To say that Lamberto Bava had a checkered record as a director would be an understatement. For every DEMONS (1985) there seems to be around four films as bad as GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987) ready to stink up the small screen. Thankfully, YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT is one of his better films (even if no one actually dies at midnight!); an utterly enjoyable – albeit highly derivative – slice of giallo fun.
Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio), who despite his name is a male policeman, accidentally spies his wife out shopping and decides to surprise her. Only the surprise is on him, when he spots her smooching with an afternoon lover in a lingerie shop. At home he confronts her, leading to the mother of all domestics: with him being stabbed with an ice pick, and her nearly being drowned in a basin full of washing up. Bleeding, he leaves, and his wife takes a shower, only to be stabbed to death by someone wearing black gloves and brandishing the ice pick she attacked her husband with.
The police, led by Inspector Pierro Terzi (Paolo Malco), reluctantly finger Nicola as the killer of his wife. Seemingly unaware of his his wife's death, he runs into the arms of his friend, Anna (Valeria D'Obici), a criminal psychologist and lecturer at the nearby college. She persuades him to leave, and then tries to convince Inspector Terzi that Nicola cannot be the murderer. She believes a psychopath is on the loose, and that the killing has all the hallmarks of the murders committed by a serial killer called Franco Tribbo, who supposedly died in a fire at the sanatorium he was being kept in 8 years previously.
Inspector Terzi refuses to believe that Tribbo – who was dubbed the Midnight Killer as he always killed at night – is back from the grave. Anna discusses her theories with her young students: Carol (Lara Wendel), who is Inspector Terzi's daughter; Monica (Eliana Miglio); Gioia (Lea Martino); and Alberto. They ponder the case surrounded by the plaster death masks of past killers, in a nicely ghoulish touch.
The murders continue, including a nurse at the college who is killed in the same way as Nicola's wife. Inspector Terzi insists his daughter and her friends leave the city for their own protection, and sends them to the dubious safety of an isolated and deserted out-of-season hotel by the coast. Once they arrive, they realise there's also an unexpected and very stabby guest along for the ride!
YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT harks back to the glory days of the giallo, and thankfully is without the rock video stylings typical of late 80s entries in the genre (including Bava's enjoyably daft follow up to this, DELIRIUM (1987)). If anything, this is less a tribute to the gialli of his late father – the late maestro and arch magician of Italian genre cinema Mario Bava – and more of a love letter to Dario Argento. The references to Argento (with whom he worked with on DEMONS) are legion: Claudio Simonetti provides the music (some of it purposefully reminiscent of his band Goblin's soundtrack to SUSPIRIA (1976)); a murder and suspenseful chase scene takes place in a dilapidated theatre, much like the one featured in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971); Lara Wendel was a young victim in TENEBRE (1982), and one victim has lingerie shoved down her throat, a clear nod to scene in that film where a woman is forced to eat pages from a book. The final twist is also a sleight-of-hand similar to that in BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970); although not even Argento would have dared to pull off the deliciously loopy, SCOOBY-DOO'esque denouement that ends YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (which rivals Umberto Lenzi's eternally enjoyable giallo cheesefest EYEBALL (1975) for its sheer daft audacity).
Bava is clearly having fun with the genre's conventions. There are knowing touches and tributes, including the yellow (giallo) and white kitchen belonging to Nicola and his wife; to the yellow blouse and socks that Anna sports; to the most blatant of all, when Monica goes to bed reading a garishly adorned giallo paperback called 'Blood' (which gives her nightmares of a razor slashing killer).
Bava also always seems to throw in a curve ball into his films to catch you off guard. In DELIRIUM it was the bit where the killer vomits blood onto the Serena Grandi's blindingly white knickers. Here, in the film's stand out moment, one victim holds off the killer with an electric whisk! Loosing the battle (by forgetting not to stray further than the electric lead will allow), she suffers the indignity of the killer then shoving those whirring whisks into an intimate place where whisks where never meant to go!
Much like Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT (1987), Bava decides to borrow heavily from the American slasher flick for the last two-thirds of the film, with sustained stalking scenes and much cat and mouse theatrics between the killer and the female students at the hotel.
Ultimately, YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT is a tense roller coaster of a giallo/slasher hybrid that borrows from the best and at some points more than matches them for sheer enjoyment value.
female:6 / male:1
1) Female stabbed to death with ice pick
2) Female stabbed to death with ice pick
3) Male shot dead
4) Female suffocated with lingerie
5) Female stabbed to death with knife
6) Female beaten to death with poker
7) Female shot dead