Color, 1971, 101m.
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Starring Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Umberto Raho, Erika Blanc

Color, 1972, 99m.
Directed by Emilio Miraglia
Starring Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Marino Masé, Sybil Danning
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), NoShame (DVD) (US, Italy R0 NTSC/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the GraveThe Night Evelyn Came Out of the GraveFew drive-in moviegoers in the early '70s could avoid some kind of contact with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, a frequently reissued title whose promise of zombie thrills led to some confusion when the actual story instead turned out to be a particularly deranged giallo. Rather than aping the high-gloss modernity of the more famous contemporary works of Argento and Bava, this first-time thriller by director Emilio Miraglia sets its kinky mystery plot in an atmosphere derived from the atmospheric Italian gothic horrors of the '60s like Nightmare Castle.

After the death of his wife Evelyn, Lord Alan Cunningham (Steffan) suffers an intense breakdown but, after being released from an institution, passes the time by picking up sexy women and bringing them home to his castle, where he runs after them with a whip and possibly kills them. After tormenting a sexy nightclub performer (Blanc) who does a sexy strip routine involving a coffin, he decides to take the advice of his physician friend, Richard (Rossi Stuart), and take a second wife, Gladys (Malfatti) in record time. Unfortunately things get even worse as inexplicable murders start blighting his country estate...

Certainly a far cry from the typical black-gloved slasher story, Evelyn switches narrative gears so many times that first-time viewers may get a nasty case of whiplash. From the lurid S&M sessions and stripteases in the basement to an out-of-nowhere corpse devouring by foxes, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the GraveMiraglia's film pulls out all the stops to please its audience without tipping its hand about the characters' true intentions until the climax. And what a climax it is; suddenly switching the film's setting to a chilly, icy-white interior out of a Kubrick film, the last showdown is an unforgettably unhinged concoction with poisonings, stabbings, blood-smearing cleaveage, and a handy bag of sulphuric acid creating a true Grand Guignol finish. If that wasn't enough, Bruno The Night Evelyn Came Out of the GraveNicolai supplies a dynamite music score with a brief quote from his earlier Eugenie thrown in during one early strip dance for good measure.

Far less widely seen is Miraglia's second and final giallo, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Basically flipping the first film's structure, this outing begins with a great gothic prologue setting out the general premise, then switches over to a bright, colorful, modern milieu for the rest of its duration. The story originates from a family's sinister curse, depicted in a gruesome painting in their castle's main living room(!), which condemns seven victims every hundred years to die at the hands of a "Red Queen" who holds a grudge against her sister, the "Black Queen." After the aging patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances, young Kitty (Bouchet) - who apparently killed her sister Evelyn by accident as a child during a catfight by a lake - is plagued by nightmares which intensify when her boss at a Bavarian fashion house is found murdered. With the red queen seen stalking the grounds and now apparently intent on fulfilling her body count, Kitty must scramble to crack the mystery (and fend off a few grope-happy men along the way) before she becomes the next victim.

Decked out with one of Bruno Nicolai's catchiest scores and some knockout first-time cinematography by Alberto Spagnoli (who went on to Daisy Miller and Shock), this film is certainly the equal of Evelyn and, in terms of baffling story detours and gory thrills, even surpasses it. The jolts and plot twists are very well-time and executed The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Gravewith marvelous panache; the sequences with the red-cloaked villain are especially potent, including a terrific dream sequence that climaxes with a surprisingly bloody punchline. Though she's saddled with a strange retro hairstyle, the always gorgeous Bouchet The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Gravemakes a fetching and sympathetic heroine; Malfatti also returns to provide the requisite "bad girl" role. Once again Miraglia manages to pile on the nudity (including an early bare role for scream queen Sybil Danning), though it's integrated into the plot skillfully enough to avoid disrupting the tone of the overall film.

Though Evelyn has popped up on countless video labels over the years, no version prior to NoShame's 2006 DVD (with both of these films packaged as "The Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Set") came close to offering a satisfying presentation. The film's startling level of nudity was generally left intact through the years, though its first stateside appearance from Phase One was chopped down by several minutes, completely eliminating the aslyum opening sequence as well as several dialogue passages. Future reissues reinstated some of the missing footage and provided the source for most public domain video editions, which cropped up everywhere from Sinister Cinema to Eclectic. Unfortunately they all looked like garbage with faded colors, hazy detail, and rampant print damage. The first authorized DVD from German's X-Rated Kult (issued with a variety of alternate covers) offers a nice and colorful transfer overall, but it's awkwardly cropped to 1.85:1 (destroying quite a few compositions in the process) and inexplicably draws its S&M footage from a different, much dupier source. Noteworthy on the NoShame disc in the US is the restoration of the film's Italian soundtrack; the far more widely distributed English dub track (also included here) is a crazy one packed with ridiculous phony English accents of various stripes, while the Italian version is far more flattering to the feature itself and less likely to provoke giggles among viewers. The biggest beneficiary of the Italian track is Steffan, whose performance has been almost universally condemned on the grounds of his awkward English dubbed voice alone. Though she's really only in three scenes (and steals all of them), Blanc's presence is significant enough for Red Queen Kills Seven Timesher to introduce the feature film with a very funny, sexy intro; she also appears for a nice 21-minute video interview, "The Whip and the Body," in which she sits at a make-up table and chats about the making of the film, including funny bit about the owner of the castle used for shooting and her own improvised attempts at dancing. Red Queen Kills Seven TimesProduction designer Lorenzo Baraldi appears for a 23-minute interview, "Still Rising from the Grave," in which he discusses his general career from his earliest days and recalls the elaborate methods used to create the film's look. The disc is rounded out with Italian and English versions of the flamboyant European trailer (for some reason the very different, horror-oriented US trailer is MIA), and a poster and still gallery. On the NoShame DVD for Red Queen, Baraldi returns to provide a quick video intro to the film as well as a 14-minute interview, "Dead a porter," which continues from his previous chat and covers the basics of this projct, including the methods used to get the eye-catching fashion outfits. Marino Masé (who plays the police inspector in the film) appears for "Round Up the Usual Suspects," a 15-minute interview in which he lays out the basics of his career and recalls how he landed the part. "If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today...," a 4-minute video piece, features Blanc, Masé, and Baraldi talking about... well, exactly what the title says. Bouchet appears briefly for a one-minute Q&A at a convention, "My Favourite... Films," in which she cites Red Queen and Don't Torture a Duckling among her favorite credits. Finally, the disc throws in an alternate English-language "countdown" opening which replaced the much longer prologue in some territories, plus a gallery of posters and stills. The set comes packaged in an elaborate black box complete with a great Red Queen figurine, brandishing a knife over her head; it's just the thing for drawing puzzled stares from company, and one can only wish NoShame had followed suit and delivered an action figure for The Sensuous Nurse as well! The case also includes two lobby card reproduction postcards and a thick booklet containing liner notes and bios of Miraglia, Baraldi, Bouchet, Blanc and Steffen by Chris D., plus bios of Danning, Rossi Stuart and Masé by Richard Harland Smith. Red Queen Kills Seven Times

A decade later, Arrow Video finally brought both films back into circulation after their absence for several years. This time the dual-format, four-disc Blu-ray and DVD set is called the Killer Dames collection, available simultaneously in the US and UK. All of the extras from the NoShame release have been ported over here (in an "Archival Extras" section for their respective films), while the new HD transfers improve significantly over their predecessors with a dramatic increase in detail, deeper black leves, and a bit more image information in the frame. Red Queen Kills Seven TimesColors look strong and healthy, with Evelyn looking similar timing-wise to the prior DVD while Red Queen is darker and richer with a tad more of an amber cast than before (as with their releases of What Have You Done to Solange? and the Death Walks pair). For a comparison, check out a frame grab from NoShame's Evelyn here and Red Queen here. The English and Italian tracks for both films are included in DTS-HD MA mono with optional English subtitles for the English dub and translations for the Italian dialogue. In a nice touch, both films can be played with either their English or Italian credit sequences as well.

The big new extra for Evelyn is an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of the So Deadly, So Perverse books about giallo films. He's frank about the film's shortcomings (Steffen's contributions especially) but makes a strong case for the film's unusual place in the Italian thriller canon, also covering several other of its Italian peers relating to the cast and crew. Despite his apology at the beginning, he also handles the avalanche of Italian titles pretty respectably, too. Red Queen Kills Seven TimesRed Queen also has a new commentary courtesy of frequent pair Alan Jones and Kim Newman, no strangers to giallo analysis, who take an often amusing and informative look at the film's status within the "decadent" period of the giallo craze and its effective fusion of several talents at the peak of their powers. The always welcome Stephen Thrower offers new appraisals of both films, "Remembering Evelyn" (15 mins.) and "The Red Reign" (13 mins.), in which he offers his own take on these films' peculiar genre-twisting charms, covers their colorful and somewhat mysterious American theatrical runs, and points out some of the odd quirks of their home video histories. Running just under 10 minutes is a new, different interview with Blanc, who talks about her lengthy career acting with vain former fighter Steffen, her enjoyment of the real whipping in one big scene, and the castle locations outside Venice standing in (not very convincingly) for Old Blighty. The 20-minute "Life of Lulu" features vivacious cult icon Sybil Danning (who still looks astonishing) talking about her colorful career from her youth in Austria through her European films that led to her American work, with a particular fondness for her "free spirit" role for Miraglia. Not to be overlooked is the fact that both the English and Italian trailers for Red Queen are presented here for the first time, and they're pretty spectacular. The English one has the title The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times, one of the two under which it briefly ran in a handful of US theaters. (The other was Blood Feast, confusingly enough.) The American trailer for Evelyn is still absent, though you can find it on the Trailer Trauma 2 Blu-ray. Limited to 3000 units in each territory, the set also features a 60-page booklet with new essays by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet.

Reviewed on May 18, 2016.