The marriage of genres is no easy feat. Rob Zombie marries redneck horror and trash exploitation with varying degrees of quality, while the Coen Brothers have made a more successful career out of applying the Homerian epic to the western (True Grit) and the noir film (Barton Fink and Fargo). Many have tried, few have succeeded. One of the undersung filmmakers who accomplished such a feat did so in the early 70s. Emilio Miraglia combined giallo and the high Gothic two years in a row with 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).
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave follows Alan (Anthony Steffen), a rich aristocrat who escapes from a mental institution following the death of his cheating wife Evelyn (Paola Natale), whom he still carries intense baggage about (both grief and hatred). Alan takes his issues out on odd prostitutes, luring them down to the dungeon of his estate and inflicting Sadean abuse upon their nude bodies before killing them. After a seance in which a vision of Evelyn appears, Alan passes out and cousin George (Enzo Tarascio) moves in as a caretaker; he also suggests that his relative take a bride to quell his sadomasochistic urges. Alan takes George’s advice in the Emilio Miraglia film, marrying the bombshell blonde Gladys (Marina Malfatti). Soon enough, Gladys experiences strange visions of the dead Evelyn, and Alan’s mental state deteriorates as a result.
Emilio Miraglia’s film is singular in that Alan, a serial killer, becomes a sort of hero simply because the people around him are, in a way, worse than he. Alan never conquers the divided consciousness that Evelyn represents, a division commonly explored in Gothic literature (The Cask of Amontillado and The Fall of the House of Usher both feature people buried alive, each a personification of a form of self within the struggling protagonist). In fact, Alan doesn’t learn a thing other than “don’t trust anyone, ever.” He remains as vain as the Carly Simon tune croons. But what Alan lacks in an arc, he makes up for in villainy. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a sort of mod version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart — a look at a man whose guilt and obsession accelerates his descent into madness.
The rule of thumb for a giallo-horror is that otherworldly elements can and do exist within the narrative, but they must eventually be revealed to have a secular, logical (if not convoluted) explanation. Even western imitators like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Alice, Sweet Alice follow the rule. Both Emilio Miraglia films succeed in this regard, with vengeful double-crossing scammers hiding behind the billowing robes.
If you were to blast Deep Purple in Poe’s House of Usher, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave would the result. The Gothic elements marry into the gialli ones: leather black gloves running along gloomy stone walls of a 17th century castle; fetishized sex play within dungeons and fetishized murder on chic white leather couches straight out of A Clockwork Orange. Costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi decks Alan out in period-adjacent clothing with 70s flair: velvet smoking jackets in psychedelic tones with plush cravats that make Steffen look like Christopher Lee’s mod double.
Such genre staples have conjugated before onscreen (see: Mario Bava’s 1963 shocker The Whip and the Body, a film that horror scholar Rebekah McKendry once referred to as “Wuthering Heights with bondage”), and so by the time Emilio Miraglia comes around with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, he’s aware of the audience familiarity with such decadent trappings and proceeds to have fun with them. Case in point: a cadre of permed, platinum blonde French maids that look like they came straight out of The Benny Hill Show. Their only purpose is to underline the gaudy glamour of 1970s giallo horror, and perhaps give a wink to the jaded genre fan.
Both The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times share a director, screenwriter (Fabio Pittoru), composer (Bruno Nicolai) and lead actress (Malfatti, a spaghetti Sharon Tate). In Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1970-1979, scholar Roberto Curti connects the gothic elements to a castle, a crypt, a seance, a vengeful ghost evoked by a portrait that haunts the main character. “The Argento connection is actually very thin,” he writes, “as the movie primarily works as an old-style whodunit revolving around a ‘drive someone crazy’ scheme. The ample resort to Gothic staples is spiced with nods to Edgar Allan Poe ( Evelyn’s red hair recalls Berenice), Hitchcock (Rebecca and Vertigo), and Boileau and Narcejac’s clever mixture of psychological gothic and mystery.”
Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times begins with the most Gothic of artifacts, a transcendent piece of art. In an opulent castle during present day, a painting stares down upon two quarreling sisters, Kitty and Evelyn. Their grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler) explains the portrait: a few centuries prior, the two women of the painting lived in the castle. The sisters were known as the Red Queen and the Black Queen. The Red Queen tortured and taunted the Black Queen, who sat and took it for years, waiting for the right moment for revenge. When they grew up, the Black Queen finally got her moment and killed her sister, stabbing her seven times as she slept. A year after her death, the Red Queen committed seven murders, the last of which was her vengeful sister. Every hundred years, the Red Queen returns to commit seven slayings in the same castle, always involving two sisters. Thus begins The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.
The setting moves from ancient castle to modern fashion house, loosely imitating Bava’s Blood and Black Lace surroundings. Years later, Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) apparently and accidentally kills her sister during another fight. Their oldest sister, Franziska (Malfatti returning to work again with Miraglia), covers up the incident, telling everyone that Evelyn left to North America. Despite Kitty’s guilt, she goes along with the cover-up. Beginning with the death of the girls’ grandfather (a fright-induced heart attack), a slew of murders ensue around Kitty — all involving a mysterious red-cloaked, giddily-laughing woman.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times mixes its giallo and Gothic elements less fluidly than its counterpart film. Because Kitty is a career woman in the haute couture fashion world, the clothing styles and interiors are more contemporary. Fashion designer Mila Schon complements the decor with trends of the period, dressing Kitty and the models of Springe Fashion House in expansive collars, plunging necklines and bold contrasting patterns. A compare-contrast of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’s Gladys and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ Kitty puts Bouchet’s character in a more masculine light, though both are routine damsels-in-distress. In the Arrow Blu-ray release of The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, an archival interview with costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi unearths intimate insight to both films and their cinematography:
“Of the two films, ‘Evelyn’ was very dark, while the other shines very brightly. Of the two cinematographers, Di Giovanni was an elder DOP of the Old Guard. He had already worked on movies of the same genre, and the ‘Evelyn’ script itself suggested those kind of dark images with strong shades of red, blue, and yellow. In ‘Red Queen,’ Spagnoli, who like me, was very young at the time, was at the beginning of his career at the time. Spagnoli was very influenced in the style of The Red Desert and many other movies. He tried to find in the script and in Miraglia’s ideas, a ‘modern and young’ style. I think this was the main difference. One movie was made by the old guard, the other by a younger, promising director of photography.”
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times follow the giallo rule of thumb about occult dabblings; while the supernatural appears to play a heavy hand in the narrative, the man (or woman) behind the curtain eventually reveals themselves, exposing the bumps in the night as an elaborate ruse to gain fortune. Screenwriter Fabio Pittorru throws several twists into The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ third act: not only did Kitty not kill her sister, but Evelyn wasn’t even her biological sister; she was adopted in an effort to break the hundred-year “curse.” The murderer? Franziska, who wanted Tobias’ vast inheritance money all to herself. A few alliances with some disgruntled co-workers of Kitty’s made all of the mayhem possible, and more bodies mounted each time Franziska dispatched an accomplice. As with so many films of the subgenre, there was no curse, no ghost after all. Emilio Miraglia’s lasting legacy is a similar one; no luck figured into his unholy bond of mayhem and madness. His deliberate interweaving of castles and glimmering blades taps into the one element that both Gothic and giallo art share: the ability to taffy-pull delight from terror. Both Poe and Bava would tip their hats.
Anya Stanley (@BookishPlinko) is a horror-centric columnist and film critic. Her work can be seen in Fangoria Magazine, Rue Morgue, Dread Central and Birth.Movies.Death as well as her website anyawrites.com.