Gialloween Day 7: Death Walks at Midnight
Fashion model Valentina takes an experimental drug to help her friend with a news expose. Under the influence, she witnesses the brutal murder of a woman in the apartment across the street. She soon finds herself being stalked by the same killer— and with no one believing her account, sets out to discover the truth before she suffers a similar fate.
Death Walks at Midnight is the best film so far in this series that showcases the visual aesthetic, music and outrageous set pieces the genre is known for. Set in Milan and following the life of an extravagant model we are treated great shots of the city’s architecture, swanky apartments, clubs, and outfits. In addition to that, our protagonist Valentina, brings somethings to the table that makes this film stand out amongst others in the genre.
The giallo trope of having its female leads portrayed as beautiful, fashionable, and sexually alluring goes hand in hand with its focus on mystery and murder. Unflatteringly so, the typical female giallo lead is often placed in a reactionary role. Always the one being stalked, screaming, waiting to be saved or seduced by the more ‘capable’ male leads. Valentina, played wonderfully by Nieves Navarro (as Susan Scott) turns this lackluster characteristic of the giallo female upside down.
That is not to say she doesn’t look amazing (save for a certain wig). Despite her occupation as a model, Valentina walks around with her shoulders back and head held high, constantly taking charge in the film. In other films where a female character might sit scared or runaway from her stalker, Valentina is one that chases after them. Valentina wonderfully subverts the male amateur detective expectation by becoming one that proactively seeks the truth rather than waiting along or acting as a tag along character on the sidelines of the action.
Beyond the main catalyst of the film, we are also treated to her sassy, borderline arrogant personality earlier on. Valentina’s model ‘reputation’ takes a hit when it is discovered that her anonymous drug expose wasn’t published as such. Discovering this, she takes her rage out on her friend by throwing a glass ashtray at him, physically assaulting him to the point of being restrained by security, and even throws a rock at his window from outside the street. Even small secondary scenes like that are a welcome change of pace from the usual waifish helplessness characteristic that is all too common.
That is not to say the film is without faults. The death scenes in this film outside of the initial one are pretty tame. The plot, even though it is laid out nicely during the great finale remains convoluted and a little hard to follow, even with my multiple viewings. Despite it's few flaws Death Walks at Midnight takes a solid premise and elevates it even further with its great lead character. An underrated gem in my opinion and should be regarded among the greats of the genre alongside the great films of Argento, Bava, and Martino.