Tuesday, April 10, 2012

REVIEW: Death Walks on High Heels

Death Walks on High Heels
Director: Luciano Ercoli
Year 1971
 
Death Walks on High Heels is a tremendously low key and highly underrated Giallo entry by director Luciano Ercoli. With a heavy dose of sleaze yet a surprisingly low amount of violence and bloodletting, this movie defies the conventions of the genre in its pursuit to create a straight forward and serious take on the Italian thriller. If you’re looking for a well crafted and unknown Giallo, then look no further because Death Walks on High Heels has what you’re looking for.
 
The film follows a Paris striptease performer named Nicole Rochard, who after her famous jewel thief father’s murder, begins to receive death threats from an unnamed assassin, demanding that she hand over the diamonds from her father’s heist. Clueless on the location of the diamonds and fearing for her life, she hooks up with an infatuated fan named Robert Matthews and flies to England to stay with him at his secluded lakeside cottage. Hopeful that she will finally find peace in this quaint little country town, Nicole settles in to a life with Robert and slowly begins to forget her troubled past. Has she escaped from the killer’s grasp or is the killer closer than she first feared? Death Walks on High Heels is a rather accomplished Giallo film that keeps the scale of this thrilling story intimate, while at the same time creating an epic mystery full of twists and turns.

Nieves Navarro takes on the role of Nicole Rochard, the sexy strip artist caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Like her role in Death Walks at Midnight, Navarro looks absolutely amazing while parading around in some of the most outlandish get-ups the era could muster and often baring it all for the titillation of the audience. Though there are similarities, the character of Nicole Rochard is a more complex role then Navarro’s Valentina in Death Walks at Midnight, and she combines sex appeal, sleaze, and a surprisingly good amount of compassion, to bring her role to life. Navarro presents Nicole in a more sympathetic light, as a woman who is just doing what she can to support herself while struggling to feel safe in both love and life. When the killer first lets his presence be known, Nicole reaches out for help from her boyfriend Michel, played by Simon Andreu, who at first ignores her pleas for help but then eventually stands by her side. It wasn’t until the killer plants a damning piece of evidence that makes Nicole flee her live-in boyfriend and jump into the arms of another, more sympathetic, gentleman. It’s the vulnerability of Navarro’s portrayal of Nicole that really catches the audiences’ attention, and to contrast this timid trait of her character with the wild and outgoing nature of her strip performance is especially interesting. All in all, Navarro has developed a character that is as engaging as she is beautiful, and it’s this aspect of her role that makes the film so damn enjoyable to watch.    
 
Mirroring that same contrasting quality, the film does a unique bit of balancing with the tone of the movie. Being a Giallo film, we get our fare share of moments that are taken from the formulaic blue prints of the genre, like the masked killer with the switchblade knife, the large cast of red herrings, and the high body count, but there is also another side to this movie that is unconventional to say the least. For a good majority of the middle portions of this film, we are given a sort of love story between the two main characters of Nicole Rochard and Dr. Robert Matthews, played by Frank Wolff. These moments take a strange turn from the earlier segments of the film, and they seem to let the movie as a whole breath a bit until the twisted later half which is filled with betrayal, suspicion, mystery, and multiple murders. It’s a great technique that establishes a core element of the story, while at the same time it sets up the audience for a heartbreaking finale that really sweeps the rug out from under their feet.

As the mystery of this movie reaches an unparalleled pitch, the plot really does begin to thicken as suspects start creeping from out of the woodwork. These characters are all perfectly suspicious in their own right and make for a wonderful cast of likely killers. First there is of course the jaded ex-boyfriend Michel Aumont, played by Simon Andreu. His surprising appearance at the same town that his ex is staying at with her newfound lover is more than a little questionable. Then there is Captain Lenny, played by George Rigaud, a local boat captain who seems to be a little too nosy for his own good. Then there is Hallory, played by Luciano Rossi, whose strange tendencies and peculiar false hand give him one hell of a high creep factor. Then finally there is Vanessa Matthews, the bitter wife of Robert Matthews, played by the sultry Claudie Lange. She, more than anyone else, has the motive to threaten the life of Nicole. All of these characters are wonderfully diverse and they each add a great deal of intrigue to the overall plot of the film, and on top of that they are a joy to watch interact together. Some of the most entertaining moments of the film can be found when Inspector Baxter, the detective assigned to the case in England, has to narrow down who he thinks the killer is among these ambiguous group of shady characters.
 
Carlo Gentili plays the role of Inspector Baxter, and his character is just a whole hell of a lot of fun. His detective style is best described as lackadaisical, as he makes bland smart remarks and genuinely stumbles his way through the case. In all his effortless glory, he often comes up with some astonishingly correct assumptions of what the killer was thinking or how he was able to accomplish what he had done, but to only follow up that poignant conclusion with a dim witted quip that totally diminishes his credibility and his own personal view on how valuable of a cop he really is. Carlo actually played the detective in the other Luciano Ercoli Giallo, Death Walks at Midnight, which was made around the same time, but in Death Walks on High Heels he is able to show a lighter side of his acting abilities. His character in this film isn’t as wacky as his ridiculously silly portrayal as the antler wearing buffoon in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but it’s more like a mix of the two, played a lot less whimsical. I really enjoyed his approach for the role and felt that he absolutely stole the scenes in which he was featured in, and in the process, brought a more playful side of the film to light. In the end, the cast is what really sells this movie as a respectable Giallo and the diverse cast that they were able to assemble is just rich with talent.

Death Walks on High Heels is a highly enjoyable Giallo entry that features some of the trademarks of the genre, yet the filmmakers allow the film’s narrative to wander into uncharted territories, making for an interesting watch. Nieves Navarro is at her most watchable best, looking absolutely stunning in every single scene she appears in. The fact that her character has a substantial amount of depth to her only enhances the already outstanding quality of her alluring presence.
 
As with most Giallo films, the characters are key in bringing about an enthralling experience and Death Walks on High Heels is no exception to this rule. The cast across the board is more than up for the challenge in delivering engaging individual performances, and the amount of double crossings and suspicious dealings that occur in this film will leave you second guessing yourself at every turn. If you happen to enjoy Giallo films that think outside of the box, in terms of pacing and presentation, then check this one out as soon as you can. This is one Italian thriller that is……

Did it hurt? Did what hurt? When you fell from Heaven, did it hurt?

Check out this professional perv.

Check out this professional creep.

She hates it when you throw knives at her.

Hubba Hubba!

Looks like Robert's glasses are about to fog up from the sexiness.

These boots are made for sexin and that's just what they'll do.

Sweet sassafras!

Now that's just plain silly.

You want my professional opinion? Your eyes are fucked up.

Damn! You got me right in my bum ticker!

Get that dirty mustache out of my face.

Thanks for letting us admire your dinghy.

God I hate you.

Now try getting yourself out of that you slippery shit.

Up yours!

Looks like you dropped your wig madam.

So the killer turned out to be the pet rock. Genius!

3 comments:

  1. i really loved this film. nieves navarro is gorgeous.

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    Replies
    1. That she is.... That she is. I've made it a goal of mine to hunt down every film she's ever been in. There's some gems in there and this flick is just great!

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  2. I thought the first half of the film was rather boring but the second half was amazing. Odd, how often does that happen? It's usually the other way around.

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