“Evelyn! No, please!” – Killer Dames Double Bill Arrow boxset (1971/1972)

Emilio Miraglia is an Italian director who was most active in the 1970’s. He directed around six features (though he could have worked uncredited in more) and then vanished from the scene (literally). While he directed different genres, he’s most famous for two features: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (La dama rossa uccide sette volte). Trailers (NSFW!) and more after the break.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

This feature deals with the idea that Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) is secretly murdering prostitutes with red hair because they remind him of his late wife Evelyn. He lives in a ruined castle on its own grounds where he can murder to his heart’s content. Into this comes his cousin George (Enzo Tarascio) who is concerned for him and wants him to move back to the city and away from the scene of his unhappiness, his doctor Richard Timberlane (Jack Stuart) who wants him to find someone new and forget the trauma of Evelyn and the newly arrived Gladys (Marina Malfatti) who falls hard for the broken, if charismatic, aristocrat.

Where this could have been a very boring and camp film with a crazy nutcase roaming the grounds of his home killing screaming women, Miraglia turns Alan into a semi-tragic figure. He kills for some compulsion but he struggles with this knowledge, knowing that this is wrong but always the compulsion wins. Into this are elements of sadomasochism as Alan likes to tie up his victims in leather knee boots before whipping them with a bullwhip then doing away with them. He enjoys women and their company but he’s constantly trying to control them. When Gladys comes into his life, he tries to make sure she never finds out about the bodies buried in the family crypt to the point of being violent with her. I think the director might have been blending elements of psycho-sexual violence and the duality of men in their relationship with women into Alan’s performance and if that’s the case, I have to say that Anthony Steffen’s stiff manner works so well because he looks uncomfortable killing people. I don’t mean his performance stutters in the violent scenes, I mean he looks like he doesn’t want to be there but something carries him on to the deed.

If that was the only draw, the film wouldn’t be that pass remarkable but the rest of the cast have their own problems. Gladys becomes the only women to survive Alan’s violence because of a quirk in her behaviour means Alan’s usual MO is disrupted and he no longer needs to kill her. But she begins to find some elements of living on the Cunningham estate more and more unnerving. Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davies) is the family mystic and she runs the company of Stepford-esque maids who all have blonde hair and maid outfits (well, if they had red hair Alan would have something to say about, right?) while living in the castle. She’s got something up her sleeve but it might not have anything to do with Gladys and more to do with Evelyn’s weirdo brother Albert (Roberto Maldera). The film shows that Albert is aware of Alan’s problem and maintains a voyeuristic vigil on Alan as his kills more and more women. Every person in the cast has reason to be afraid because pretty soon people are being buried alive, fed to foxes, stabbed or poisoned. Miraglia keeps us guessing until the end and even then is determined to screw with that ending. All the while he and cinematographer Gastone Di Giovanni compose wonderfully symmetrical shots as the cast get isolated from the action and then blend cold, sterile shots of the ruined castle with moonlit woods and graveyards as evil lurks just beyond the lens.

The film looks good and the script works because it knows that it has certain limitations and works around them. It’s a slightly bloodless Giallo film that makes up for it in its dark walks into the mind of a truly mad murderer.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Eveline and Kitty Wildenbrück are sisters who have always feuded since they were little. Their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler) tries to keep them from fighting despite worrying about them inheriting the family bloodline of the sisters Red Queen and Black Queen, where the Red Queen must rise from the grave and take her bloody revenge on six innocent people and finally the Black Queen every one hundred years. Move forward to the next anniversary and Eveline and Kitty have grown up just in time for the problems to start again.

But the problem is that Eveline is missing. Nobody knows where she is but Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and older sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) dread the subject. It’s no spoiler but Eveline is dead, accidently killed by her sister. They keep telling people that Eveline is in America but Kitty still has nightmares about being the one who sent Eveline into the water. Her relationship with her lover Martin Hoffman (Ugo Pagliai) is hanging by a thread even as they work together in a fashion house as chief photographer and deputy manager respectfully. Into this comes a woman dressed as the old Red Queen killing people in Kitty’s life for no reason at all. The police identikit looks like Eveline. So who’s doing the killing?

While The Night Evelyn…. deals with the deep psychosis of compulsion, The Red Queen… deals with the problems of mental illness and predestiny. Clearly, the Red Queen is a person who has serious issues. She (or is it he) dresses in an ermine red cape and black clothes underneath and lies in wait for victims. Miraglia provides excellent tension by setting up kills by having his cast in the right place but then waits for an awkward moment for the actual deed. The camera cuts fast as the victim is dispatched with a frenzied burst of stabbing, followed by mad cackling as the perpetrator runs off. But it’s as the film unfolds and we see people start to crack under the pressure of either worrying they’re the next one to get it or that the police will arrest them for the crime. In the midst of trying to stop the Red Queen from killing again, we are introduced Eveline’s ex-boyfriend Peter (Fabrizio Moresco), a drug-addled miscreant who hounds Kitty for information about Eveline’s disappearance. When that doesn’t work, he demands money from her to keep him quiet. What’s interesting about Peter is that he comes across as mostly nervous and twitchy while wielding a knife but in a brutal scene unleashes a torrent of cruelty on Kitty by robbing and then raping her in her apartment. While his appearance in the film is analogous to Albert, Alan’s brother-in-law from The Night Evelyn…., here Miraglia brings an obsessed stalker to a far more logical conclusion.

The predestiny part of things comes from Kitty and her unshakable thought that she’s destined to be destroyed by the Red Queen and if reports are to be believed, her own sister too. It poisons her relationship with her lover and her family. Bouchet does a good job walking a razor thin tightrope between the deadened emotionless moment where another body has been discovered and the fragile moments when she visibly cracks. Bouchet never really cries but she gets to put herself through the ringer for our amusement. In a way, she is the counterpoint to Alan from The Night Evelyn…. She isn’t afraid as much of a maniac running around knifing people so much as she’s afraid it’s her sister and she’s the cause of it by accidentally killing her. Alan is a killer in his movie but he’s not afraid of being caught but by what will happen if he’s not. So in the latter film’s case, the draw is in whether or not it’s really Eveline doing the killing.

The cast is a bit more alive in this film as opposed to the first film in the set and while every actor has their part to play, I single out Bouchet for the above reasons, Marina Malfatti for her multi-faceted Franziska as we’re never sure if she’s protecting Kitty from the police about Eveline out of loyalty or her own reasons until the end and lastly for B-Movie Queen Sybil Danning (yes, that Sybil!) in the role of Lulu. She’s a model at the agency where Kitty and Martin work and she’s literally sleeping her way into job security but wonderfully, she’s portrayed with agency and is in complete control of her destiny throughout. While she’s not in the film enough, Danning chews through every scene.

Again, I would like to draw attention to the fantastic camera and lens work by Alberto Spagnoli as his work really is exceptional blending the moody lighting of public spaces where violence could break out at any moment to the atmospheric Wildenbrück Castle where lovely soaked ambers and oranges streak the walls and where shadows play a huge part in the final climactic scenes. Miraglia seems to go for a more standard Giallo type of film with the body and blood count being far higher than in his previous film. While we lose the gothic psychosexual thriller angle of The Night Evelyn… we gain the pure murderous, unexplainable killer motif in Red Queen and get a more faster-paced story as a result.

Arrow do their usual job of restoring both films and while there’s not much you can do with films like these, there are some excellent discussions on the discs about the state in which the films have been released over the years that makes me happy Arrow are tackling these. Extras range from commentary tracks from film reviewers and experts to great interviews with Sybil Danning, the production designer of both films, Erika Blanc talks about her role in The Night Evelyn… (she is a riot to listen to!) plus Arrow managed to port over older label NoShame’s extras from their DVD release of the films from a good few years ago. Some of their material retreads the newer stuff but it’s all fascinating stuff. Wrapping up is their booklet for both films.

Strange and eccentric, both of Miraglia’s have their flaws but their material and the power of his direction help carry both films along to conclusions and contentment for the audience

Review copy supplied by label. Please consider supporting Capricorn Theater by purchasing the US blu ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video or the UK edition (exactly the same discs).

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