Sunday, March 27, 2016

Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Director: Luciano Ercoli
Notable Cast: Susan Scoot (Nieves Navarro), Frank Wolff, Simon Andreu, Carlo Gentili, George Rigaud, Jose Manuel Martin, Fabrizio Moresco, Luciano Rossi, Claudie Lange

While the giallo film era only lasted a handful of years in the late 60s and early 70s, there seems to be a very robust selection of films in that style that came out in a very short span. As someone decently new to the genre, I tend to go by recommendations from those around me and early on my brother touted the films of Ercoli as some that I needed to see. With the release of Arrow Video’s newest boxset Death Walks Twice (which includes Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight), the time seemed perfect to jump in. The earlier of the two films, Death Walks on High Heels, seemed the right place to start. Considering that both films form a sort of very loose trilogy of films featuring Ercoli’s wife in the lead role – the first one being Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, already conveniently reviewed by my brother HERE, but not included in this boxset – it seemed perfect for my further exploration of the giallo genre. Death Walks in High Heels is a rather intriguing film too. Similar to the giallo I reviewed earlier called What Have You Done to Solange?, High Heels is more intent on developing a mystery than it is about showcasing the stronger exploitation elements of killers and sex (although both obviously play key roles in that development) and it makes for a film that rises above a lot of the gimmicks of the genre and comes off as an artfully complex film that giallo fans are certain to enjoy.

Nicole (Scott) has had her life thrown up in the air. Her boyfriend Michel (Andreu) is still not working, her father is missing and he’s wanted in connection to a diamond heist, and her job as an exotic dancer has earned her an oddly dedicated fan from a British doctor (Wolff). When a mysterious black clad stranger with a straight razor and striking blue eyes shows up and threatens her, she takes the opportunity of her newly swooning fan to get out of the country…but that doesn’t seem to stop a killer from finding her.

Get to the point.
Death Walks in High Heels, while still remaining an on-the-edge horror film, is a very well developed thriller script on its foundation and it is why this film is so successful. Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, who is no stranger to the genre nor any iconic Italian director from that time period, the film is played with a slow hand in the first half and an almost frantic pace in the second. The first half sets up the players and materials for the second and it takes its time developing the relationships to really secure the mystery at play. Director Ercoli has a knack for utilizing these elements too. He also has a ton of great actors to work with in this film that add a lot of depth to give the meaning needed to keep the audience invested. Susan Scott (Ercoli’s wife whose real name is Nieves Navarro) maintains the sense of chemistry with her cast mates and oozes charisma onscreen. In a very slick way, Ercoli uses her sexual appeal as a sort of distraction to keep the audience looking one way while things are happening right in front of them and it works like a charm.  It may seem a bit slow and the romantic portions out of place at the time, but there is a lot of detail work that is going to come back in the second half as important.

Original poster art.
The second half, unlike the first half, is all about the detective work as we are introduced to two new police officers that become the main protagonists of the film. This shift is a little wonky and there are a few awkward moments with the detectives that don’t quite work as the film trades off between various characters who are all trying to unravel the mystery, but the film does something very interesting – it takes everything you saw in the first half and makes you question what you saw. This isn’t any kind of new tactic for a thriller, but High Heels does a remarkable job at making it effective. As the body count rises, thanks to a renewed sense of energy and faster pacing that embraces the giallo aspects, the film actually does an effective job at making the mystery deepen and it makes the ‘whodunit’ portion even crazier than expected. If anything, there are a handful of twists here in the final act – particularly when it comes to the time of the killer’s reveal – that just pack a whollup and make the first half feel even stronger than it did at the time it was playing.

The killer...must be...Daniel Craig.
While Death Walks on High Heels occasionally shows its age with its special effects and slightly awkward transition between the first and second acts, the film holds up remarkably well due to the effectiveness of its writing and some inspired performances from its leads (the secondary cast don’t hold up quite as well). Perhaps giallo fans are already in the know about the great combination of Ercoli, Gastaldi, and Scott, but for this newbie the film is a shockingly artful approach to the genre. When you partner that with the upgraded high definition transfer, some fun interviews with the Gastaldi, and an insightful commentary by Tim Lucas then this film is a must have for giallo collectors.

I can’t wait to dig into the next film of the set, Death Walks at Midnight.

  • Limited Edition boxed-set (3000 copies) containing Death Walks on High Heels and Death Walks at Midnight
  • Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
  • Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing from authors Danny Shipka (Perverse Titillation: The Exploitation Cinema of Italy, Spain and France), Troy Howarth (So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) and writer Leonard Jacobs, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
  • Audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas
  • Introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
  • Newly-edited archive interview with director Luciano Ercoli and actress Nieves Navarro
  • Master of Giallo – brand new interview in which Gastaldi discusses Death Walks on High Heels and offers up his thoughts as to what constitutes a good giallo
  • An interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani
  • Original Italian trailer
  • Original English trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

Written by Matt Reifschneider

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