“What’s the matter with you? Have you gone mad?”
I have a list of giallo films to watch that is pretty intimidating. During its heyday in the 1960’s and 70’s there were dozens of the stylish crime/horror movies released and odds are good I’ll never see them all. I’ve seen most of the genre films by Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, but I’ve got a spotty track record with the vast bulk of what remains. I’ve only seen one Sergio Martino giallo, for instance (the proto-slasher Torso) and I still need to see some of the classics of the genre, like What Have You Done to Solange? or All the Colors of the Dark.
Oh, here’s the obligatory overview paragraph about the giallo genre. The name itself comes from the Italian word for yellow, and is a reference to a series of pulp crime novels released with bright yellow covers in Italy. The film genre is generally regarded as starting with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963 and Bava looms large in the early history of the giallo. The genre really took off in 1970 with the release of Dario Argento’s first film, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and the next five or so years would see the vast bulk of the giallo films released. Giallo films are known for convoluted plots, stylish kills, dramatic music and beautiful women.
That’s a woefully thin overview, but covers the basics. They’re essentially complicated crime thrillers, with a touch of horror (or more than a touch, depending on the director). I’ve enjoyed most of the ones I’ve seen, so I try and make an effort to watch at least a couple a year. This generally involves picking a title and hoping for the best. This year I decided to finally watch one of the films whose title has often had it in the running – The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. I mean, come on, that’s awesome! (It’s not my favorite title – which remains Your Vice is an Empty Room and Only I Have the Key.) Once I’d seen it I happened to notice that the director, Emilio Miraglia, had only done one other giallo – The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (and equally fun title).
Which is a long, convoluted (but not as convoluted as the plots of these films) way of explaining how I ended up with this double feature for the week. That’s two more films down, leaving (checks notes) roughly another 30 or so to go. Gah.
I watched both of these films on Shudder, which has recently added a bunch of gialli. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is also available for subs on Amazon Prime and both it and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave can be purchased via Prime, Google Play or YouTube. (Evelyn is also on Tubi at the moment.)
Both films are available on Blu-ray from Arrow as separate release and in a Killer Dames box set (which is a bit pricey and hard to find). Arrow releases are almost always worth the pickup, so if mid-tier gialli are your thing they’re the way to go.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
It turns out, I’ve actually seen this film before. At least some elements and characters are recognizable, leading me to think I probably saw a VHS release back in the day. Those were heavily edited and at least one release ended up in the public domain, leading to a ton of sub-par releases based mostly on a TV edit. The version on Shudder is the un-edited original, and as my original viewing hadn’t left much of an impression it was mostly a new experience (with some vague moments of deja-vu).
FYI – the theatrical release of Evelyn in the US included the option to buy “bloodcorn” – popcorn with red food coloring added! Sadly, I didn’t make any for myself this time around.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a crossover film, containing elements of classic “gothic horror” – including a castle, seances and hazy nude scenes – as well as the giallo elements that Argento had popularized with The Bird With the Crystal Plumage the year before. It has plot twists, violence, nudity, complicated kill sequences and the convoluted psycho-drama underpinnings familiar from that film, but also a torture chamber right out an early Bava film or a Corman Poe picture. Add in a dash of early 70’s “groovy” pop culture – dig those fashions and that crazy band! – and you’ve got plenty to keep your attention through the parts that drag.
Our main character is Alan (Anthony Steffan), a wealthy lord of some sort whose kink is that he finds red-headed prostitutes that resemble his dead wife (the Evelyn of the title), takes them to his crumbling castle in the country and whips them to death in his custom torture chamber while dressed as an inquisitor. He’s doing this as some sort of mental catharsis for his wife cheating on him (in the aforementioned hazy nude scenes), but he’s got the presence of mind to swap out his license plates so he can’t be tracked. That’s premeditation in my book.
This is our hero, by the way.
He’s surrounded by a bunch of enabling sycophants, including his psychiatrist (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, who I remember most from Kill, Baby… Kill!), Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davis) and cousin George (Enzo Tarascia). He’s also being passively blackmailed by the gameskeeper, Albert (Roberto Maldera), who is also Evelyn’s brother and sleeping with Aunt Agatha.
Eventually Alan’s live game of Kiss, Marry, Kill does lead to marriage when he finds a woman he doesn’t want to whip to death, Gladys (Marina Malfatti, who we’ll see again in The Red Queen). Everyone seems happy for them, but there are echoes of Corman’s The Tomb of Ligea when visions of Evelyn begin to plague the household. Her tomb is opened and found to be empty. And then people start to die.
The thing about The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is that despite a ton of crazy elements – there’s a pool with a bag sulfuric acid next to it that comes into play during the ending – it occasionally drags, with far too many slow-motion nude scenes and blurry “I’m having a psychotic episode” sequences. Then the ending is so convoluted and frantic that you lose track of just who is betraying who and which characters are really dead. Or maybe you just lose the ability to care.
The Bottom Line
There’s plenty of fun to be had with The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave, but it’s also plagued with an inconsistent pace, flat characters, nonsense plot elements and a main character who is essentially a psychotic murderer, but who we’re supposed to feel sorry and root for. There are some great moments – including a truly spooky appearance by a skull-faced Evelyn – but also some laugh out loud moments of silliness. That band, man…
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
I actually watched The Red Queen before Evelyn, which probably did the earlier film a disservice, because Red Queen is just a much better film. Not that it makes much more sense – and it centers around a similar “wealthy family with inheritance issues” plot line – but it’s got some real moments of artistic horror and doesn’t suffer as much from lackluster pacing.
The movie starts off with two young, quarrelling sisters – Kitty and Evelyn (no relation to the earlier film) – who are told by their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler) about their family curse, in which two queens are doomed to kill and be killed by each other, with some collateral damage, every hundred years.
Forward to adulthood and Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) is a successful photographer for a major fashion outlet. She tells everyone that her sister has moved to the US, but the truth of the matter is that she accidentally killed Evelyn during one of their fights. Her family has covered it up, going so far as to hide the body in the basement below their ancestral castle. Truth will out, however, and when Tobias dies after a visit from a woman wearing a red cloak there’s nothing certain except that more people will die. The Red Queen, you see, must kill six more times…
As an aside, it’s been fun seeing actors and actresses in these films that I recognize from the oddest places. Schündler was in one of my favorite films, Suspiria (and The Exorcist) and Kitty’s primary rival (in love and work) Lulu Palm turns out to be Sybil Danning. I also recognized Barbara Bouchet, but couldn’t place her for the longest time – it turns out her most recognizable role for me was as Kelinda on the “In Any Other Name” episode of classic Star Trek! (That’s the one in which aliens convert most of the Enterprise crew to blocks of minerals.) She was also Moneypenny in the 1967 version of Casino Royal.
As people begin to die, suspicion falls on Kitty and her married lover Martin (Ugo Pagliai) – who benefits from the death of the head of the fashion house AND the death of his institutionalized wife. The reports of a red-cloaked woman, laughing as she flees the murder scenes, cause Kitty to suspect that Evelyn isn’t dead or – once her older sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti again) shows her Evelyn’s rotting corpse in the basement cells – that perhaps she’s back FROM the dead.
While most of the characters are pretty flat – with Danning’s Lulu providing the only real fun – the Red Queen herself is a great film villain, with her flowing cloak and demented laugh. Not only is she vicious and crazy in her killing, she’s also more than capable of luring her victims into traps and setting people up to take the fall. (I’m hard on the characters, but at least most of our heroes aren’t murdering sadists like the main character in Evelyn.)
The plot has some fun twists and turns and the ending includes corpses, rats, betrayals and a fantastically complicated setup to kill our heroine involving flooding the dungeons. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best of the giallo films, it’s definitely a fun ride that’s worth taking, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
The Bottom Line
There are some truly great sequences in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, including a fantastic shot of the killer in her red cloak and eerie mask running down a hallway and a crazy flood near the end, and the whole proceedings are generally more professionally shot and edited than Evelyn. That’s not to say that The Red Queen is perfect – there are plenty of flat characters, awkward kills and an excruciating rape sequence – but I found it a lot more enjoyable as a film, even if it’s less mad in the details than Evelyn.