We open with a man stalking a woman, observing her as she enters a boutique – complete with surrealistic mannequins – picks out some lingerie and trysts with her lover in the fitting room.
There is an angry confrontation as we learn that the man, a policeman by the name of Nicola, and the woman, Sara Levi (the name suggestive of that giallo fascination with Jewish characters, though nothing is to made of it on this occasion) are in fact married.
He hits her. She retaliates by stabbing him with an handy ice-pick, although it seems more that it is his masculine pride that is damaged rather than anything else, inasmuch as he is still able to half-drown her in the sink, before recovering a measure of composure and walking out.
The obligatory but still effective mirror-based compositions; note also the yellow
As Sara takes a shower and contemplates revenge, a black-gloved killer stabs her repeatedly with the ice-pick, fatally.
Not a mirrored composition but rather one making good use of the distinctive architecture of Anna's split-level apartment with its interior window
Nicola arrives on the doorstep of criminal psychologist Anna Bernardi, whom he had bumped into earlier that morning, and confesses that he almost killed Sara in his rage.
Meanwhile, his colleague Paolo Terzi (Paolo Malco) has been called to the crime scene and calls Anna, the presence of their mutual acquaintance the judge further indicating that this is kind of place where everyone who matters knows everyone else to help overcome what could otherwise seem like one contrivance too many.
Believing that no-one will believe his innocence, Nicola goes on the run, only adding to the weight of circumstantial evidence against him. While Terzi has some doubts – “I'd like to find out why a good policeman could get mad and become a criminal,” as he explains to Anna in indicating why he has involved her in the case – he is unwilling to countenance her alternative hypothesis. Might the crime may mark the return of the maniac Franco Tribbo, presumed dead following a fire at the asylum where he was incarcerated? (A plot idea that prefigures Sleepless's dwarf killer returning from beyond?)
Effective use of 'natural' frames within the frame
The preservation of rare birds
Anna, Terzi and Carol discuss the case
A mannequin looks on at the action concealed by the yellow curtain
But as subsequent murders are committed and new evidence comes to light, Terzi is finally forced to reconsider – precisely at the moment when his daughter Carol (Lara Wendel) and two of her friends, Gioia and Monica, all of whom happen to be criminology students studying under Anna, have gone for a study weekend at an otherwise deserted, out of season hotel...
Like many gialli, 1986's Morirai a mezzanotte / The Midnight Killer / You'll Die at Midnight is the kind of film that works better in the set piece moments than as a convicing, sustained narrative. The issue, I would contend, is that in attempting to deal with the weight of history – a theme admittedly diegetically germane – by referencing a number of their genre predecessors, the film ends up feeling too much like a greatest hits compilation
Much the same thing could – and has – been said about Argento's near-contemporaneous Phenomena – itself one of these reference points, though the similarities between the traumatic incidents that emerge as root cause for their respective killers' psychoses – but there is a crucial difference. In Phenomena we have are given a consistent point of identification, that this is a story centred about Jennifer Corvino. Here, by contrast, our point of attention shifts too often – from Nicola to Anna and Terzi to Carol and her friends – which is perhaps beneficial by way of keeping us guessing as to the killer's identity as we sift through the suspects, but rather less satisfactory in that we end up caring less about the victims than we might.
Nor does it help that the Torso-style final act recalls Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi's success there in performing the Psycho trick in unexpectedly killing off Tina Aumont's character to position Suzy Kendall's as our point of identification against the clumsiness with Lamberto Bava and Dardano Sacchetti attempt comparable tricks here.
The same can be said for their borrowing from another major reference point, Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The issue here is that, a well-mounted and suspenseful stalking sequence in a museum tellingly lined with cases full of stuffed birds aside, the reference does not actually become apparent until the moment at which, with the killer unmasked and brought to book, the facts of the case are usefully summed up. So, instead of joining a protagonist in their obsessive quest to uncover what precisely was “wrong with that scene” we are again distanced from the action and given a shock revelation when a suspenseful process of discovery would perhaps have been preferable.
and the usual phallic cutlery...
Bava's nods to his father's work are more successful, perhaps because they are less to do with the structural aspects of the film, as with the vaguely Blood and Black Lace lichtspiel when the killer targets the boutique assistant, or a nod to The Girl Who Knew Too Much when one of Carol's classmates reads a giallo before going to sleep, has a nightmare and then awakens with a start only to find herself in a much worse situation.
La Maschera del demonio
Unfortunately for Monica, here seen attempting to fend off the killer with a whisk – a nod to Puzzle, perhaps? – she's not the marked out as the final girl
Elsewhere the director and his production designer, Guiseppe Bassan's son Davide, have fun with that 80s penchant for pastel shades by dotting lemon yellow curtains, shirts and sweaters around the place, while Claudio Simonetti delivers an effective synthesiser led score that ratchets up the tension as and when required.
Fans of Fulci's The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery will also enjoy seeing Gianpaolo Saccarolo in yet another sweaty, shifty cameo role as a caretaker who discovers a body but is quickly determined by Malco – inducing a sense of deja vu for those who've seen the latter Fulci – to be harmless rather than a possible suspect.