Susan Scott - the "Anti-Edwige Fenech" - headlines two back-to-back Luciano Ercoli giallo efforts in Arrow Video USA's DEATH WALKS TWICE four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo.
Before she would become known as one of the most uninhibited starlets of Italian exploitation cinema, working with everyone from Sergio Martino (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) to Joe D'Amato (EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS), Susan Scott aka red-headed Spanish model Nieves Navarro got her start in a handful of Spanish/Italian comedies, westerns, and spy pics produced by Alberto Pugliese (THE RETURN OF RINGO) and Luciano Ercoli (KILLER COP) before her first notable roles being as "The Widow" in Sergio Solimma's THE BIG GUNDOWN and leads in Fernando Di Leo's A WRONG WAY TO LOVE (where Di Leo christened her "Susan Scott") and NAKED VIOLENCE. By 1970, Ercoli and Pugliese decided it would be better for Ercoli to try his hand at directing instead of hiring from out, and Scott would take a secondary role to Dagmar Lassander (THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN) in FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION from a script Ernesto Gastaldi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) had intended to direct himself. The success of this film was followed by a pair of Gastaldi-scripted gialli DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT and DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEAL which reunited Scott (who Ercoli would wed) and Simon Andreu (NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS) from the previous film as leads.
In DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, no sooner is French striptease artist Nicole (Scott) informed by the French police that her jewel thief father has been murdered after heisting seven hundred million dollars in diamonds than a ski-masked, blue-eyed assailant is threatening her life to discover the whereabouts of the loot. When she discovers a pair of blue contact lenses among the belongings of her boyfriend Michel (Simon Andreu) – a jobless lout who resents the common belief that he is Nicole's pimp – she runs into the arms of ardent British ophthalmologist Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff, THE LICKERISH QUARTET) who amazingly agrees to whisk her off to England and shack up with her in a cottage by the sea while he seeks a divorce from his wealthy wife Vanessa (Claudie Lange, MY HORSE, MY GUN, YOUR WIDOW). By the time Michel has tracked the couple down to the seaside – where Nicole has been posing as Robert's wife – Nicole has mysteriously vanished and Robert has been shot and wounded in his office while performing an examination. Scotland Yard inspectors Baxter (Carlo Gentili, KEOMA) and Bergson (Fabrizio Moresco, SO SWEET, SO DEAD) are irked to discover that Michel has an alibi for both occurrences and the blind witness to Robert's shooting (José Manuel Martín, CUT THROATS NINE) identifies the killer as a woman based on the sound of her high heels.
In DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT, Scott is fotoromanzo model Valentina who agrees to take the experimental hallucinogenic drug HDS for a story by sketchy journalist Gio (Andreu). Gio quickly betrays his promise not to show her face or mention her name in the story, but the tone of the story changes when Valentina – who may be named after Guido Crepax's sexy, imperiled comic strip heroine – hallucinates a brutal murder in the apartment across the street of a woman by a man (Claudio Pellegrini, STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER) with a spiked iron glove. When her editor fires her over the publicity from the story, Valentina hurls a rock through the window of Gio's office and is arrested by passing Inspector Seripa (Gentili). Gio agrees not to press charges and proposes to Valentina that they run with the story since he discovers that there really was a murder six months ago. Although he believes Valentina made the story up to make a fool of him, Gio's editor believes that she may have seen the murder and blocked it out of her mind. Although the murderer was apparently caught, Valentina sees him everywhere, but neither Gio, the inspector, nor her sculptor boyfriend Stefano (Peter Martell, THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS) believe her. When mysterious Verushka Wuttenberg (Lange) shows her photographs of the victim Helene (her sister) and takes her to the asylum of her sinister husband (Ivano Staccioli, WOMEN'S CAMP 119) to identify the killer, Valentina starts to believe that she really did hallucinate the entire thing until she recognizes the victim in a photograph on the inspector's desk as an apparent suicide and the killer makes further attempts on her life.
Both films were scripted by Gastaldi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) with Sergio Corbucci (DJANGO) taking credit for DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT's scenario based on some tweaks he did to the script and assistant director May Velasco (WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?) given co-scripting credit on both for quota purposes since they were Italian/Spanish co-productions. HIGH HEELS veers from giallo to British murder mystery with a Hitchcockian twist (in which Lange as she is made up in this film bears a passing resemblance to Scott that suggests a touch of VERTIGO) but Scott is sorely missed from the second half of the film. Both films feature typically loony supporting bits by Luciano Rossi (DEATH SMILES AT MURDER) as a cackling hitman in MIDNIGHT and a caretaker with a false hand in HIGH HEELS, and Spanish character actor Jorge Rigaud (A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) gets a bit more to do than in most of his giallo appearances. Scott would reunite with Rossi in the sleazier giallo SO SWEET, SO DEAD and with Andreu in the more pedestrian effort DEATH CARRIES A CANE (released stateside by Charles Band's Wizard Video as THE TORMENTOR). Stelvio Cipriani (BARON BLOOD) goes the Morricone route with his turn here which includes vocalizing by Nora Orlandi (BLADE OF THE RIPPER).
Although the plot and setting of DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT is more traditionally giallo-ish with models, murders witnessed under compromised circumstances, drugs, and exotic weaponry, its labyrinthine plot drags a bit in the middle and the killer's ridiculously protracted explanation is still a bit incoherent (the Italian TV version extends it and does clarify some points but it is hard to believe anyone sticks around to listen to it all). MIDNIGHT sports some playful cinematography by Fernando Arribas (COMIN' AT YA) that almost anticipates Brian De Palma but Ercoli is far more interested in both films in photographing Scott in various emotional states and changes of wardrobe (including a wig of metal coils in MIDNIGHT and blackface striptease in HIGH HEELS). Gianni Ferrio (PUZZLE) contributes a jazzy score topped by the sensual theme song "Valentina" performed by Mina.
Never released stateside, DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS was first released in English-friendly form via NoShame's American arm (the Italian edition did not include the dub or subtitles) in a three-disc set with DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (making its digital debut) followed by an English-friendly three-disc set of the two films by NoShame's American arm with a bonus soundtrack CD compilation of Stelvio Cipriani musical cues. The anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer was derived from an HD master and featured only a photo gallery and English and Italian trailers as extras. Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 transfer comes from a new 2K scan of the Techniscope negatives. The new transfer is a tad brighter (the darker NoShame transfer did not give proper emphasis to the killer's blue eyes in his first close-up under the title card) but skin tones are a shade darker than the NoShame (although Scott's blackface make-up for her dance number convinces in neither transfer). Framing is almost identical except for possibly a sliver on the top. The clean LPCM 1.0 English and Italian tracks showcase Cipriani's bright score, Scott's screams, and a couple gunshots. Two optional English subtitles translate the Italian audio and transcribe the English.
Unreleased theatrically or on home video in the United States, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT first became available domestically on the grey market circuit as a tape that synchronized the English soundtrack from a foreign-subtitled tape with an incompletely-letterboxed sell-through Italian cassette. The first digital release appeared in the UK in 2004 from Mondo Macabro utilizing an anamorphic French master cropped to 1.85:1 (with the French audio track as an extra option) followed in Italy in 2005 by a superior HD-mastered 2.35:1 transfer NoShame Films, and then an English-friendly edition in the aforementioned three-disc set. Like the NoShame DVD, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT is presented in two versions: the theatrical/international version mastered in 2K from the original 2P Cromoscope negative (101:39) and the Italian television version (105:52) mastered from a cropped videotape source. The additional footage consists primarily of some more detail during the killer's protracted "why I did it" speech and the supporting flashback images at the end (Arrow presents the TV version in Italian with English subtitles while the NoShame disc synchronized the English track to this cut with subtitles only for the bits never dubbed into English). The new 2K-mastered reveals more picture information on the right and bottom of the frame, an image that is overall brighter without taking away from the moodiness of Arribas' lighting, a greater delineation of colors in the art direction, healthier skin tones even under the discotheque lights, and the expected bump-up in detail. The LPCM 1.0 English and Italian tracks are clean and breathe life into Ferrio's score, and optional English subtitle tracks are available for both the English and Italian dubs.
Like Arrow's combo of THE BLACK CAT and YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, DEATH WALKS TWICE uses branching to include both English and Italian-language credits and inserts on both films. DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT becomes CRY OUT IN TERROR in English and DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS becomes DEATH STALKS IN HIGH HEELS. The content of the English title sequences is identical to the Italian but CRY OUT IN TERROR presents its titles in a smaller size that seems more elegant than the Italian while DEATH STALKS IN HIGH HEELS loses the decorative Italian lettering for the title card but presents the rest in a slightly different font to the Italian that nevertheless looks superior.
Both films are introduced by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (1:48 and 1:57, respectively) who discusses the MIDNIGHT's choice of setting as Milan for its sensational journalism and that HIGH HEELS' was a more literal title than its predecessor. Both films are also accompanied by audio commentary tracks by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas who points out the film's visual cues evocative of the killer's blue eyes as well as props and pieces of set decoration and the associations they forge between the heroine and other characters, enhancing our appreciation of the film's slick visuals in terms of Ercoli enhanced Gastaldi's storytelling. Having interviewed Gastaldi in the past for his Bava book and an interview published in Video Watchdog several years ago, Lucas also discusses Gastaldi's remembrances of the film and other giallo efforts which echo or anticipate elements of this film. He also points out the superiority of the Italian track to the English one in terms of the subtlety of character (with Scott's ball-breaking heroine coming across as hardened from the start). In MIDNIGHT, he expounds upon the film's themes of reality and illusion from the magazine and art milieu to the drug-induced "hallucination" and the film's use of mirrors and voyeuristic views through glass (including the layout of Valentina's apartment and the villa across that makes it possible for events to be witnessed in each from either side).
HIGH HEELS includes "From Spain with Love" (24:21), a 2012 interview with Scott and the late Ercoli who discuss their relationships with Pugliese (who was best man at their wedding), Gastaldi, and Andreu with both wondering why the latter was not a bigger star (although he does have some respectable arthouse credits including leads in a couple Eloy de la Iglesia films). In "Master of Giallo" (32:33), Gastaldi promotes his "giallo for dummies" book and discusses the craft of scripting a giallo (one of the most important rules being not to cheat as he accuses Argento of doing in his variations on the failings of the protagonists' perceptions of the inciting act of violence). In "Death Walks to the Beat " (26:28), Cipriani discusses his collaboration with Ercoli who was very specific in what he wanted of the score. Of the genres he has worked in, he cites the giallo as the one that requires particular attention. He discusses the varied styles of music (waltz, rock, bossa nova) he used in the film and other gialli, and how it is the arrangement that transforms the themes to suit the atmosphere of the scenes. Virtually identical (apart from the text) English and Italian trailers (5:38) are also included.
Besides the television version, MIDNIGHT's extras include "Crime Does Pay" (30:58), an interview with Gastaldi in which he discusses his beginnings ghostwriting for Ugo Guerra (BLOW-UP) who introduced him to Ercoli and Pugliese. He also discusses his relationship with his wife, actress Mara Maryl (LIBIDO) and how their arrangement that she would only act in pictures he directed and he would only direct pictures in which she starred inhibited both of their careers. He reveals that FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVES SUSPICION had started out as "Venere Piu", a film he intended to direct with Maryl as the star before she decided to do another film and Ercoli and Pugliese approached him looking for a script. In addition to remarks about the two DEATH WALKS films, he also discusses his working relationship with Sergio and Luciano Martino. "Desperately Seeking Susan" (27:51) is a visual essay by Michael MacKenzie on the giallo collaborations between Scott and Ercoli, presenting her supporting bit in FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION and leads in the two DEATH WALKS films as the anti-Edwige Fenech in the assertiveness of her characters, and the Scott/Andreu pairing as a spunkier alternative to Fenech and George Hilton. MacKenzie notes how FORBIDDEN PHOTOS does not really come to life until Scott's character enters the picture, that HIGH HEELS suffers after Scott exits the film, and that Ercoli obviously learned his lesson from the former in placing Scott front and center in MIDNIGHT. Both films come with reversible covers in individual combo cases, as well as a limited 60-page booklet containing new writing from authors Danny Shipka, Troy Howarth, and writer Leonard Jacobs. (Eric Cotenas)
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