Two classic films from director Emilio Miraglia.
We start with 1971's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (a.k.a. LA NOTTE CHE EVELYN USCI DALLA TOMBA; THE NIGHT SHE AROSE FROM THE TOMB).
This opens to footage of independently wealthy Alan (Anthony Steffen), a Lord, running around the countryside while being chased by asylum officials. They eventually catch him and return him to the loony bin in which he resides.
The main story starts proper some time later, where Alan has been released from said psychiatric hospital and returns to life in his remote castle home. The condition of this discharge is that he maintains regular contact with his doctor Richard (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). This is he does, though his troubles are still evident - mainly stemming from the demise some time ago of his wife, redheaded Evelyn. Richard's advice is to find a new love through marriage.
But, for a time at least, Alan has other plans. Like luring pretty redheads with a passing resemblance for his late partner back to his castle, where he shows them his bondage room in the basement before attacking them with his whip. Hmm, perhaps they released him from the funny farm a little early?!
Crucially, his second victim is prostitute Susie (Erika Blanc). She gets strapped into one of Alan's S&M contraptions and whipped across the backside before ... an even worse fate awaits her.
After a couple of torture-murders, it appears Alan has finally taken his doctor's advice and decides to meet with a girl at a party with the idea of wooing her towards the notion of marriage. Gladys (Marina Malfatti) certainly is beautiful, and they seem to hit it off in the sack: yes indeed, they're engaged to be wed in no time at all.
And, for a while, the murders stop. But then, Gladys begins to be plagued by visions in the castle of a stranger with an uncanny resemblance to the late Evelyn. Why, it's all enough to drive an up-until-recently-demented man insane again...
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE is a curious beast. Its mystery plot, fetishist elements and violent set-pieces all subscribe to the notion that this is a giallo. On the other hand, the old decaying castle (supposedly based in England, though the film was shot in Italy), spookier suggestions of supernatural goings-on and a well-shot séance all conspire to lend it more of an air of modern Gothic a la later Mario Bava productions such as BARON BLOOD.
The film works well as both, marrying the two styles with considerable skill. Chief to its success is Gastone Di Giovanni's luscious photography and Bruno Nicolai's typically memorable score. The plot is more complex and intriguing than my synopsis above suggests (I haven't elaborated further for fear of giving spoilers) and, of course, the presence of Blanc is always extremely welcome. She's on fine form here, including one of the most iconic moments of her entire career as she does a sexy dance at a crucial moment in the film...
Steffen is admittedly a weak link. His portrayal of madness is either insulting or hilarious - possibly both. He's not a likeable lead and he rarely manages to convince on any level.
Thee pretty big drawback aside, however, EVELYN is a beautiful, beguiling and elegantly staged thriller with a pleasingly Grand Guignol finale.
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (a.k.a. THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES; LA DAMA ROSSA UCCIDE SETTE VOLTE; FEAST OF FLESH), from 1972, is even better.
This film starts in 1958 with brattish young Eveline tormenting her sister Kitty while playing in their Grandpa Tobias' castle. The wheelchair-bound old man pacifies the situation by sitting the pair down and telling them a story about the Red Queen, a portrait of whom hangs in his living quarters.
Legend has it the Red Queen and her sister, the Black Queen, hated each other so much that the latter eventually killed the former. A few years later, the Red Queen rose from her grave to claim revenge - murdering six innocent people before finally dispensing with her sister, and returning to her own grave. Apparently this all happened in the castle and, every hundred years, history repeats itself as whichever two sisters have ties to the building at that time play out the exact same murderous scenario. The next scheduled hundredth anniversary of the legend is 1972...
Fast-forward to, you've guessed it, 1972. Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) has grown into a beautiful young woman. Eveline, we learn, died in the meantime - drowned on the castle grounds under mysterious circumstances.
This latter fact has been shielded from frail Tobias. Third sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) has stayed at the castle to tend to him, and tells him Eveline is alive and living in America. She knows better however. Or, at least she thinks does ... until Tobias dies from a heart attack in the night, having been visited in his bed by a knife-wielding woman in red who may just be Eveline...
Kitty returns home to attend Tobias' funeral and help Franziska get things in order while they and Kitty's fella Martin (Ugo Pagliai) wait around for the reading of the family will.
It's at this point, of course, that the murders begin - all perpetrated by someone dressed exactly like the legendary Red Queen...
In some ways, RED QUEEN feels less ambitious than EVELYN. Despite its subplots involving a fashion house, a greasy-haired extortionist and the shameful truth behind Eveline's fate, the film is more of a by-numbers whodunit. And yet it flows better than EVELYN by virtue of regular set-piece scenes, more regular action, and bloodier content. The pace never flags and, of course, Bouchet is a far more agreeable lead than Steffen. The cackling Red Queen killer is a genuinely unnerving character too.
As with EVELYN, the film is aesthetically fantastic and benefits from another sterling Nicolai score. Throw in regular bouts of sex and violence, along with an early turn from none other than Sybil Danning, and you have a film worthy of repeat viewings.
Arrow have released these films as a 4-disc set (two blu-ray discs, two DVD counterparts). We were sent copies of the blu-ray discs for review.
Both films are presented uncut and in their original 2.35:1 ratios. They're housed as MPEG4-AVC files on their own dual layer 50gb discs and come equipped with the benefit of full 1080p HD resolution. The prints used are clean and the transfers are extremely faithful ones. Colours are true to previous releases, though the high definition presentations heighten their impact - especially where reds are concerned. Close-up detail is very impressive across both presentations: blacks are deep and noise-free, motion is fluid and smooth ... No complaints whatsoever.
Audio is provided for both films in both Italian and English language versions. Both are given the 2.0 Master DTS-HD treatment, and do their job perfectly well. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
Both discs open to animated main menu pages, from which each film can be accessed via its own 12-chapter pop-up scene selection option.
Extras for EVELYN begin with an audio commentary track from film writer and all-round nice guy Troy Howarth.
After laying down his credentials he gets down to the business of ruminating over what constitutes a giallo thriller, and lists EVELYN as "an offbeat and off-kilter example of the genre". He goes on to give a detailed, open and astute critique of the film - he's not afraid to call it "uneven" or bring Steffen's aforementioned performance into question - while pointing out visual nods to Bava, subtle plot points and much more. Howarth knows his stuff and is generous in sharing a wealth of information with us, from the score to the actors and beyond (though he confesses he doesn't know much about the locations used). There's a lot of humour here too, as Troy points out the film's sillier moments. And you've got to love anyone who not only recommends THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE during his commentary, but puts out an appeal for it to get a blu-ray release.
Amazingly, this is his first ever audio commentary track. I say "amazingly" for two reasons: firstly, Troy's name seems to have been fairly ubiquitous over the last few years when talking about scholars of cult cinema; secondly, he's very relaxed here, offering a fluent, consistently entertaining and informative track throughout.
We also get a 1-minute optional introduction to the film from Blanc. She seems almost apologetic about the fact that she no longer looks like she did in the film but, hey, she looks perfectly well - still glamorous after all these years.
Blanc is also present in a great all-new 10-minute interview, conducted by Uwe Huber. She's in good humour as she discusses Steffen's vanity on set, how her role bagged her a cover appearance in a future issue of "Playboy", her thoughts on getting whipped onscreen and more.
Stephen Thrower is informative and engaging in equal measures as he talks about the film - originally to be entitled SWEET TO KISS HARD TO KILL, he reveals - over the course of 15 minutes. This Nucleus Films production sees Thrower mulling over the film's release, his favourite scenes, the style employed etc.
The Italian and English trailers are both included here, and they're both fantastic fun.
We also get an array of archive special features, which fans of No Shame's excellent DVD set from a few years back will be familiar with: a 2006 introduction to the film from Blanc; the 21-minute featurette "The Whip and the Body"; the 23 minute retrospective "Still Rising from the Grave".
Over on RED QUEEN's disc, we bonus features commence with a gracious 38-second optional video introduction the film from production designer Lorenzo Baraldi.
Next, there's an audio commentary track from Alan Jones and Kim Newman. This pair have done a few chat tracks together in the past - my favourite being theirs for THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - and this one is true to form in that it's entertaining, often funny and always informative.
Thrower is back in the 14-minute "The Red Reign", speaking with fondness about the film's look, its cast, the crazy plot and the enduring appeal of it all.
Danning pops up for an enjoyable 20-minute chat. She looks great and speaks with great fondness about her early career, which took all over Europe ("but never to Paris - I was never skinny enough").
An alternate opening scene is interesting if brief, at only 39 seconds in length.
We also get original Italian and English trailers again: cue more psychedelic shenanigans.
This disc gives us those archive special features too: the featurettes "Dead a Porter (14 minutes), "Round Up the Usual Suspects" (18 minutes), "If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today" (4 minutes) and "My Favourite Films" (1 minute).
I believe the same content is available, in standard definition, across the two DVD discs.
This impressive set is rounded off by a 60-page colour booklet containing essays by Kat Ellinger, James Blackford, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|