MAY 18, 2016
My biggest regret about the HMAD book (besides, of course, the fact that not every man woman and child on this earth has a copy... YET) is that I had so few giallo titles that were eligible for inclusion within it. After I took out the ones I didn't like much and the ones that were famous (no big titles per my rule - though I quickly realized that my definition of obscure didn't quite match up to everyone else's - I could have been more lenient), I only had a couple left, when I originally planned to have a full chapter devoted to Italian movies (with gialli making up a good chunk of them). So when Arrow announced they were releasing a double-disc set of The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (which was one of those few exceptions - it's on page 242!) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italian: La dama rossa uccide sette volte), which I had never seen at all, I was quite delighted.
There are a couple reasons for my elation. One is that Evelyn is a fine film that has been mangled and distributed on budget packs for years, so to see it restored and uncut was a relief (even if it means my book entry no longer applies since half of it concerns making sure you are watching a proper version as there are several cuts floating around). Another reason is an obvious one - Red Queen offered a new proper giallo for me to watch, something that I'm always happy about but rarely get a chance to experience. Thirdly, as a lover of trivia and connections, I quickly realized that the films' pairing wasn't random - they were both from director Emilio P. Miraglia (not hard to find out, but a fact I was unaware of until now), and both combine standard giallo silliness with something a little more traditionally horror. In Evelyn there's a supernatural element that (spoiler) while ultimately explained away as a ruse, still gives it a ghost movie feel that its peers often lack, and Red Queen offers up some full blown Universal/Hammer horror moments (people creeping around in old crypts, being besieged by bats, etc.) alongside the black gloved killer and beautiful women who are frequently disrobing for their sleazy male co-stars.
Hilariously, they're also about women named Evelyn who may not be as dead as previously believed, and once again an inheritance is at stake (has an inheritance dispersal ever gone smoothly in a horror movie?), though they are otherwise dissimilar enough that watching them back to back wouldn't really inspire too much deja vu - the things they share in common are kind of surface level. The setting, the characters, etc. are all very different, and honestly I might even like this one a tiny bit more. The plot almost feels more like a straight up slasher than the usual gialli I see, as there is much less police involvement than normal, keeping the focus on the victims (and their various romantic entanglements) instead of the cops who are trying to figure out who is killing everyone. I mean, of course there IS a cop character, but he's only in a few scenes, minimized to the point where I considered that he was the killer and they were sidelining him to keep him a viable suspect (if he was frequently seen investigating himself it'd be pretty dumb even by giallo standards).
It's also got one of the dopiest setups ever, with a grandfather explaining a family curse that's represented by a giant painting in his bedroom that he despises (after he tells the story to his two granddaughters, he orders the painting removed - I guess he was just waiting for the right moment?). The curse explains the title as well - the family has a curse where every hundred years, one sister (the "red queen") will murder seven people including her sister. As luck would have it, the hundred year mark occurs 14 years later, when the girls have become beautiful women and the grandfather has passed away, with his inheritance being withheld until the year is over and the curse is "broken". I mean, all of these movies are ridiculous when all is said and done, but that's gotta be the nuttiest one yet - can't someone just witness a murder or try to cover up an affair or something like usual?
Naturally, after the will is read people who are poised to get money (or at least are involved with someone who is) start getting killed off, by a pretty stab-happy murderer who appears to be a woman, with long hair and a red cloak (and a creepy-ass mask we don't get to see nearly enough). Our heroine, Kitty (Barbara Bouchet), one of the grown-up granddaughters, has killed her sister Evelyn over an unrelated matter (and covered it up by claiming she had gone to America), so naturally she starts believing that Evelyn has, er, returned from the grave - but we know it won't be that simple. We know because not only can it just not be that simple, but also because she has stashed the body in the dungeon-like cellar, and checks to make sure it's still there when the murders start happening. So who is it? Her OTHER sister, inexplicably left out of the prologue? Her boyfriend? His wife? His other mistress (Sybil Danning!) The sleazy guy who blackmails her for money (and later rapes her seemingly for the hell of it - it's not graphic or anything but it's almost certainly the most extraneous example of such things I can recall)?
The answer splits the difference between satisfying and obvious, thanks to a baffling revelation that more or less suggests two killers, both of whom over-explain themselves and, in true giallo fashion, make things more confusing. The climax is also kind of strange in that Kitty - our heroine - isn't even present for some of the bigger reveals, as she is trapped in the cellar which is flooding with both water and a bunch of rats (another of the film's old-school horror homages - it's very Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man). As usual, vital pieces of information are only given to us in the final few moments, but that's all part of the fun, and again with a limited police presence it means the runtime is spent on the main characters, giving them a chance to get fleshed out enough that really any one of them could have been the killer and it'd be a satisfying denouement. The WHYs are kind of incidental anyway, so the fact that it barely makes a lick of sense doesn't really bother me. At least, not as much as the fact that Bouchet never even gets to hear from her tormentor why he/she had been doing such things. Hopefully one of the other survivors clues her in later.
Arrow has put together a pretty extensive disc here, starting with a really good commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman, who thankfully do NOT just recite the IMDb entries for everyone on-screen and instead talk about the film's narrative, offer background info (particularly on the wardrobe), giggle about some of its sillier plot points, and make note of its context within the giallo canon - such as pointing out that one kill may have inspired one in Deep Red (same thing I thought of when I watched it). This is the perfect kind of critical (meaning, the participant(s) had no involvement with the film) commentary, offering insight and analysis but without being all stuffy and dry about it; it's a bummer they couldn't reunite for Evelyn. Then there are a pair of new interviews; one with Danning who is a delight as she talks about her pre-movie career, this particular job, and what she's done since, all without the slightest bit of pretension about any of it (her only regret is that someone else dubbed her voice in the movie). The other is with Stephen Thrower, a writer who more or less just runs down the plot and gives some general info on the participants, with a few jabs thrown in for good measure (like how the movie manages to confuse us from the first scene), though he oddly claims no one knows what happened to Miraglia, when all of the other people who mention him say that he died a few years after making this final film in his brief career.
The other extras (beyond the new transfer, of course - it looks terrific though I haven't seen the movie before so I can't speak on any improvements) are all carried over from a 2006 release from another company, putting Arrow in my cool book as I hate having to keep multiple releases of a film in order to have all of its bonus material - if I HAD that older one I could safely get rid of it, in other words. They include a few more interviews (including one with Bouchet), a curious alternate opening title sequence that shows the years passing by (though they only offer the even numbered years, for whatever reason), and an intro to the film by the production designer. They're all fine, though pale to in quality to the newer ones (both in a technical and entertainment value sense), so only mega-fans of the film need apply.
It's a shame Miraglia only directed these two films in the genre, and an even bigger one that this turned out to be his swan song. A lot of gialli tend to blend together, but his stand out by mixing Gothic elements into the usual murder plots, and it would have been fun to see what he'd do as the likes of Argento came into prominence - would he double down? Just make full blown supernatural horror films and leave the black gloved killers to his rival? We'll never know, though at least Arrow has saw fit to give his painfully brief horror career its due with this lavish set (which includes a 60 page booklet and just as many extras for Evelyn). And unlike a number of their cooler releases, this will be available in region A as well as B (their home base), so us Americans can enjoy what they put together without worrying about region locking or import shipping costs. Hurrah!
What say you?