Sunday, August 30, 2015

Death Walks at Midnight & Overcoming Trauma

Not as wild as Argento, as silly as Bava, or as gory as Fulci, Luciano Ercoli's giallo Death Walks at Midnight is a more measured effort, for better or for worse. When Valentina takes an experimental hallucinogen called HDS, she believes she witnesses a horrific murder. Despite her conviction, everyone she talks to assumes she's delusional, and the situation is made more complicated when we find out that a similar murder took place six months ago.

Nieves Navarro is absolutely perfect for her role as the leading lady Valentina. She offers a great dynamic range, shrieking in fright one moment (as you might expect for a horror-tinted murder mystery), but giving it back as good as she gets it the next (kicking a would-be rapist in the balls in one particularly memorable scene). Part of the reason I’ve been digging so deep into the giallo is its occasional tendency to portray women as empowered agents of their own future in a context where you’d expect the opposite, and here Navarro delivers exactly that. Also, she has one of the greatest heads of hair in maybe all of film history.

Like many other gialli, the film examines the nature of psychological trauma and the journey we must undertake to overcome it. The film opens with the scene of the trauma (structurally aligning it with a sort of rebirth or childhood trauma), and from there we enter the psychological world of the protagonist. She begins to see the murderer everywhere, and this developing paranoia is all the more poignant because of the unanswered question of whether she actually saw the murder or whether she was simply the victim of the hallucinogenic drugs she was taking. Through proper Freudian dream logic, the only way for her to overcome this trauma is to repeat it, to face it down directly and confront the return of the repressed.

Not sure I completely grasp Luciano Ercoli’s directorial signature on a single viewing, but the opening and closing set pieces are fantastically orchestrated, and overall the film is definitely a solid entry in the genre for anyone interested.

Italian Cinema

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