Saturday, 30 December 2006

The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave / The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

One of the giallo highlights of the year has to be Noshame's Emilio P. Miraglia box-set, comprising the films The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times; an extensive set of interviews, trailers and other extras; a collectible figurine of the Red Queen; a couple of mini-poster reproductions, and a booklet with informative pieces about the films along with their casts and crews by Chris D. and Richard Harland-Smith.

While the films themselves are not quite enough to convince me that Miraglia is an unheralded master of the form, they come damnably close and certainly make one regret his limited output. Likewise, the close thematic and stylistic similarities between the two films, Red Queen being almost a distaff revisioning of Evelyn at times, would seem to support a broadly auteurist reading; a less charitable interpretation, of course, simply that they showcase a lack of imagination and a lazy reuse of the same formula.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Despite psychiatric treatment, Lord Alan Cunningham remains obsessed by the memory of his dead wife, Evelyn. First, he picks up prostitute who reminds him of Evelyn, takes her back to his castle and, after a spot of whipping, kills her.

Cunningham's premeditation in switching the number plates makes him a less sympathetic protagonist

Miraglia likes framing shots through objects

He also likes using "auratic" paintings - Walter Benjamin meets Laura, as it were

Venus in Furs is waiting...

"Great art can have great power" as Alan sees Evelyn

Following an attempt to contact Evelyn's spirit through a s̩ance РCunningham sees her, but the other members of the circle of family and associates do not Рhe decides to get away from the estate and spend some time in London instead.

Visiting a club recommended to him by his cousin George, Cunningham sees a stripper – her act begins with her emerging from a coffin, like something out of a Jess Franco film; a sense enhanced by some of Bruno Nicolai's musical cues actually seeming to stem directly from his work for the Spaniard – whose red hair makes her look like Evelyn.

Vampyros Lesbos a la Erica Blanc?

Accordingly he pays the woman to return to the castle with him – the previous scenario looking likely to play itself out again. But as Cunningham chases the woman through the grounds the pursuit takes them to the family tomb, where he is overcome and faints. By the time he comes to the woman is nowhere to be seen...

Femina ridens...

... but not for long

Meeting the beautiful Gladys at a party, Cunningham finds himself able to finally put Evelyn's memory behind him and, following a night of passion, engaged and swiftly married.

Then strange things start happening. Has Evelyn returned?

Another through object composition / association

Whose fashions are worse; and could the symbolism in the centre be much more blatant?

The "Addicted to Love" maids

Is that the Red Queen's cloak in Evelyn?

The same use of red / blue colour associations

Something she threw on, and nearly missed with...

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

As children Kitty and Evelyn Wildenbruck were told the story of the family curse by their elderly grandfather: every century two sisters have re-enacted the story of their rival ancestors; it being easy to see from the girls' contrasting natures which will fulfill the Red Queen's murderous role and the Black Queen's victim one.

Yet more art holding a power...

"Off with her heads" said the Red Queen; note the broken doll imagery once more

But with “wicked sister” Evelyn then dying in an accident it seems that the curse have failed this time.

"Blood, like a crimson highway..." - Kitty's Twist of Cain

Then 100 years to the day since the last appearance of the Red Queen, Grandfather Wildenbruck is found dead in his bed, a manic laugh being heard and a red-cloaked figure sighted fleeing across the castle bridge. Has the Red Queen returned once more? It certainly seems that way as she kills again and Kitty – now a fashion photographer – finds herself being menaced...

Another composition through an object, here abstracted

Again, Marina Malfatti throws on something...

Miraglia also likes using multiple, distorted and dutch-angled images in both films

La Dolce Vita, circa 1973; at times Bouchet and Malfatti seem to be competing to see who can have the most costume changes alloted them

The Red Queen herself?


What we have here, then, are two films that while consciously avoid urban Italian settings for other European locales – Red Queen being set in Austria – otherwise concern themselves with that familiar world of sophisticated, privileged types haunted by past traumas; their family curses and crumbling ancestral piles allowing for a more fantastical Gothic horror atmosphere than can generally prevails within the more familiar Turin or Rome locales.

A key strength or weakness of each – it depends on your perspective – is perhaps their lack of a strong central protagonist with whom one can whole-heartedly sympathise, although Kitty's sustained childhood victimisation and subsequent contrition at her involvement in Evelyn's accidental death certainly make her easier to identify with than the prostitute-killing Cunningham.; of course, the other obvious difference here is that Cunningham is played by Anthony Steffen, again better than many would give him credit for, but still likely not a match for the ever-beautiful Barbara Bouchet as Kitty in the typical fan calculation (Another film that might be considered here is Bava's The Whip and the Body, where Nevenka's complicitly again seems more excusable in terms of stereotypical feminine passivity and victimhood; at times Cunningham seems like a present-day, male revisioning of Daliah Lavi's character.)

Unsurprisingly both films are also better on style – of which, in line with the various image grabs, there is too much to really itemise; both films being a visual treat in both their general design and mise-en-scene, but also crucially showing strong signs of having been genuinely thought through in these regard – atmosphere – Nicolai's multi-faceted scores a real boon here – and set-pieces than in terms of narrative coherence and convincing, well-rounded characters. (Or, as far as conventional narrative goes – there are frequently less linear and straightforward associational relations at play here.)

But, again, to criticise this kind of giallo for using stock characters such as the greedy groundsman and sinister wheelchair-bound aunt in Evelyn or the shady businessman with cashflow problems and a madwoman in the attic (well, asylum) type ex-wife in Red Queen seems besides the point. They are, after all, archetypal figures who are there precisely because audiences can immediately recognise what they mean; the modern-day equivalents of commedia dell'arte figures like Arlecchino, Brighella or Columbina.

Here, it is also worth remembering that another filone broadly contemporaneous with the giallo was the Decamerotic, and that filmmakers such as Sergio Martino and performers like Edwige Fenech made significant contributions to the slightly later sex comedy cycle; plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, indeed...

Similar kinds of argument might be made regarding one area where Evelyn in particular perhaps seems weak when re-viewed in a more analytic frame of mind: trick scenes in which a conspirator acts as if they do not know what is really going on for the audience, despite being diegetically alone and not needing to perform. It comes back, again, to Hitchcock's distinction between “suspense” and “surprise” and the typical giallo filmmaker's different set of priorities. (And, to reiterate a point made elsewhere, assumes that Hitchcock would himself always do as he said.)

With there being little to say about the quality of the DVD transfers – both absoutely stunning, in the original aspect ratio and with the choice of English or Italian audio – it is perhaps worth closing with one minor criticism. This is Noshame's apparent failure to recognise the important contribution made to both films by Marina Malfatti; a performer whose work in the genre and talents – amply on display, if you get my drift – invariably seems to be overshadowed by her co-stars.


Stephen Grimes said...

Got to agree with you about the standard of the transfers,they are stunning.I think NoShame get abit of hard time from purists moaning about pal to ntsc conversions,filtering etc when they do a great job.

K H Brown said...

My friend has one of the earlier US releases of Evelyn, while I got the German X-Rated one first; the upgrade to the NoShame disc was well worth it.

Anonymous said...

nice box indeed. evelyn was a major dissapointment for me, red queen is one of my fave gialli.

K H Brown said...

Which of the two did you [anonymous] see first? As I tried to say in my review I found them quite similar in a lot of respects, so I find it interesting that you should like one a lot and find the other disappointing. Then again - away from the giallo - I've found people having a perhaps similar reaction to the likes of Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honour and Humanity series, where the first one that someone sees seems from my experience to often be the one they prefer and to which the others never quite measure up.

Michael said...

"Got to agree with you about the standard of the transfers,they are stunning.I think NoShame get abit of hard time from purists moaning about pal to ntsc conversions,filtering etc when they do a great job."

Well, by the same token, I might argue that the "it'll do" approach is the reason for having to contend with so many substandard releases in the first place. For what it's worth, I think the Miraglia box set is NoShame US's best work to date, although even so the transfers for both films fall short of the standards set by their Italian counterparts. Oh well, back to my "moaning".

Great analyses/reviews, Keith. I agree with you - the visual aspects of these films are quite mesmerising, even if neither has a particularly effective protagonist.

K H Brown said...

Hi Michael - I thought you might respond on the question of the transfers.

I've made a conscious decision here to concentrate on the films more than the presentations of them as it isn't something I am particularly interested in or knowledgeable about; I don't really have the equipment for it, and - most importantly - I know there are people like you that will do a far better job of it than I ever could.

How far do you think the PAL / NTSC issue one of awareness; that there are maybe people in the US - outwith the cult circle - who simply are not aware of the existence of the PAL format, its advantages over NTSC or the issues of converting signals between them?

Or, how far are we in the UK maybe especially sensitive to PAL/NTSC issues, in terms of having the equipment to play the R2 PAL Italian Noshame discs but often needing to go for the R1 NTSC US releases because they are the only ones with English subtitles? The magic of the marketplace, once more.

Thanks again for the feedback :-)

Michael said...

Hey Keith, I think yours is a wise decision - after all, films are much more interesting to read about than the technical side of DVD presentations!

With regard to standards conversions, actually only the first couple of batches of NoShame's DVDs were affected by these problems. There are a lot of issues to consider, but ultimately I think it's perfectly true that, for the majority of people, many of these issues are going to be irrelevant. Admittedly I'm generalising somewhat here, but I tend to find that I'm fairly unusual in that I'm interested in both these films and the technical side of DVD presentation. I often suspect that the reason for this is that most of today's giallo fans came by these films by way of dubious quality VHS dupes in the late 80s and early 90s, and as such have a higher tolerance for faults than, say, a tech junkie who only watches the latest Fast and the Furious-style blockbusters.

With regard to the US/UK divide, I think that UK (and European) customers are more likely to seek out the best version of a film on DVD, whereas US owners, who have in the past generally had a better deal in terms of DVD releases (image quality, extras, uncensored versions, released earlier than elsewhere), have less reason (or think they have less reason) to look outside the US for alternative versions - which is a shame, because, to many US viewers, the cropped version of Argento's No Ho Sonno is the only version available.

Anonymous said...

I saw red queen first but i didnt think the two were that similar as to influence the 'first seen preference' concept. my main disappointment with evelyn was probably the amount of 'hype' i read before seeing it. Maybe its simliar with my reaction to black belly of the tarantula which got a great deal of hype, but which i found reasonably good, though not that memorable.

There are several sequences that are indeed rather wonderful, erika blanc's the standout probably, but in between i found it a very uninvolving film. i liked the last 15 minutes but it was too late to really convince me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Keith, your interesting article made me think again of the reasons why I had neither been impressed by Miraglia's gialli nor by Margheriti's Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye.

I think that in fact, Giallo and Gothic are incompatible by essence, hence these unconvincing films. I wrote about this in more details here on my blog:

Keep up the good work!