The word ‘giallo’ belongs to a very specific sort of Italian thriller – one that ventures into the horror genre, and features a series of spectacular killings, red herrings, a hapless hero who finds himself caught up in the middle of the crimes (usually as a witness) and an sense of mystery. Black gloves, POV shots, flashbacks to tortured childhoods and deviant sexuality are all options. The boundaries of the genre are somewhat flexible, of course, but for me any hint of the supernatural and any revelation of who a killer might be before the end of the film disqualifies it. These are not hard and fast rules, and you are welcome to disagree. But when I see The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave called a giallo, I swallow hard and wonder if these people think that any non-zombie Italian horror fits into the genre.
Directed by Emilo Miraglia in 1971, the film seems an exceptionally lurid take on the Italian gothic psycho film – the tales of tortured, Poe-inspired madmen, haunted (psychologically, not supernaturally) by the ghosts of their past – dead (often at their hands) loved ones, who they have to keep on killing in the form of others. In this film, it’s Alan (Anthony Steffen), who has just been released from a mental institution after the death of his wife Evelyn. This release seems a tad premature, as Alan is still somewhat unbalanced, and is soon luring redheaded strippers to his castle-like home, where he makes them dress in thigh boots, and then whips and tortures them.
This allows the film to open as it means to go on, with an impressive pair of bare breasts, kinky outfits, lightweight BDSM and scenery-chewing from Steffen. The nudity and ripe dialogue continues throughout the film, as Alan is convinced by his only living heir Farley (Umberto Raho) to marry Gladys (yes, Gladys – Marina Malfatti) in an attempt to cure him of his madness. But things do not go well, as the ghost of Evelyn appears to haunt Alan and send him into a complete breakdown. Of course, things are not what they seem, and the plot starts to unravel into a fiendish plot that also involves stripper and would-be victim Susan (Erika Blanc).
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave doesn’t quite like up to the promise of the splendid title, but it gives it a damn good go. There’s more nudity than you’d see outside of a soft porn film, moments of splashy gore, ripe performances and some spectacular set pieces, including a great striptease scene from Blanc, all backed by a suitably loungetastic score by Bruno Nicolai. None of it adds up to anything remotely substantial, but it is fantastic, ludicrous fun, marred only by a somewhat half-arsed ending.
The second film on this Miraglia double-bill, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, is more authentic giallo (the title itself is classic giallo style), though still – I would suggest – only with one foot in the genre. There’s an Evelyn here too, the murdered sister of Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) who seems to have returned from the grave, to fulfil a family curse involving a painting of a Red Queen who has to kill seven times after being raised from the dead every hundred years. Kitty heads a fashion house full of bitchy models like Sybil Danning, who all start to turn up dead, at the hands of a red-caped murderer with a psychotic laugh.
There’s a Poe influence here too – walled-up bodies and the like – and the film mixes the lurid (lots of nudity and some bloody deaths) with a convoluted plot that takes assorted twists and turns / unnecessary diversions (depending on your point of view) and leads to a fairly predictable ending. There are some decent set pieces – one death is genuinely impressive, even though the character isn’t a particularly important one – and Bouchet is an impressive lead, with the female supporting cast like Danning also being interesting. As with the earlier film, the male characters here are almost uniformly seedy and unpleasant.
It’s a little less kitsch than The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, and so rather less interesting – but it makes an entertaining follow-up, and the two films do have a certain continuity of style – Miraglia didn’t make many films, and on the basis of these, that’s a pity. His work isn’t remotely classy, but it does make good use of colour (everything is vivid) and at times seems to have more ambition than the films really deserve – there are moments of inspiration and style that suggest a director on his way up. Who knows what went wrong? On a more basic level, the films are entertainingly sleazy and make for lightweight, easy viewing.
Hardly essential, but certainly a lot of fun, and Arrow’s collection come with assorted extras (interviews with Blanc and Danning amongst them) that ice the cake nicely.