Giallo Madness is a recurring segment where Wicked Horror managing editor Tyler Doupe’ looks back on a noteworthy giallo from years past and makes a case for why it should be on your radar. The titles showcased in this feature will typically be lesser known but still equally deserving of your attention. In this installment, we will be revisiting Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks at Midnight.
Fashion model Valentina tries a hallucinogenic drug as an experiment for a magazine article. While under the influence of the substance, Valentina witnesses a grisly murder. But is she actually seeing what she thinks she sees, or is it an effect of the drug she’s taken?
Death Walks at Midnight was ahead of its time in a lot of ways: Blood spatter dripping down the camera and leading to a scene transition may be commonplace in contemporary horror. But, Death Walks at Midnight is one of the earliest places I recall seeing such a thing and at the time of the film’s release, it was somewhat revolutionary. Clever cinematography, camera tricks, and innovative techniques such as this make the film particularly memorable.
Further establishing Death Walks at Midnight as innovative for its time, the film features a killer that moves slowly while his victims run away. This technique was famously utilized in several of the Friday the 13th sequels.
While it may have broken some new ground, Death Walks at Midnight wasn’t afraid to pay tribute to films by which its creation was influenced. And it even makes a point to (presumably) pay homage to Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace by featuring an almost identical spiked glove to that which was used in Bava’s 1964 giallo prototype.
By giallo standards, the performances in Death Walks at Midnight are good. The English language version of the film features particularly well-synced dubbing and none of the acting is any more over the top than that which is featured in similar films of the same era. Valentina is fairly well developed and almost immediately likable.
The giallo has often walked the line between fantasy and reality, leaving the viewer in a constant state of uncertainty in regards to what is really happening. Death Walks at Midnight does a beautiful job of keeping the viewer, not only in a state of suspense, but also forcing them to question what they’ve seen and if it’s real, a hallucination, or some combination thereof.
A lot of the film’s charm can be attributed to master screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s (Torso) screenplay. It’s full of twists and turns and keeps the viewer guessing until the true killer’s identity is finally revealed. We do see the face of the killer early in the film but the identity of his accomplice (who is naturally someone Valentina has met during the picture’s runtime) remains a well-kept secret until the very end of the feature.
Luciano Ercoli does a brilliant job of brining Gastaldi’s script to life. Ercoli has a knack for building and sustaining suspense and that is apparent in nearly every scene of Death Walks at Midnight. He uses shadows and dimly lit rooms to keep the viewer on edge between well-timed scares.
Composer Gianni Ferrio’s dreamlike score is minimalistic and fairly simple but nonetheless provides a sense of foreboding and effectively intensifies the numerous scenes of nail-biting tension.
The set design and wardrobe are a true product of their time. All of the furniture, artwork, hairstyles, and clothing couldn’t possibly be from any era outside the ’70s. For some, that might be a detractor, but for the avid giallo enthusiast, it only adds to the charm.
The Arrow Home Video release of Death Walks at Midnight features a bevy of special features, including a brief but insightful introduction from screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. The scribe looks back on the film (and the era in which it was released) with a great deal of fondness. In a separate, and brand new, featurette, Gastaldi recalls his prolific career as a screenwriter. In addition, there is a second featurette detailing the noteworthy collaborations between director Luciano Ercoli and his wife Nieves Navarro, who plays Valentina. The home video release also includes the English and Italian language versions of the film, as well as the broadcast television cut. Lastly, genre film journalist Tim Lucas lends his vocal talents and vast film knowledge to the commentary track.
If you haven’t had the occasion to check this flick out, you really should. It is a tragically underrated giallo which deserves a great deal more love than it gets.