Blu-ray Review: Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia

By Nia Edwards-Behi

I confess that the name Emilio P. Miraglia didn’t mean much to me before Arrow announced their boxset dedicated to his two Gothic giallos, but the titles were familiar: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Miraglia’s name isn’t the only one connecting these films, with staples of the genre Bruno Nicolai and Marina Malfatti, amongst others, featuring in both films. But it’s without a doubt Miraglia who’s celebrated here, and it’s a real pleasure to get the chance to see these two films together, and to learn a bit more about perhaps an undervalued director.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is an immensely stylish giallo (all the best ones are, aren’t they?), and as ever I find myself a lot more forgiving of the film’s meandering plot, hugely unlikeable protagonist and one-too-many twists because of just how great the whole thing looks and sounds. The film starts off slow – we’re introduced to the aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), recently released from a mental institution following the death of the wife, Evelyn. He’s a perverted serial killer: he seduces red-headed women before murdering them in kinky sex-games, all because he found Evelyn in the arms of another man before her untimely death. But Alan wants to mend his ways and thinks marriage ought to do the trick – and so he marries blonde Gladys (Marina Malfatti), and moves back into the sprawling mansion he had left to rot after the death of his wife. Soon enough, both Alan and Gladys are haunted by strange goings on in the mansion, and Alan’s mental state becomes increasingly unstable once again.

Though ostensibly set in the UK, there’s nothing very British about the film (except for the accents in the dub and the occasional mention of tea) – this could be a textbook style-guide for would-be giallo makers. The costumes alone make the film worth watching, from Gladys’ increasingly bizarre get ups (all with plunging necklines, of course), to Alan’s dashing red suede suit. But more importantly, the film is shot really magnificently. From an opening Vaseline-on-the-lens effect to portray insanity, to dream-like flashbacks and jarring angles during murder scenes, Evelyn is a really rich visual experience. Perhaps the most memorable scene of the film, the attempted murder of stripper Susan (Erika Blanc), best sums up the real visual feats of the film. Arrow’s release of the film rightly pays due attention to Erika Blanc, and the two interviews with the actress included in the set are an absolute delight – the newer of the two is only 9 minutes long, but it’s hugely entertaining.

The film boasts several memorable and excessive death scenes, not least of all the scene in which an unconscious and wheel-chair bound woman is literally thrown into a cage of foxes. The drawn-out narrative is punctuated with enough imaginative violence that my attention never really strayed from what I was watching. That’s especially true as Gladys seems to catch Alan’s psychosis, but of course, nothing is ever really as it seems in a giallo, and that’s particularly true here. A flurry of twists emerges in the closing ten minutes or so, and the film would probably have been a great deal improved had these developments been spread a bit more evenly throughout the film. That said, even if it’s not an out-right classic of the genre, it’s still a hugely enjoyable film.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times establishes itself as something of an uber-giallo within minutes of opening: creepy kids, a broken doll, a sing-song tune…and throw on top of that a spooky family curse and the ground-work is laid for another twisting narrative. Within quarter of an hour of the film, I was already a bit lost, and it seems I’m not alone – in one of the special features, Stephen Thrower says much the same, and speculates that perhaps that’s intentional. Having established two sisters in the film’s opening scene – set a decade or so prior to the main events of the film – a third sister is thrown into the mix, keeping things nice and confusing.

Sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Franziska (Marina Malfatti) mourn the loss of their grandfather, and the bizarre circumstances of his death cause them to recall a family curse he would tell them about – that of the Red Queen, an ancestor who returns every 100 years to kill seven people. More people die and a number of suspects become apparent, but suspicion falls in particular on a third sister, Evelyn, who is said to have moved to America. As the death toll rises, a sense of guilt from Kitty and Franziska’s past becomes harder to supress, and the truth bubbles to the surface.

The figure of the Red Queen is an absolutely marvellous riff on the usual giallo killer. The black gloves are still in place, but instead of a trench coat our killer now wears an elaborate red cape, less Little Red and more the wolf. Again, Miraglia stages absolutely wonderful death scenes – Lenore’s death in the back of a van being particularly brutal. The most memorable sequence, for me, is the nightmare sequence in which the Red Queen runs toward the camera, before hovering over Kitty, who lies in bed, and stabbing her. The fact that most of the murder victims work at the same fashion house as Kitty and her lover Martin (Ugo Pagliai) makes for the perfect set up to again have elaborate fashions on display, and lends an expert air of stylishness to proceedings.

The fashion-house setting also sets up the myriad love triangles and affairs and broken relationships that seem to be going throughout the film, padding out time between murders. Luckily, it’s quite entertaining, thanks to excellent performances, perhaps notably from Sybil Danning as the scheming model Lulu. Stephen Thrower describes both films contained in this box set as being a mixture of giallo and gothic, and he rightly notes that the contrast is more noticeable in this film – while The Night Evelyn Came From the Grave is more overtly gothic in its narrative, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times makes more jarring moves from modern fashion house to crumbling, cobweb-riddled basements. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t always make for the most coherent of narratives (I know, I know, gialli are basically never coherent anyway).

All in all, I’m not sure I could pick between the films which I prefer, but Evelyn feels like the more satisfying film. Red Queen features an incredibly elaborate and watery climax, and yet somehow it feels like things just don’t quite wrap up well enough, which is a shame. In all honesty though, it doesn’t detract from what’s been a very entertaining 90 minutes. If I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if a giallo looks and sounds good, then chances are I’m probably going to love it.

This collection from Arrow is a wonderful testament to an over-looked director – these are the only two gialli he made, and it seems like not much else is known about him, apart from the few other films he made. There are some wonderful archive special features included in the set, from NoShame Films’ Region 1 release of the films, including interviews with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi, which are a fascinating insight to the Italian film business of the time. There’s also the short but very sweet ‘If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today’, in which his collaborators show some real affection for the man (and gives us another chance to indulge in some Erica Blanc entertainment). The combination of old and new features, along with the excellent presentations, as ever, of the films themselves, make this set an absolute must for fans of the giallo.

Arrow Video release the Killer Dames boxset (dual format DVD & Blu-ray) on 30th May.