Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

Luciano Ercoli delivers some of the most elegant gialli but sadly has one of the smallest portfolios.  He directed only three Gialli, FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (Le foto proibite di una signora per bene), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (La morte cammina con i tacchi alti) DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (La morte accarezza a mezzanotte).  In addition to those he also directed a pair of highly underrated poliziotteschi  La polizia ha le mani legate and THE RIP-OFF (La bidonata).  He quit working in film in 1978.  Ercoli works with a script based on a story by Sergio Corbucci (THE GREAT SILENCE) while his wife Susan Scott, stage name for the Spanish beauty Nieves Navarro stars as the gorgeous Milanese fashion model Valentina.  She lets a professor (Ivano Staccioli) and her ex-boyfriend journalist, Giovanni (Simon Andreu) shoot her up with a strong hallucinogenic drug so they can interview and photograph her for a magazine.  Part of her hallucinations include a vivid recollection of a gruesome, unsolved crime which of which she has no prior knowledge.  She then goes on a drug induced rampage, loses her job and ends up in the police station.  As it turns out Gio tells her that the murder she described happened six months prior and he accuses her of playing some kind of prank on him.

Her boyfriend Stafano (Pietro Martellanza) is disappointed in her and suggests that the new drug is causing her to lose her mind.  Soon she is seeing the killer everywhere she goes.  She meets up with the emotionally fragile Verushka (Claudie Lange) and the two visit an asylum and go on an odd trip that seems a bit like it could be the delusions of two patients.  The police inspector on the case tries to keep Valentina from flying into fits of hysteria while trying to determine if a crime has actually been committed as bodies disappear and supposed murders have been ruled suicides.  Eventually it becomes apparent that there is a killer with his accomplice hunting women in and around Milan.  Soon the case of the missing Verushka ends up at the police station but the inspector who has been investigating the murders is not made aware of the case.  Valentina or the police must find out who the killer is and what he wants before he strikes again.  Red herrings abound in Ercoli’s steady paced highly procedural murder mystery.  

Though DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT fits firmly into the giallo genre it tends to bend if not break the giallo mold.  The killer is seen from the get go.  There are no gloved hands slicing through the night and nubile flesh but there is a spiked gauntlet that is one of the more interesting weapons deployed in a giallo.  There are plenty of babes and many of them are red heads but unlike most giallo, there is no flesh bared before a brutal highly sexualized murder takes place.  Indeed the murders are not the hypersexualized set pieces that giallo fans have come to expect and adore.  Ercoli’s MIDNIGHT is more poliziotteschi or even a modernized spaghetti western in that it is a city police officer trying to keep violent men out of Milan and save the damsel in distress.  Shades of Corbucci surely shine through here…he is credited with the story though he didn’t write the screenplay.

Some interesting folks pop up in the film.  Veteran character actor and adult film director Allesandro Perrella has a cameo as a salacious van driver.  Hunchback Luciano Rossi brings his special menace as a seedy character.  The script is good and the film is tightly paced with the usual giallo dalliances with locations.  You can’t have an Italian flick without some of the travelogue.  There are fewer kills than most fans would expect and more killers than they will be expecting as well.  DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT is a fun entry into the Italian canon and a must see for fans of Italian cinema.  

Special features included on the Mondo Macabro release include a featurette “Adrian Smith on Death Walks at Midnight and the Giallo genre,” the transcript of an interview with Luciano Ercoli and Susan Scott by Christian Kessler, cast and crew bios for Susan Scott, Simon Andreu, Luciano Rossi, Claudie Lange, and Luciano Ercoli.  Adrian Luther-Smith may seem familiar because he is the author of Blood and Black Lace the Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies.  There is also a French language track.

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