YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT
I imagine that the worst thing about being Lamberto Bava is the constant comparisons made between his work and the work of his father, the late, great Mario Bava. These comparisons are a bit unfair. Mario Bava was a different kind of filmmaker. His films were calculated, exquisite and perfectly pitched. Lamberto Bava's films are simple, quick and tonally schizophrenic. They are both products of their era. Mario's films were inspired by the Italian Gothic, the German Krimi and Film Noir. Lamberto's films feel like the kind of direct-to-video, no frills, low-cost fare that was crowding rental stores and second-rate theaters at the time. If anything truly separates their work, it is time. I couldn't imagine Mario Bava surviving - let alone thriving - in the kind of filmmaking arena his son works in. Likewise, I couldn't imagine Lamberto Bava working within the system that his father slaved under.
By the time Lamberto Bava made his first giallo in 1980, the genre had already imploded under it's own weight. Gone were the kitsch, funky 1970s. The fashion, the music, the interior design... all of that was beginning to be replaced by the cold, hard, lifeless, plastic desolation of the 1980s. MACABRE contains a whiff of the old giallo style, but the film, as great as it is, is impersonal and rather drab. When we think of the gialli created by his father, we remember the light, breezy feel of THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, the darkly fetishistic BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, the slight parody of 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, and the lunacy of BAY OF BLOOD. When we wander through the gialli of Lamberto Bava, we are faced with the dark, stuttering A BLADE IN THE DARK, the hyper-stylization and crass sexploitation elements of DELIRIUM - PHOTO OF GIOIA, and the languid, almost lackadaisical, BODY PUZZLE. But that isn't necessarily because Lamberto Bava was / is a worse filmmaker than Mario Bava. It's because the medium had changed. The giallo itself had changed.
Of all of Lamberto Bava's gialli, YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT - or MIDNIGHT KILLER, depending on your source - comes the closest to recapturing the feel of a later 70's giallo. It is far from a perfect replica, but it manages to attain some of that level of implausibility and fun that is missing from most of the post-1970s gialli. Like all gialli, it starts simple and works itself into a frenzy of loose ends, red herrings and lapses of logic.
The cops are on the look-out for a killer. Their main suspect is Nicola, a policeman whose wife was brutally murdered following an argument they had over her infidelity. The Inspector in charge of the case, Pierro Terzi, is convinced of Nicola's guilt, but his friend, a criminal profiler turned teacher named Anna, isn't so sure. She knows Nicola well and doesn't believe him to be capable of committing the violent crime. She believes it's the work of a serial killer. More specifically, she believes it to be the work of a man named Franco Trebo, a convicted murderer thought to have died in an asylum fire nearly 8 years ago. The case appears to be brought to a close when Nicola is found struggling with Anna and is shot dead by a policeman. However, the murders continue and, more disturbingly for Terzi, the killer seems to have developed a fixation on his daughter, a college student named Carol.
The problem with this film is it's lack of focus. I swear I didn't know who the main character was in this film until the final half hour. It's opening scenes establish Nicola as a main player in the story - this opening scene is a great example of Bava's ability to misdirect his audience and confound their expectations, skills he displays several times during the film - but he is quickly forgotten once Anna makes her appearance. Anna is followed around until Bava decides to devote some screen time to Terzi, but then moves on yet again and focuses his attention on Carol. Bava only decides to concentrate on Carol during the last 30 minutes of the film and the sudden shift from peripheral character to main character doesn't quite work. She seems to have been chosen for the sole purpose of creating a scenario in which Bava can isolate three pretty, young college girls and have them terrorized. When we think of the giallo film, we tend to think of it as a kind of film served well by having a strong center character. Few gialli jump all over the place like YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT in terms of character. We're watching a police procedural for one third of the film and a more dramatic film for the next third, all before settling into the realm of the slasher film for the finale. It simply doesn't work. It's too disjointed and far too disruptive.
Where the film succeeds is in it's pacing. At just under 90 minutes, YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT breezes through it's story, never lagging or over-staying it's welcome. It's the kind of film you can watch without putting in too much effort, for better or for worse. It's a fun little film and you can tell Bava wasn't taking it - or himself - too seriously. It might not be as colorful or as off-the-wall as the best gialli of the 1970s but it feels more like a part of their company than most of the gialli made in the mid-1980s. The story isn't overly complicated but it manages a few good surprises as it unravels and the acting is all quite serviceable, much better than the material probably deserves.
At the end of the day, you probably couldn't ask for much more from YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT than simple entertainment and it succeeds well at being entertaining and fun. Giallo purists will more than likely be put off by it's flat visuals and lack of a solid main character, but it operates smoothly and has just enough intrigue to carry it through to the end.