Arrow Video USA gives an immensely satisfying special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo treatment to Emilio P. Miraglia's memorable giallo duo THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE and THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES.
In THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen, PLAY MOTEL) is tormented by visions of his unfaithful, red-headed wife Evelyn who died in childbirth. Mentally unstable and a libertine, Alan indulges his obsession by taking red-headed prostitutes back to his ruined family estate for some sadomasochism that usually culminates in murder as he succumbs to blackouts. His doctor Richard (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK) advises that he forget about Evelyn by getting remarried, his dandy cousin George (Enzo Tarascio, THE CONFORMIST) suggests that he spend some time in London among high society, his wheelchair-bound younger Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davis) suggests contacting Evelyn from the beyond will make his violent attacks disappear. Alan agrees to participate in a séance but faints upon seeing Evelyn's apparition, after which he instructs his lawyer Farley (Umberto Raho, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) to spend whatever is require to restore the castle within a month's time (and to wall up Evelyn's tomb). At a decadent party thrown by George, Alan meets blonde Gladys (Marina Malfatti, SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS) and proposes to her before they even go to bed because she makes him feel human again. They return to the castle to find that Aunt Agatha has hired five blond maids, George cheerful even though he will no longer inherit the title, and gamekeeper Albert (Roberto Maldera, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS) – also Evelyn's brother – blackmailing Alan and accusing Gladys of violating the house with her presence. Despite Alan's continuing obsession with Evelyn's portrait, things appear to be going well until Evelyn notes in passing the presence of a red-haired maid she had never seen before. As more unusual events occur and someone starts knocking off the extraneous cast members, Richard believes Alan's sanity is deteriorating while Gladys wonders if Evelyn is truly dead. When she takes it upon herself to destroy Evelyn's painting, she may have set off the dark, stormy NIGH EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE.
A hybrid of the psychedelic giallo and the Italian gothic, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE never convinces in its supernatural aspects, but the many red herring cast members – essayed with suitable shiftiness by Italian genre regulars – keep things interesting even as we are more and more sure that money is the more likely motive rather than supernatural retribution or even Alan's madness (even as the hero, he does appear to be a murderer as well even if some of his attacks may be manipulated). Most striking in what little screentime she has is Erika Blanc (THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE) as stripper Susi whose act commences with her emerging rump-first from a coffin. Although the settings are not remotely British, the villa and its grounds make for a striking backdrop as characters stroll about or sit around the dinner table while trying to find logical explanations for strange occurrences. Neither Alan's sadism and possible murders nor the identify of Evelyn's lover are ever resolved, but the film makes good on its twist revelation with some surprising last minute bloodshed and fisticuffs culminating in a strange end credits freeze-frame. The photography of Gastone di Giovanni (DEATH RIDES A HORSE) is only occasionally inventive but Bruno Nicolai (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) provides another of his diverse atmospheric scores with psychedelic rock, Edda dell'Orso vocalizing, and a trumpet-lead main theme (although two of Alan's victims dance to separate themes recycled from Nicolai's score for Jess Franco's EUGENIE, THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION); although, one cannot help but think a director like Sergio Martino might have made more of the film stylistically.
Released stateside by Phase One Films and in heavy rotation in theatres in double bills, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE first became available on home video to most English-speaking viewers courtesy of a fullscreen VHS transfer from VCI and different widescreen transfers from Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video. The film made its DVD debut on a number of PD labels utilizing Sinister Cinema's transfer before a superior but still cropped 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer became available in Germany from X-Rated Kult Video with an English track that looped some dialogue for scenes missing from their English source. NoShame debuted a new HD-mastered 16:9 DVD in Italy with an English dub and then stateside with the dub and English subtitles for the Italian track in a boxed set with THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIME that also included a figurine of the latter film's titular character. Extras included interviews with Blanc and production designer Lorenzo Baraldi (SCENT OF A WOMAN), and virtually identical English and Italian theatrical trailers.
Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of this Techniscope film is derived from a new 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The brightness levels of the night scenes and interiors are better judges than the NoShame, the image crisper and less smeary (although this may have had more to do with NoShame's conversion of the PAL downconversion of their HD-mastered transfer), and more detailed with some subtle color gel lighting more evident than before in its accenting of the image foreground or background (as well as a thruway shot that may references another RED QUEEN). There is also more picture information on either side of the frame in many instances. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono English and Italian tracks are clean and convey the music as crisply as the dubbed dialogue. Optional English subtitles are available for the Italian track and English SDH subtitles are included for the English dub. Seamless branching allows for the inclusion of the Italian and English opening title sequences. The English title sequence is complete for possible the first time, with the Phase One prints usually cutting from the cinematographer credit to that of the director (skipping those for editor Romeo Ciatti, art director Baraldi, and the film's production manager).
The NoShame disc started off with an optional introduction by Blanc (0:37) which Arrow has included in a special features sub-section of "archival extras" in favor of a new one (0:54). The author of the three-volume giallo compendium SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE Troy Howarth contributes his first audio commentary for the Arrow disc. He points out the story's debt not only to LES DIABOLIQUES – noting that EVELYN is one of the few films of this type that focused on a mentally fragile man rather than a woman – as well as REBECCA, and voices his appreciation of the film's female cast while finding Steffen an underwhelming lead on par with Robert Hoffman (NAKED GIRL KILLED IN THE PARK). He spends as much time discussing the problematic aspects of the film's plotting and its filler subplots (and appreciating the titillating elements) as on the giallo genre as a whole. He also discusses the careers of the cast and crew, revealing that Malfatti was an accomplished stage actress and that one of her pre-giallo roles was as Beryl Stapleton in an Italian television adaptation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (this information is also relayed in the RED QUEEN commentary but you will have to go to Thrower's appreciation of EVELYN below to discover what became of Malfatti since Howarth was not able to trace her whereabouts beyond her film credits). Some of the aspects of the genre and the mechanics of Italian filmmaking have been covered elsewhere before by the likes of Tim Lucas, Thomas Rostock, and the pairing of Alan Jones & Kim Newman (who provide commentary on the co-feature), but his take on the narrative is perhaps necessary to contextualize his remarks on the film and its production as well as providing an introduction to the genre to viewers for whom THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (as part of the set or the inevitable individual combo) is their introduction to the genre.
"Remembering Evelyn" (15:11) is an appreciation by critic Stephen Thrower who also discusses the hybrid gothic giallo stylistics, the cast, the settings, and the film's theatrical success worldwide. Blanc's 2006 NoShame interview "The Whip and the Body" (20:57) is also "archived" but she also appears in a new interview titled "The Night Erika Came Out of the Grave" (9:45) in which she recalls inventing her striptease (and that both of her dance scenes were performed to different cues than heard in the film), her friendship with "vain" Steffen, and that she was really whipped in the film. She closes out the interview with the surprise appearance of her Playboy centerfold. Also carried over from the NoShame release is the archival interview with production designer Baraldi "Still Rising from the Grave" (22:48) along with the virtually identical Italian and English export theatrical trailers (2:44 each). Sadly, Arrow was not able to track down the Phase One trailer (which presumably vocalized the American tagline "The worms are waiting!").
At odds since childhood, sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet, AMUCK!) and Eveline Wildenbrück have been at odds, to the point that their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler, SUSPIRIA) fears that they will be the latest pair of siblings to enact the curse of the Red Queen and the Black Queen. In the middle ages, the long suffering Black Queen stabbed her sister The Red Queen seven times. The dead woman then rose from the grave a year later and murdered six innocent people and then claimed her sister as the seventh victim. Every hundred years this pattern has repeated itself, and it looks like Kitty and Eveline are gearing up for the next centennial in 1972 (fourteen years after the childhood prologue). When Tobias dies of a heart attack that year, he leaves a codicil to his will that says the heirs will not be named nor the money and property divvied up until one year later. Although he had hoped to prevent the curse from being fulfilled this way, Tobias was unaware that Eveline did not run away to America but was accidentally killed the year before by Kitty during a violent argument, and that her older sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti again) and her crippled husband Herbert (Nino Korda, SATAN'S BREW) helped cover up the crime in exchange for half of Kitty's portion of the estate. She is also being blackmailed by Eveline's junkie boyfriend Peter (Fabrizio Moresco, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT), but what is more disturbing is that both Franziska and Herbert believe that the cackling Red Queen was responsible for Tobia's death and that she had the face of Eveline (whose body is still rotting in a secret room in the castle's dungeon). When Springe department store manager Hans (Bruno Bertocci, CALIBER 9) is stabbed to death by a dark-haired woman in a red cloak and fashion photographer Kitty's boyfriend Martin (Ugo Pagliai, FATAL FRAMES) becomes the new head of fashion, Kitty wonders if he has not used the legend to his benefit. When more employees are murdered, Inspector Tuller (Marino Masé, NIGHTMARE CASTLE) ties the murders to Martin and Kitty without knowledge of the curse, but Kitty starts receiving calls from someone claiming to be Eveline who is planning to kill her last.
More believably set in Bavaria with authentic schloss settings (exteriors and grand interiors) and location footage backdrops for the fashion shoots, THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES is also ripe with enough incident and shifty characters – among them, Martin's mad wife who claims to receive nightly visits from a woman called Eveline – to keep the film interesting in between scenes of the photogenically terrified Bouchet and ambiguous Malfatti wandering the corridors and dungeons of the castle. Pagliai is a rather stiff hero and Masé does not so much solve the case as explain things after they are revealed to the audience, but a pre-enhanced Sybil Danning (HOWLING II: STYRBA, WEREWOLF BITCH) is fun as a sexpot model, and Pia Giancaro (EVIL EYE) also attractively hovers about the periphery as Hans' former secretary. The plot is more muddled than THE NIGHT EVELYN CAM E OUT OF THE GRAVE but the staging and editing superior. The appearances of the Red Queen are striking – including a nightmare sequence that could have inspired a similar one in Lucio Fulci's MURDEROCK – the stabbings and other deaths more brutal (including a fence impalement and a dragging by car that anticipates a more technically proficient set-piece in DEEP RED), and the bright, sharp, and colorful photography of Alberto Spagnoli (BEYOND THE DOOR II) a better match to the lyrical scoring of Bruno Nicolai (which recycles some cues or at least some demos from his score for Jess Franco's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD).
Released stateside as THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES and then reissued as BLOOD FEAST, RED QUEEN went unreleased on video stateside (available to the more persistent collectors via a Greek-subtitled tape) until NoShame's boxed set. Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode of this Techniscope film comes from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. Solid and highly saturated reds clothing is undistorted and evinces texture, the painting of the Red and Black Queens has brush strokes now, Eveline's face is evident as the actress' own rather than a mask in the one scene in which a character is supposed to recognize her, and the enhanced resolution suggests that the coarser and slightly bleached look of the flashbacks is intentional. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks are clean and highlight Nicolai's lullaby-like theme and the death cries of the film's victims. Optional English subtitles are provided for both the Italian and English dubs. Seamless branching allows for the selection of either the English or Italian opening and end credits sequences (the English title is indeed LADY rather than RED QUEEN).
The optional introduction by production designer Baraldi (0:38) is carried over from the NoShame DVD along with the archival special features Baraldi interview "Dead à Porter" (13:38), "Round Up the Usual Suspects" (18:24) with Marino Masé, "If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today..." (4:14) in which Masé, Baraldi, and Blanc make remarks to the absent director, and the "My Favorite... Films" (0:59) convention footage in which Bouchet expresses her surprise that she has fans of her Italian giallo work. New to the release is an audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman who remark on how the film does anticipate the slasher template and (half-jokingly) how the Red Queen would have made a striking franchise figure had the film been made a couple years later. They point out the plot's misdirections as well as its inconsistencies, the blandness of Pagliai (in terms of clothing as well since Masé's detective looks sharper than the supposed fashion expert), and the ambitiously-staged climax. Jones draws heavily from the NoShame extras, citing information gleaned from the Baraldi interview about the location scouting as well as the use of Mila Schon's entire line to clothe the female and male cast (with Bouchet showcasing the alta moda line and most of the other actresses wearing the boutique line). They also point out that the Springe department store fashion studio and German police station were built inside of Rome's then-new National Library and that Martin's apartment is the same one previously inhabited by Edwige Fenech in THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH.
In "The Red Reign" (13:48), critic Thrower offers another appreciation on the film, the film's possible inspiration for DON'T LOOK NOW, its American releases (BLOOD FEAST was accompanied by promotional red-dyed popcorn), the other works of Miraglia (including the two different English-language cuts of THE FALLING MAN) and the director's disappearance following his two best-known films. In "Life of Lulu" (19:48), actress Danning discusses her beginnings studying dental hygiene, moving to cosmetics, and then to modeling (getting her first jobs when her boss went on a business trip and had her minding the phones), and her first films (including the David Friedman German co-production THE LONG, SWIFT SWORD OF SIEGFRIED), and her other co-productions. She discusses her clothes on the film, speaks highly of Spagnoli's photography of herself and the other actresses as well as the film's authentic locations and set dressing (despite statements to the contrary made elsewhere on the disc, she recalls getting along with Bouchet). She is also pleasantly surprised about how good the film is as a thriller. Carried over from the NoShame release is the alternative opening (0:39) for some English prints meant to be inserted in between the end of the title sequence and the first present day sequence counting down in increments of two years from the 1958 prologue to 1972, as well as identical English and Italian theatrical trailers (presumably the LADY IN RED and BLOOD FEAST release were so small they did not merit trailers). A limited edition boxed set of 3000 copies in the US and UK, the retail copies also include reversible sleeves for the BD/DVD combo cases and a 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet.(Eric Cotenas)
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