Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Death Walks at Midnight (Luciano Ercoli, 1972)

About five seconds ago, no, make that ten seconds ago, a profound feeling of relief washed over me, or was it a case of phantom scabies? No, it was definitely relief. You see, I was about to start typing words about Death Walks at Midnight (a.k.a. La morte accarezza a mezzanotte) without knowing the name of the actor who plays the cackling drug dealer/knife enthusiast in the aviator shades. This troubled me because I thought this guy brought a shitload of first-rate crazy to the table. In the back of my mind, I always knew that the innate foxiness of Nieves Navarro (a.k.a. Susan Scott) was going to be enough to sustain my interest in this convoluted, scotch whiskey-soaked giallo hullabaloo. In other words, my cerebral cortex was never in danger of being denied the fashion-forward Italo-sleaze it so rightly deserves. However, it didn't feel right not knowing who this guy was. Then it dawned on me: Why don't I just check the credits? Since there was no character listed as "blonde creep who laughs like an asthmatic hyena," I had to use my instincts. And they were telling me that the character listed as "Hans Krutzer" was probably the most likely candidate (the character has blonde hair, and, as most people know, there are a lot of blonde guys named "Hans" floating around out there in this whac-a-mole world of ours). Low and behold, my instincts were correct, Luciano Rossi plays "Hans Krutzer," the knife-wielding reprobate who made the final forty minutes of this Luciano Ercoli-directed enterprise so freaking enjoyable.

Now that I've cleared that up, I can proceed to lavish praise on Nieves Navarro in a calm and irrational manner. Don't you mean lavish praise on Dagmar Lassander and Edwige Fenech? What? Why would I... Oh, I see what you're saying. No, this film is all Nieves Navarro, all the time. If you have a problem with that, then I'm afraid you're not going to be able to handle the Nieves Navarro extravaganza that is this movie.

No longer reduced to playing the chic best friend or the stylish upstairs neighbour, Nieves Navarro is now the one whose mental well-being is put under the microscope. It should go without saying, but it's not a giallo if a woman, preferably one who works in the fashion industry, isn't on the cusp of losing her mind.

Speaking of losing one's mind, did you see the metallic wig Nieves Navarro wears near the midway point of this film? What about it? Was that a sign she was starting lose her grip with reality, or was it just another case of her being fabulous? I don't know, but as Nieves Navarro cavorted about in a wig made out of what looked like small metal tubes, I thought to myself: She can't be serious? Don't get me wrong, I loved the metallic wig. I just had trouble wrapping my brain around the thought process that must go into deciding to wear something like that on one's head.

If only Nieves Navarro had displayed this kind of style-based edginess during the film's early going. Why, what's wrong with her sense of style in the early going? Are you sitting down? She's wears pants. Yep, you heard right, pants. Call 'em trousers, call 'em slacks, Nieves Navarro's lower half is covered with pants. Black pants, blue pants, tan pants, grey pants, you name the colour, she wears 'em in this movie.

Don't be sad, a journalist who works for a magazine called Novella 2000, Giovani Baldi (Simón Andreu), is about to give Valentina (Nieves Navarro), a fashion model, a hit of H.D.S., a new drug that has just hit the streets of Rome. Why is Valentina allowing this "journalist," an albeit, hunky one at that, to inject some weird hallucinogen into her bloodstream? That's not important at the moment. What is important is what Valentina sees while tripping out on the stuff.

After going on and on about the colours she sees and even calling Giovanni a "monkey-face" at one point, Valentina witnesses a man (a creepy man) in large glasses kill a wide-eyed brunette. That doesn't so bad. After all, we all imagine seeing wide-eyed brunette's murdered by creepy dudes in glasses at one time or another during the course of our drug-addled lifetimes. Yeah, but do we imagine them being stabbed in the face multiple times with a spiky iron glove? I'll interpret your silence to mean that you haven't imagined that.

Angry at Giovanni that he published her picture for the article on H.D.S. (he promised that he wouldn't), Valentina unwittingly finds herself to be Italy's most famous drug abuser. Even though it says here Nieves Navarro was born in Spain, I must say, the way she loses her shit is purely Italian. In other words, I found Nieves Navarro's Italian ire to be quite exquisite; I wish someone, preferably an Italian woman, would get angry enough at me to feel compelled to chuck a rock at my head.

Receiving an anonymous note instructing her to show up at the building across the street, Valentina takes a break from commiserating with her husband Stefano (Pietro Martellanza) and heads out; in a pair of blue pants. Just to let you know, the reason Valentina agrees to answer the anonymous note is because she can't be choosey about the jobs she takes (everyone in the industry now thinks she's a drug abuser). Anyway, when Valentina's arrives at the location specified in the anonymous note, she realizes that it's directly across from her modestly swanky apartment (she even can see Stefano relaxing with a magazine). After she's finished realizing that, it slowly dawns on her that this is where the wide-eyed brunette was stabbed in the face with a spiky iron glove.

Just as this is dawning on her, a spiky iron glove comes bursting through the door. Panic-stricken, Valentina uses a broken mirror to heliograph Stefano for help. Of course, when Stefano comes over, there's no spiky iron glove man to be found. Apparently a wide-eyed brunette, or possibly another was murdered in this location. Only, it happened six months ago.

You would think the milfy redhead in the tan trench coat–you mean, Varushka Wuttenburg, ably played by Claudie Lange? yeah, her–might help Valentina shed some light on the situation (her sister was murdered by a man wielding a spiky iron glove, only her sister was a blonde with regular-size eyes). But she does nothing but confuse matters. It didn't help that Valentina and Varushka were both wearing tan-coloured articles of clothing during their joint light shedding symposium/mental asylum fact finding mission.

Since the police, especially Inspector Serino (Carlo Gentili), are no help at all when it comes to figuring out her unique dilemma, Valentina decides to cut lose. And how does an out of work fashion model pushing thirty cut lose? They put on their most metallic wig and paint the town red. Given that Stefano is a sculptor, do you think he made Valentina's metallic wig? I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, it doesn't look like the kind of item you'd find sitting on the shelf of your average wig shop. The wigs the members of Company B wore circa "Fascinated," on the other hand, are definitely the kind you can find at your average wig shop.

Have I mentioned that Valentina occasionally spots the spiky iron glove guy lurking about in the vicinity of her person, and that the film could be construed as a ninety minute ad for J+B scotch-whiskey? No? Okay, than I just did.

You might think one hour is a long time to wait to finally see Nieves Navarro's no-nonsense legs dangling from a dress, but it's totally worth it. Paired with an orange blazer, Nieves Navarro spends the final leg of this film in this particular garment.

Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, what kind of slit does her dress have? Don't be alarmed, but her dress doesn't currently have any slits. No slits?!? Not to worry, you slit-obsessed reprobate, a couple of scumbags named Juan Hernandez (Raúl Aparici) and Hans Krutzer (Luciano Rossi) are here to rectify that. You mean? Actually, I have no idea what you mean. Due to the nature of their scumbaggery, Juan and Hans give Valentina's dress some slits. Huh? They rip her dress in a manner that gives her non-slit dress slits. You mean, makeshift slits? Exactly. You could call them improvised slits as well.

Despite the fact that the slits on Valentina's dress had to be acquired through violent means, I am happy in the knowledge that her sturdy Italo-Spanish thighs can finally breath.

Sure, Death Walks at Midnight does drag in places; the middle section is a murky, confusing mess. However, it does culminate with a surprisingly feisty rooftop fight sequence, and, like I said, boasts some forceful third act dress alterations. On top of that, the jazzy score by Gianni Ferrio is awesome, Luciano Rossi gives snickering fiends a good name, and, of course, Nieves Navarro shines bright as the fashionable lead.

No comments:

Post a Comment