Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia

The giallo, an influential style of Italian thriller originated during the 1960s, was not known for moral statements. That said, there’s a perfect summation of the sub-genre’s attitudes in one aside from 1972’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, the second of two films by Emilio Miraglia remastered and reissued on Blu-Ray by Arrow. It concerns Hans Meyer, a lecherous fashion industry boss who we’ve just seen brutally murdered. When wondering who might have committed the crime, one of his acquaintances recalls him having a fit of temper in front of his fashion industry employees, ending with him screaming “It was right to guillotine aesthetes during the French revolution!”

If you’re in any way attuned to the mindset of these films, you know that means he deserved everything he got. Directing a giallo requires you to be the aesthete of Oscar Wilde’s dreams, someone who can make a beautiful spectacle out of anything from a fashion show to a disembowelling. It is not, then, a genre for those who like their European cinema stringent and moralistic. Yet it would be wrong to say it has no limitations. Though giallo directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava often made supernatural horror films in a similar style to their gialli, a true example of the genre spurns the occult or ghostly. They may be horrific – you could have a good argument over whether gialli should be properly classified as horror or crime cinema – but their horror comes from human sadism, rather than anything more exotic.

The tension between the giallo film’s crime-paperback roots and its flamboyant, horrific visuals is at the centre of these two films. In the earlier of the two films, 1971’s The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, every Gothic trope is ticked, with its decadent, aristocratic anti-hero Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) driven to kill red-haired women by the memory of his late wife Evelyn. Or is it her spirit? The Edgar Allen Poe-ish device of an apparently cursed portrait is common to both the films in this set, usually captured in a perfectly 1970s ominous zoom in. Throughout Evelyn there is a revelling in Gothic genre ingredients, but Miraglia also teases a rational solution to its mysteries – even the red-haired maid who takes a glass of Alan’s milk, then seemingly disappears…

evelyn2

As Alan’s aunt points out, the Cunningham estate tends not to employ red-headed maids due to His Lordship’s tendency to murder them – a witty, rare example of the dreamy, image-based logic of a giallo coming up against real-world practicalities. There is a welcome strain of dark humour in Miraglia’s films, particularly concerning class. In the England-set Evelyn an aristocrat is ripped to shreds and eaten by foxes, while The Red Queen… shows that the wealthy of Bavaria are no different, with an asylum director admitting that the rate of drug-induced insanity in the idle rich is so high his institution has come to cater specifically for them.

Evelyn opens with Alan trying and failing to escape another asylum, a pacy and visually experimental sequence that opens up the possibility of the two films being prequel and sequel. Yes, yes, one is set in Britain and one is set in Germany – but they’re really both set in giallo-land, a strange, pliable space where everything is vaguely but non-specifically Italian. The purportedly English aristocrat Alan decorates his walls with Renaissance frescoes, but his castle also contains a swinging bachelor pad full of arty ’70s light fittings. It could be anywhere, just like the modernist interiors of The Red Queen. That film also has shifts in location that feel like time-slips, starting in white rooms decorated with Bridget Riley-esque patterns of coloured lines, and ending up in a rat-infested sewer.

So the two films complement each other beautifully, though in any comparison one has to come off as worse. For this reviewer it was probably The Red Queen, partly because Evelyn’s sheer pile-up of resonant and eerie imagery is hard to top, partly because it never finds a central character as horribly compelling as Alan. There’s also a stylistic reason: whereas Evelyn is almost entirely set at night The Red Queen has long spells in clear, blue-gray daylight, which just doesn’t have the evocative qualities necessary to play the games with genre that the script is attempting. The daylight is real and objective, whereas in Evelyn’s artificially lit, immaculately set-dressed parallel world, you have no sense of what might be real or fake – and that’s exactly the kind of uncertainty the story requires.

evelyn1

Still, The Red Queen has plenty of strong points of its own. It’s a gorier film than Evelyn, with some queasy skull-cracking sound effects and a minor classic example of that old giallo standby, a person falling messily onto something with spikes. The Blu-Ray also has a joint commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, two tireless champions of the genre, in amongst Arrow’s usual feast of well-considered extras. Both have interviews with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi and critic Stephen Thrower, as well as members of the cast. Of the latter, Evelyn’s two interviews with Erika Blanc are particularly worth your attention. In the small but crucial role of a red-haired stripper who catches Alan’s eye, she gets perhaps the ultimate Italian horror introduction: performing a strip-tease from out of a coffin.

Her interviews are immensely funny – the camera crew crack up at several points – but also shot through with real affection for these films. They are low-budget, unquestionably exploitative and occasionally absurd, yet their style, pace, cinematic daring and defiant residence within their own strange, seductive parallel universe performs an alchemical spell on them, makes them something far greater than the quickly-turned-out slashers they inspired. Blanc talks about them with love, and it’s a love that, from the extras to the 2K restoration, Arrow clearly share.


910AEAI5VLL._SL1500_

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
Limited Edition box set (3000 copies) containing The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray Discs)
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet

THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE
New audio commentary by Troy Howarth
Exclusive introduction by actress Erika Blanc
New interview with critic Stephen Thrower
The Night Erika Came Out of the Grave – exclusive interview with Erika Blanc
The Whip and the Body – archival interview with Erika Blanc
Still Rising from the Grave – archival interview with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi
Original Italian and US theatrical trailers
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES
New audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman
Exclusive new interview with Sybil Danning
New interview with critic Stephen Thrower
Archival introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi
Dead à Porter – archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi
Rounding Up the Usual Suspects – archival interview with actor Marino Masé
If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today – archival featurette with Erika Blanc, Lorenzo Baraldi and Marino Masé
My Favourite… Films – archival interview with actress Barbara Bouchet
Alternative opening
Original Italian theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx

Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia is out now on Limited Edition Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Let us know what you think ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: