon finds herself threatened over the phone and then again in person by a masked attacker, who is sure that she can lead him to the jewels, even though she says she knows nothing. She flees Paris and makes her way to England with a rich admirer who promises to protect her - even her French boyfriend is one of the suspects in this mystery where no-one can be trusted. From here on, the plot becomes even more tangled and you'll need your wits about you to make it to the end knowing exactly what's going on. It's a credit to the writers that thay are able to carry on pulling new surprises out of thin air right up to the very last moments of the story, and Ercoli is able to keep you hooked due to the marvellous cinematography, and of course the beautiful women who populate the film, namely Scott and Claudie Lange. While the film is fairly low on action and long on conversations, it does dish up one particularly vicious murder in which the female victim is repeatedly sliced with a switchblade knife (This idea was taken to a far more nauseating extreme much later by Lucio Fulci in "The New York Ripper"). Ercoli also stages another spectacular punch up towards the end, in a similar vein to the roof top climax in "Death Walks at Midnight" ...when Ercoli films a fist-fight, his men hit HARD!
Speaking of those conversations, I watched both films in English, and the dubbing probably does the atmosphere a real dis-service, as none of the English script seems to adequately match the emotions the actors are trying to portray. Luckily the No Shame discs allow you to choose the Italian soundtrack with subtititles and I have a feeling that the translation might be quite a lot better in the subtitles than in the English dub, which probably robs the films of some of the subtler script nuances, and also makes the twists and turns harder to keep up with.
Getting these two together makes for an excellent purchase as they really are a pair. Giallo fans will be happy with the sleek violence on display, and retro fans will revel in the lurid fashions of the era and the sumptuous lounge/kitsch musical soundtracks of both films. Susan Scott is a statuesque beauty who throws herself into the proceedings with vigour, and I enjoyed both films on acoount of her performance, without which they would probably be only half as entertaining! Its very impressive to see two formerly very obscure European movies like these from the 1970's getting such a good DVD release by No Shame. Recommended.
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