Monday, April 9, 2012

REVIEW: Death Walks at Midnight

Death Walks at Midnight
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Year 1972
Death Walks at Midnight is a highly entertaining Giallo film with enough style and substance to entertain any fan of the genre. Directed by Luciano Ercoli, an underappreciated auteur of Italian cinema, the movie tells a thrilling story about drugs, hallucinations, deception, and murder. With an interesting premise and an enthralling cast, Death Walks at Midnight is anything but an average, run of the mill Giallo.
The film follows a beautiful young fashion model by the name of Valentina, after she volunteers to test out an experimental drug for some quick cash. While under the effects of the drug, she witnesses a grizzly murder being committed, where the killer pummels a woman in the face with a spiked metallic glove. Fearing for her life, she goes to the police, but unfortunately no one, including the inspector (Carlo Gentili), seems to believe her wild story. To make matters even worse, Valentina begins seeing the killer everywhere she goes, forcing her to come to realize that she is next on his hit list. Will she be able to convince the police before it’s too late or is there a greater scheme at work that not even Valentina can fathom? Be prepared for a Giallo that isn’t afraid to punch the viewer right in the face, with a spiked glove no less.

Nieves Navarro plays the role of Valentina, the hunted fashion model who desperately tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together in this entertaining little thriller. Having recently been introduced to Navarro’s work in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, I knew I was in for a treat. She has that cinematic beauty that literally forces you to take notice and in Death Walks at Midnight, she’s given ample opportunity to show us what she can do with that undivided attention. Her portrayal of Valentina is stunning, and she gives the character so much spirit and energy that I found it impossible to unglue my eyeballs from her captivating and sympathetic performance. Throughout the entire film, Valentina is traumatized to the brink of insanity after being relentlessly pursued by the killer and a few other shady characters that pop up as the movie moves along. Admittedly, it does get a little tedious seeing this woman go through hell over and over again and having no one believe a word she says, but with Navarro playing the lead, she makes it more than bearable and especially tantalizing.   
Filling out the male roles of the film are Simon Andreu as Gio Baldi, and Pietro Martellanza as Stefano. Both actors play the same sort of role, with them being attached to Valentina in some way, shape or form. What is also interesting about the two is that they each have the potential to be in on the sick events that are happening to the young model. Gio especially has his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, because it was under his guidance that the drug experiment was performed, which resulted in Valentina seeing the murderer and then eventually getting mixed up in this horrible situation. Stefano is equally under suspicion, because of his erratic behavior. He goes from being a sweet and caring boyfriend to a raging drunk, in between scenes, and we never really get a real handle on his character’s motivations. The presentation of these two roles is a perfect example of the genre’s use of red herrings and this film has a great deal of capable figureheads. It’s this mysterious aspect of the film that really nails the tone and atmosphere that is needed to pull off a successful Giallo and Death Walks at Midnight does it beautifully.

Not only do we get red herrings from the two characters of Gio and Stefano, but we’re given another exceptional and ambiguous one in the form of Verushka Wuttenberg, played by the lovely Claudie Lange. Her character appears and disappears as frequently and sinisterly as the killer himself, always leaving Valentina questioning the woman’s intentions. Claudie does a great job in bringing a haunting feeling to her role. I’ve seen her in a number of films, with Crossplot being my absolute favorite of her work, and she is anything but brooding and downtrodden in those efforts, but in Death Walks at Midnight she brings a melancholy performance that just screams paranoia and frightened madness. I actually didn’t recognize her at first, so I have to commend her on a masterful job well done.
Combined with all of these great characters is an atmospheric quality that Luciano Ercoli blankets the film in. There is an unsettling tone to the movie that is only enhanced all the more by the surreal aspects of the film’s visual approach. The very concept of Valentina seeing a murder while under the influence of an experimental drug is a great comparison to how the rest of the film unfolds, and Ercoli takes this aesthetic and runs with it. The reactions from the various people that Valentina interacts with don’t exactly seem genuine and logical, forcing us to question those people’s loyalty to our forlorn heroine. This is not a technique that is new to the genre, for almost every Giallo film in existence seems to have this specific atmospheric tone when dealing with the characters of their story, but Death Walks at Midnight just seems to do it with an added bit of style. As usual for these types of flicks, the gore is extreme and the violence is excessive, which combines perfectly with the vivid atmosphere and surreal take on the genre. This is definitely one Giallo entry that begs for a wider audience.

Death Walks at Midnight is an exceptionally fun and suspenseful addition to the large output of mystery styled Italian thrillers that came out during this time period. Having Nieves Navarro in the lead only helps to solidify its appeal, but the inclusion of a solid story and interesting characters really raises this movie to the top of the heap of Giallos.
With its visceral violence and pension for pain, the movie doesn’t shy away from what makes this genre of films so captivating and raw. With a bloodied spiked glove, the film smashes you in the face with haunting imagery and surrealistic infused moments that take your mind for a whirl, and the fact that the film is wrapped up rather logically in the end (which by Giallo standards is unheard of) makes for another plus. Death Walks at Midnight is a real treat and one hell of a……

Ladies and gentlemen, the lovely Nieves Navarro.

Ready... Set.... Trip Out!

When fist-bumps turn deadly.

I'm freaking out! I'm hotter then hell!

You've got some red on you.

Put down the porno magazine boys, there's a woman present.

Even the killer is reading that damn Hunger Games series.

You can actually just drop me off here...... Weirdo.

So can we actually arrest her for being too hot?

I'll let you go with a warning, but in the future, tone down your hotness.

I'm here and I'm hot! Get used to it!

You look like a jackass in that stupid wig.

Looks like being stalked by a crazed killer isn't all that bad after all.

Get ahold of yourself. I'm hot, but not that hot.

I warned you about being too hot, now I'm going to have to charge you.

This guy gets a little too much pleasure from killing.

Split ends? I think it's time for a makeover. NOOOOO!

Damn you clown gods! Damn you to hell!

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