Midnight Killer 1986
aka Morirai a Mezzanote aka You’ll Die at Midnight
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Valeria D’Obici, Paolo Malco, Eliana Miglio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In any industry, I think it’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of your father. It must be especially tough though if he’s an outright legend that’s credited with not only defining a genre, but also launching one. No matter how well you and your dad get along, there’s always going to be a little bit of friendly rivalry. Plus you can virtually guarantee that critics will always compare the works of a senior with that of his son. That’s why it must’ve been almost impossible for Lamberto Bava to escape the consistent comparisons and make his own name in Italian cinema. But Morirai a Mezzanotte (Midnight Killer) goes some way to showing that talent certainly ran thickly through the genes of the Bava family. It’s just a shame that Mario was not alive to witness his son’s worthy addition to the category that he created.
Now in all honesty, despite being extremely knowledgeable about the slasher cycle, I must admit that I have spent very little time researching the Giallo. I have still thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Mystery in Venice, Eyes without a Face, Too Beautiful to Die and Blood and Black Lace. It wasn’t until after I’d been impressed with this rarity that I began tracking down other genre classics. So you could say that Midnight Killer was something of a turning point for me…
It opens with a middle-aged woman shopping for some lingerie in a bustling town centre. Her husband Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio) sees her walking the street and begins following her. He buys a flower and waits outside the shop to give her a charming surprise. He certainly didn’t expect to see another man enter the changing rooms and he is even more shocked when they sneak out of the rear exit and shoot off in the mysterious stranger’s car. Later that night when she finally returns, the couple have a violent argument, which ends with Nicola storming out of the flat. After he has left, a black gloved assailant creeps into the apartment and brutally murders the promiscuous female with an ice pick. Inspector Pierro Teri (the always intriguing Paolo Malco) immediately suspects Nicola as the killer and so he enlists a psychological profiler named Anna Berardi (Valeria D’Obici) to help him crack the case. Berardi is a good friend to the Detective and she also teaches his daughter’s college course. She doesn’t think that Nicola is the guilty party, instead she suspects Franco Trebo – a serial murderer that was supposedly killed in a fire eight years earlier. As the bodies begin piling up round the city, it’s looking more and more like Trebo is back from the grave. The most worrying thing for inspector Terzi is that this bizarre maniac seems to have a viscous taste for his youngest daughter Carol (Lara Wendel). Will he be able to stop the ruthless psychopath before he tracks down his little girl?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. I have begun to realise though that it’s only because they always compare his filmography to the seminal works of his father. It’s a shame that this murder mystery was not distributed to a much wider audience, as it is a little seen gem that deserves recognition. This is mainly due to a fantastic score from Brazilian composer Claudio Simonetti (of the Goblin fame) and some truly chilling set locations. The killer stalks his way through a neglected theatre, a sinister museum and a vacant hotel with relish and the atmosphere-engrossing musical accompaniment helps to create some decent suspense. He also looks extremely menacing in a rubber facemask and his victims usually suffer at the hands of a stylishly directed set piece. The acting is fairly good from the leads and credit to Bava for enlisting Lucio Fulci-favorite Paolo Malco to join a comfortable cast. Many previous Italian Giallos (Eyes without a Face/Massacre) have suffered from inept and poorly translated English voice-overs. Fortunately that’s not the case with Midnight Killer, which was dubbed with considerable thought for non-Italian viewers.
Fans of gore cinema may be disappointed at the minuscule amount of the old gooey stuff. Also the lack of any nudity will probably switch off exploitation buffs that have been spoilt over the years by the likes of The New York Ripper. The mystery-aspect is not as complex and intelligent as many of its genre forefathers have proved to be either, which may cause bedroom Agatha Christies to search in the opposite direction. Still, this is a refreshing and fairly absorbing entry that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I do agree that Lamberto is a much better screenwriter than he is a director, but Midnight Killer is good enough to make his father proud. As I said earlier, it’s a real shame he wasn’t alive to see it. Recommended…
Final Girl: √√√