Arrow Video continues its exploration of giallo with its fourth box set after the Black, Red, Yellow and White editions of Giallo Essentials.
In the early 1970s, when the giallo boom was at its peak, producer-turned-director Luciano Ercoli made three standalone — but thematically linked — giallo films all starring his wife Nieves Navarro under the name Susan Scott. This set shares those movies in one convenient and well-priced edition.
The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970): Minou (Dagmar Lassander, The House by the Cemetery) loves her husband, Peter. But Peter is cold and only really seems to care about work. All she does all day is pine for her husband and take care of a turtle. Yep. You just read that correctly.
One night, a mysterious stranger attacks her, cuts open her clothes and then warns her: her husband is a killer.
The mysterious man is proven correct when a man who owed Peter money shows up dead. He demands that she come to his home, where he blackmails her into sleeping with him. Seeing as how he has recorded their tryst, he now has more material on her.
Even her friend Dominique (Nieves Navarro, All the Colors of the Dark, who was married to the director, Luciano Ercoli) can’t be trusted, as Minou finds photos of the blackmailer in provocative poses in her possession. When she finally gets the police to investigate, the man’s home is empty and Dominique tells the police he never even existed. Oh yeah. Dominique was once Peter’s woman before Minou. So there’s that.
Minou has a nervous breakdown and overdoses on tranquilizers before sobering up and learning that it’s all been a plot against her from the beginning. But come on — if you’ve watched any giallo, you knew that going in.
Despite its lurid title, Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion isn’t filled with sex or even all that much violence. It’s more about alcoholism and how women were taught that they had to have the skills to land a man, but not what to do with their lives to make them fulfilled beyond just a relationship.
Director Luciano Ercoli has some gorgeous shots in here that really take advantage of the space age 1960’s aesthetic. And a bossa nova score by Ennio Morricone keeps this film bouncing. It wouldn’t be the first giallo I’d recommend, but it’s not the last, either.
Extras include commentary by Kat Ellinger; Private Pictures, a documentary featuring interviews with Navarro, Ercoli and Gastaldi; an appreciation of the music of 70s Italian cult cinema by musician and soundtrack collector Lovely Jon; a Q&A with Lassander; the Italian and English trailers and an image gallery.
Death Walks On High Heels (1970):
A man is stabbed on a train, leading the police to question Nicole (giallo queen Nieves Navarro) about diamonds that are missing. Her life turns upside down, as she begins to receive disguised phone calls asking about the diamonds and a blue-eyed masked man attacks her in her boudoir. She then remembers that her jealous lover Michel owns contact lenses in that color, so she runs away with an older eye surgeon to the coast of England. But Michel isn’t far behind…
The first of three giallo directed by Navarro’s husband, Luciano Ercoli, this is what the genre should be: shocking, lurid, bloody and oh so fashionable. It also makes a deft turn from what we expect from the form into an actual mystery film.
There’s a plot twist here that honestly shocked me, so I won’t spoil it. While the other two films in the Ercoli giallo trilogy are much better, this is still a quality film worthy of your time. Some critics decry them as Ercoli making movies just to feature his wife, but if you had a quality woman like Navarro in your life, I bet you’d do the same.
This comes with audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas, an introduction to the film by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, an interview with Ercoli and actress Navarro, Gastaldi explaining how to write a successful giallo, an interview with composer Stelvio Cipriani and Italian and English trailers. These extras are a sheer joy for giallo lovers and what an opportunity to hear from Ercoli, Navarro and Gastaldi.
Death Walks At Midnight (1972): Nieves Navarro is a true queen of giallo, appearing in All the Colors of the Dark, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, So Sweet, So Dead and Death Walks on High Heels. Here, she makes her third film with her husband, Luciano Ercoli.
In this one, she plays a fashion model named Valentina who agrees to help her journalist beau study LSD. But while she’s dosed and in the middle of a photo shoot, she watches a man brutally murder a woman with a spiked gauntlet. He thinks she’s just hallucinating and publishes her account, but she believes it’s real. And when the killer starts stalking her, she really starts to worry.
The entire opening of the film is one big acid freakout and everything that follows is the bad trip, the comedown and reality brutally intruding into drugged out bliss. This is a film packed with brutal violence and plenty of gore, but it makes sense. The movie demands it.
The end, when everything is wrapped up by the killer (killers?) is pretty great, as the many red herrings are discussed and the entire plot is finally explained to us. If everything before felt like a nightmare, this is bracingly cold water directly to the face.
Even better, Navarro portrays a heroine who doesn’t faint at the first sign of danger. She deals with the ineffectual police and indifference of her boyfriend with aplomb.
And yes — this film is packed with bonkers crazy fashion — a metal/glass silver wig and a strange sculpted wall feature prominently — so if that’s why you love giallo, you’ll be quite happy here. Me? I loved every minute.
This release comes with audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas, an introduction by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, an extended TV version, a reflection by Gastaldi reflects on his career in the crime film-writing business and Desperately Seeking Susan, a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the distinctive giallo collaborations between director Luciano Ercoli and star Nieves Navarro. If you love giallo — or are just getting into it — all of these extras will open deepen your love for the form; Lucas is one of the best commentary track experts there is.
This limited edition Arrow Video box set comes in rigid packaging with the original poster artwork in a windowed Giallo Essentials Collection slipcover. You’ll enjoy 2K restorations for all three films as well as reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil and Gilles Vranckx.
You can get this from MVD.