Saturday Nightmares: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)
Here’s another helping of immorality and mayhem courtesy of Emilio Miraglia, the man responsible for one of my favorite gialli, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (which, ironically, was glimpsed in last week’s Saturday Nightmare, New Year’s Evil, under the US title - Blood Feast).
This film, the first of Miraglia’s only two forays into giallo cinema, isn’t as accomplished as its successor but has plenty of perversity to keep things interesting. If you’ve come to expect ludicrous plot twists, unscrupulous characters, sexual debauchery and a solid dose of murder, then you’ll find much to love about this atmospheric little shocker.
To put it mildly, Alan Cunningham has issues. As the Lord of a sprawling estate, the smarmy playboy spends his evenings luring attractive young women to his castle where he tortures them before savagely killing them. It seems as though Alan has been living a tormented life since the death of his wife, Evelyn, and feels the need to brutally butcher all women who remind him of her. In any other film, this would be pretty standard motivation for a killer, but Evelyn earns distinction by making Alan the protagonist. It may be asking a lot of your audience to stand behind a crazed murderer for an hour and forty minutes, but Miraglia isn’t concerned with matters as trite as a moral compass. You either go along for this ride or you don’t!
Eventually, Alan is urged to let go of Evelyn’s memory, reluctantly choosing to settle down with a lover. When a party yields a chance encounter with a lovely young woman named Gladys (giallo regular Marina Malfatti), he figures the best way to end his torment is by proposing marriage to her. This ushers in the crux of the film, where Alan attempts to fee himself of Evelyn’s memory, discovering that his deceased wife isn’t about to pass quietly into the beyond: her ghostly image begins appearing throughout the castle sporadically forcing Alan to wonder whether or not he should’ve given up on his murderous extracurricular activities. Furthermore, an uninvited guest has arrived at his estate with an axe to grind – stalking and killing castle guests in amazingly creative ways.
The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave gets a lot of mileage out of its bizarre script, greatly benefitting from twisting its story back on itself time and time again. At the outset, we’re sure this is a psychological story about a sexually depraved man (and it is to some extent), but it soon becomes an atmospheric ghost story before settling on a twisty murder mystery. The end result is, unsurprisingly, a schizophrenic narrative in that none of the stories are wrapped up as adequately as possible (I’m still a little confused as to who the actual killer is). Still, if you’re not demanding a tight narrative, it shouldn’t matter much.
What’s really impressive about Miraglia’s two gialli is how very different they are stylistically. His Red Queen (the slightly better of this duo, for my money) is more ‘metropolitan’, with much of the action confined to chic, urban environments. On the other hand, Evelyn is a dark film churning with a rich, gothic atmosphere. Miraglia makes fantastic use of his castle setting, managing a number of moments that are undeniably creepy. It never goes as far as I would’ve liked in terms of scares, but there’s one show stopping sequence set inside of a crypt that seriously crawled under my skin and stayed there - something that scarcely happens to me these days. Miraglia’s sweeping camera, surreal imagery and textured lighting helps to cover up some pretty comical lapses in narrative sense. This thing was never about coherence anyway.
In terms of the cast, the assorted actors handle the outrageous material pitch-perfectly: Anthony Steffen (from the porno giallo, Play Motel) is creepy, hilarious and sympathetic as the deeply disturbed central character who becomes convinced that his wife’s ghost is tormenting him. Marina Malfatti is sexy bride, who slowly discovers that something is dreadfully wrong with her new husband (serves her right for marrying him less than a day after their first meeting!). Erika Blanc (Kill, Baby…Kill) is on hand to get naked and die and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Emanuelle in Bangkok) plays Alan’s psychiatrist friend who tries nursing the poor sod back to health. These actors give a great deal of color to their roles and help to make the film all the more memorable.
It should also be noted that there are several versions of Evelyn floating around out there and that the one offered in those DVD budget packs is severely edited, removing every last drop of nudity and sadism. Avoid it at all costs. Sadly, the best way to see this is courtesy of the now out of print No Shame DVD. Offering a beautiful widescreen and uncut print, it’s worth tracking down if you can. This sordid little film has plenty going on so even though it never manages to match plot point A to plot point B, it’s always a blast to watch. So much so that I wish Miraglia had tried his hand at a few more gialli along the way.
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