Arrow Heads Vol. 22: KILLER DAMES Showcases The Giallo Thrillers of Emilio P. Miraglia

 

Arrow Heads
Arrow Video, a subsidiary of Arrow Films, humbly describe themselves as merely a “Distributor of classic, world, cult and horror cinema on DVD & Blu-ray”. But we film geeks know them as the Britain-based bastion of the brutal and bizarre, boasting gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging and bursting with extras (often their own productions). Their collector-friendly releases had traditionally not been available in the U.S, but now Arrow has come across the pond and this column is devoted to discussing their weird and wonderful output.

Arrow Video has released a snazzy box set called “Killer Dames”, collecting two early 70s giallo thrillers from Italian director Emilio Miraglia. The films included are The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba, 1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (La dama rossa uccide sette volte, 1972).

Besides their common genre and proximity in release dates, the films share a number of traits that identify them as a keen pairing: mysterious murders, spooky old Gothic castles, the threat of paranormal vengeance from beyond the grave from a woman named Evelyn, thematic emphasis on hair color (particularly red), misogynistic men, and of course beautiful women in peril. They are also Miraglia’s sole gialli. He only helmed a handful of films, with poliziotteschi crime pictures and a western comprising the rest of his directorial output.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
(La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba, 1971)

Set the stage: The murderous Alan seems warm, handsome and wealthy, but he’s deeply mentally disturbed man. He may seem like a pretty good-natured guy, but has one unfortunate habit: he lures gorgeous redheads to his castle’s torture chamber to murder them.

Going in blind, the film is pretty incredible – OK, they’ve introduced the villain, pretty nasty dude. Let’s see how the plot develops. Man, they’re focusing on this guy a lot. Wait, is he the main character? (He is).

The weirder and more interesting film of the pair, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave takes a pretty enormous gamble by making its protagonist a monster and hoping you’ll still be along for the ride. Miraglia does the unthinkable by vesting your interest in a misogynistic slasher villain, and he doesn’t even tone down that fact. We’re talking about a guy who lures women to his medieval torture dungeon, binds them, and puts on a creepy robe flails them to death.

After establishing Alan at his most monstrous, the film opens up to a fuller picture of his situation and how he deals with it. He was institutionalized after catching his beloved red-haired wife Evelyn in an affair with another man. After her death, he is released from the asylum, but no less insane – his murder rampages are fits of insanity and he seems to genuinely want to purge himself of his evil affliction. Upon meeting a lovely woman named Gladys (also a redhead), he decides to settle down and marry her, hoping that another chance at love and a healthy home life will turn things around.

Things start looking up for our S&M loving hero, but quickly go sour again as murder and mayhem begin to haunt the halls again. He begins to entertain the thought that Evelyn may be destroying his newfound happiness from the grave, but the culprit could possibly be one of the people in his life, such as Evelyn’s sniveling brother, who knows of Alan’s evil past and regularly blackmails him. All we really know is that this time it’s not Alan’s doing.

Well, probably. He is crazy, after all.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
(La dama rossa uccide sette volte, 1972)

The ominously titled The Red Queen Kills Seven Times begins with a similarly ominous opening. A pair of sisters play in the courtyard of their home, an ancient ancestral castle. It’s immediately clear, though, that the cruel Evelyn domineers and bullies her sister Kitty. Kitty gives chase as Evelyn steal her doll, the fight finally ending with a ghastly revelation: their grandfather telling them not to fight each other, for their ancestral bloodline is cursed with a “Red Queen” and “White Queen”, bickering sisters whose tale ended with the Red Queen going on a murder spree culminating in the murder of his sister, and has repeated throughout generations of their family’s history.

Years later, it seems the curse has passed them by, for while Evelyn did continue to harass Kitty, she died unexpectedly. Kitty (Babara Bouchet), now an adult, has moved from their ancestral home and works as a photographer for a hip fashion company. But as with Alan from our other tale, people around Kitty start dying and it seems Evelyn may be stalking our heroine from beyond the grave – and if the family curse is coming true, then Kitty must be the seventh victim.

The adorable Kitty is certainly a more sympathetic and agreeable protagonist than Alan, being not only a more innocent victim (though not without some secrets of her own), but having suffered many years of bullying by her cruel sister. On the other hand, Alan’s horrible flaws do make him a far more fascinating study.

The film is artful in its presentation in addition to telling an interesting story, with a thematic color palette, a robust score and theme, and creative cinematography. One particular dream sequence that depicts the Red Queen charging down a long hallway toward the camera is especially chilling, and I immediately presumed it must almost certainly have inspired the nearly identical opening shot of Hot Fuzz.

As with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, the film treads a great balance in its mystery, in which the perpetrator could be a supernatural haunting, or the manipulation of any number of human characters with their own individual motivations and machinations.

All in all, this is a pretty great pairing of better-than-average classic giallo thrillers. While their stories are not directly linked in terms of continuity, they are certainly a thematic duology: Similar enough to be paired as variations of the same idea, but different enough to be complementary and individually memorable on their own merits.

Both films are beautifully shot and have a nice gothic appeal, mixing in the ghostly angles with contemporary settings. In fact, there’s a noticeable (and distinctly European) juxtaposition in these terms: the creepy old castles contrasting the modern world of high fashion and colorful nightclubs. Even within Alan’s castle, there’s a jarring double-instance of this in which he leads one of his victims into the foreboding and decrepit manor, then into a more welcoming and brightly lit room with modern furnishings — but then one room further into his medieval torture dungeon.

The Package

The Killer Dames box set collecting both films is now available from Arrow Video in a Limited Edition of 3000 units. The package includes a 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet. (This review is sourced from a disc-only screener, so I can’t directly comment on the physical elements of the set).

Both films are presented with both Italian and English prints in addition to having English subtitle and dual audio and language options on both versions.

Special Features and Extras – The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave

Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth

Remembering Evelyn (15:12)
Film Critic Stephen Thrower discusses the film in a modern context

The Night Erika Came Out Of The Grave (9:44)
Actress Erika Blanc discusses her role and memories. Quite a charming conversation in which she good-naturedly talks about her career and aging, and even jokingly ponders how to cap off the interview before pulling out an old Playboy with herself on the cover.

Trailers
Italian (2:44) and English (2:44) Theatrical Trailers

Archival Features
Italian-produced extras from previous home video editions:

2006 Intro by Erika Blanc (0:31)
The Whip And The Body (20:57) – an interview with Erika Blanc
Still Rising From The Grave (22:49) – with Production Designer Lorenzo Baraldi

Special Features and Extras – The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Audio Commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman

The Red Reign (13:48)
Film Critic Stephen Thrower discusses the film in a modern context

Life Of Lulu (19:47)
Sybil Danning reflects on her European career, the film, and her character

Alternate Opening (0:39)
Super lame alternate bit that just shows calendar dates ticking by. Apparently replaced opening credits in some markets. Here for the completionists.

Trailers
Italian (3:13) and English (3:13) Theatrical Trailers

Archival Features
Italian-produced extras from previous home video editions:

Dead à Porter – Interview with Production Designer Lorenzo Baraldi
Round Up The Usual Suspects! (18:24) – Interview with actor Marino Masé
If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today… (4:14) – interviewees reflect on what they would say to Miraglia if they had the opportunity
My Favorite… Films (0:59) – quickie clip of Barbara Bouchet discussing her visit to the US and the American response to her career

A/V Out.

 

Get it at Amazon:
Killer Dames Box Set [Blu-ray + DVD]

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the author

Austin Vashaw is a technology and new media professional in Overland Park, KS (a Kansas City 'burb). Film yakker, wisecracker, tact lacker, and BK Stacker snacker; lover of photography, Victorian literature, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. @VforVashaw | letterboxd.com/VforVashaw