British company Arrow Films has really been on a tear in recent months with a number of exceptional and maybe a bit unusual themed cult film box sets bursting with extras: noteworthy examples include their American Horror Project, Volume 1, which includes all but forgotten, low budget films from the US like Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973), The Premonition (1976), and The Witch That Came From the Sea (1976); Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cat, with Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981); and Death Walks Twice, a Luciano Ercoli giallo double feature with Death Walks on High Heels (1971) and Death Walks at Midnight (1972).
But out of these themed releases, I’ve been the most excited about the newly available Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio Miraglia, a beautiful set that features the two pseudo-giallo films of underrated director Miraglia: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972). Though Miraglia is relatively unknown alongside giallo greats like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, or even Umberto Lenzi, his two entries are stylish and incredibly entertaining. Combining elements of the giallo films with Gothic horror tropes and supernatural themes, the two films revolve around dead women named Evelyn and don’t unfold in strictly linear or rational universes, but that’s just part of the fun.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)
After the death of his wife Evelyn, Alan (Anthony Steffen) spends some time in a mental hospital, but has been recently released despite the fact that his obsession for Evelyn has not waned. The lord of an English manor, Alan spends his idle nights trolling bars for red-headed Evelyn look-alikes. These dalliances, usually with dancers or prostitutes, always end in torture and murder. Attempting to cure himself, Alan takes a new bride, Gladys (Marina Malfatti), but it seems Evelyn has not quite finished with him yet. While Alan believes that Evelyn has risen from her grave to get bloody revenge, Gladys is convinced that she only faked her death and is trying to drive Alan to completely insane.
Definitely among my favorite giallo films, there is nothing quite like La notte che Evelyn usci dalla tomba aka The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, partly because the script — from Miraglia, Massimo Felisatti (The Weekend Murders, Strip Nude for Your Killer), and Fabio Pittoru (The Weekend Murders, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) — is allowed to delightfully meander where it will and unveils twist after twist… after twist. Unlike more traditional giallo fare, the film lacks a central protagonist, which is really a plot device meant to throw suspicion equally on all the characters. This stylish, atmospheric entry packed with gorgeous set pieces is likely to confuse the hell out of viewers expecting more traditional slasher or murder mystery fare.
What begins as a fairly routine Euro-horror serial killer film where beautiful women are whisked away to a castle or mansion to be murdered — a la Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), with which it has a few things in common, or even Cardona Jr’s ridiculous Night of a Thousand Cats (1972) — quickly goes off the rails to become something unique, feverish, and wonderful. It transitions into a ghost story with a séance sequence and sightings of would-be apparitions around the castle, before eventually morphing into a more giallo-like construction (with a conclusion involving a pool filled with acid!).
And though there are a few murders early on in the film, the more violent elements don’t really kick off until the second half, which includes unexpected death scenes like a woman being fed to a cage of prized foxes. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Evelyn’s surreal visuals and, as in a lot of Eurohorror, there are numerous shots of semi-nude women running through graveyards and even a macabre striptease from Erika Blanc (Kill Baby, Kill), who rises from a coffin at the beginning of her act. Marina Malfatti, who would return for The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, is absolutely luminous whether she’s screaming in terror or plotting diabolically.
This is probably the best treatment Evelyn will ever receive. The films comes with a 2K restoration in both Blu-ray and DVD, and the original Italian and English soundtracks are accompanied by newly translated subtitles. The are loads of extras, including an introduction from Erika Blanc, who also provides new and archival interviews, an archival interview from production designer Lorenzo Baraldi, theatrical trailers, an interview with writer Stephen Thrower, and a commentary track from writer Troy Howarth.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
Two young sisters, Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Evelyn, fight over a doll when a family heirloom – a painting of two women known as the Red Queen and the Black Queen – possesses Evelyn and she violently stabs the doll, decapitating it. Their grandfather (Rudolf Schündler) explains that the two girls are part of a family curse, where every 100 years the Red Queen will possess one sister who is destined to kill seven people, ending with the second sister. As adults, Kitty and their third sister, Franziska (Marina Malfatti), are alarmed when a murderer arrives at the family mansion. Kitty, who accidentally killed Evelyn in a fight months before, becomes convinced that her sister has risen from the grave to claim the Red Queen’s vengeance once and for all.
Miraglia’s follow up film, La dama rossa uccide sette volte, also known as The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times, may not be quite as high in my esteem as The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, but it’s another woefully neglected title that this Arrow set will hopefully introduce to a new legion of fans. Miraglia reuses many of Evelyn’s themes: a mix of colorful ‘70s giallo style blended with more traditional Gothic elements and a hint of the supernatural when he again suggests the possibility that the murderer is actually a ghost. Though unlike that film — and a number of traditional giallo titles — there are plenty of likable, fleshed-out characters, namely the protagonist, Kitty.
Bond girl and giallo regular Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling, Caliber 9) shines as the appealing protagonist haunted by guilt and stalked by a killer. While many giallo films focus on helpless heroines trying to stay a step ahead of a black-gloved killer — as in titles like Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion or The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh — I tend to prefer the more complex female characters of films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Bouchet’s Kitty falls somewhere between these two extremes and is indicative of the film’s moral complexity.
There are certainly lots of gray areas: Kitty herself is a murderer and her sister Franziska (Malfatti, returning from Evelyn) comes across as some sort of lazy opportunist waiting for her share of the fortune, while the women at the modeling agency where Kitty works as a photographer are eager to stab each other in the back. While both The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times have plenty of lovely, scantily clad ladies, this film is certainly more weighted towards female characters. The use of models and fashion was popular throughout giallo (thanks to Mario Bava’s seminal Blood and Black Lace), as it allows for numerous built-in scenarios with attractive women in various stages of undress or clad in a variety out absolutely outrageous outfits. The film does make Kitty less of a sexualized object than her peers because she is a photographer, rather than a model, though this also pops up in other pseudo-giallo films like Baba Yaga or Eyes of Laura Mars.
Despite some occasionally ridiculous moments, Miraglia effectively conveys the suspenseful atmosphere and keeps us guessing about Evelyn’s identity. While The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave relied on a number of characters being portrayed as insane (or potentially so), here Miraglia uses a plastic mask meant to disguise the face of Evelyn; this allows for a few glimpses of his/her face and various characters claim to recognize a sketch of the killer, though they can’t quite seem to place from where. It’s worth noting that the Red Queen does not kill seven times, but I won’t spoil whether the total is more or less.
As with Evelyn, I can’t imagine Red Queen ever receiving better treatment than it does here. It also comes with a 2K restoration, presented in both Blu-ray and DVD, as well as the original Italian and English soundtracks with new subtitles. Stephen Thrower, production designer Lorenzo Baraldi, and Erika Blanc return for interviews, while there are also additional interviews with cast members Barbara Bouchet, Marino Masé, and Sybil Danning, plus an original trailer, and an alternate opening sequence. My favorite extra, though, is the commentary track from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, who are responsible for some of the best on Italian genre cinema (their The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Tenebre tracks are exceptional) and my only real criticism of the set is that I wish they had also been asked to do a similar track for The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.
Killer Dames is certainly a contender for release of the year, though this is shaping up to be a particularly good one thanks to all these themed Arrow sets (among other things). This particular set is beautiful inside and out, thanks to colorful artwork from Gilles Vranckx and a huge, 60-page booklet with informative essays from James Blackford (of the BFI and Sight and Sound), Diabolique’s own Kat Ellinger, and bloggers Rachael Nisbit and Leonard Jacobs.