Sunday, January 09, 2011

GIALLO SUNDAY: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Feeling very much like a companion piece to ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’, made a year later, ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ also inhabits a world of aristocratic characters, gothic castles, madness and dark family secrets. Also like ‘TRQKST’, ‘TNECOotG’ flirts with the suggestion of supernatural goings on before settling down into a more traditional giallo format.

The first half of the film depicts the insular lifestyle of British nobleman Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), alone and undergoing an emotional breakdown in the sprawling family estate after the death of his flame-haired wife, the Evelyn of the title. Plagued by thought that Evelyn had been unfaithful to him, Lord Al integrates with the grieving process by way of picking up red-heads at strip clubs and other insalubrious venues, taking them back to his place and torturing and murdering them.

His personal physician Dr Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), who realizes that Lord Al is having “episodes” (but not to what extent!) warns him off red-heads but advises him to marry again. Which is kind of like advising an alcoholic to stay off the whisky but to keep his eye out in Oddbins for any decent offers on vodka.

When he’s not cruising for women, consulting with his doctor, hanging out with his cousin George (Enzo Tarascio) or paying off his groundsman Albert (Roberto Maldera) – who is also Evelyn’s brother – to keep quiet about his nocturnal activities, Lord Al is tormented by visions of his dead wife. At a séance, he spirit seems to appear but he faints clean away before things can progress.

Thus the first third or so of the film. Then Lord Al meets the voluptuous Gladys (Marina Malfatti) who is not a red-head (she’s blonde) and therefore avoids a nasty fate back at the castle. Quite the contrary, actually: Lord Al proposes to her. And so we come to the next part of the film, wherein his lordship decides to restore the castle, his helpful Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davies) – yes, he has an aunt Agatha; by this point I was expecting Jeeves to put in an appearance and say something like, “I took the liberty, my lord, of putting the J&B on ice” – hires some staff, and he and Gladys move in together. Cue dead bodies, the disappearance of Evelyn’s corpse from the crypt, increasingly aggressive behaviour from Albert, and deeply suspicious behaviour from just about everybody else.

‘TNECOotG’ tests the patience a bit in its early stages, mainly because Lord Alan’s such an unlikeable character; also, there’s very little in the way of suspense. However, Miraglia exploits the longueurs of this section by sneakily seeding character traits and motivations inimical to the latter stage of the proceedings. And when he’s finally able to cut loose with the tense set-pieces, hellish storms and burgeoning body count, rest assured that it’s good, sick, cynical fun all the way. Red herrings, scheming relatives, and a welter of murders (including death by foxes, death by snakebite and death by poisoned champagne) – it’s like Agatha Christie on hallucinogenic substances.

The film is beautifully shot and the score’s decent. The ending is fairly guessable, even if the mechanics of it are worked out differently to what you might expect, and the last-reel exposition is kept mercifully succinct. Miraglia plays fair: all the clues are there and he doesn’t fob the audience off with something completely arbitrary (I’m looking at you, ‘Case of the Bloody Iris’). Where it loses points is in the performances: Steffen’s is one-note and that note wears thin very quickly; Tarascio and Rossi-Stuart are average; and all Malfatti’s given to do is flounce around in a series of diaphanous and cleavage-revealing outfits.

Arguably the best turn comes from Erika Blanc; unfortunately the script stashes her away for most of the running time.

Taken as something of a trial run for ‘TRQKST’, ‘TNECOotG’ is worth watching. As part of that small sub-set of gialli set in England, it’s arguably in the same league as ‘What Have You Done to Solange?’ and ‘All the Colors of the Dark’, even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of, say, ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’.


Kevin J. Olson said...

Awesome. I'm glad someone is reviewing movies like this. I find this one to be a bit of a grimy gem among the usual giallo faves. I need to watch it again. It's been too long.

I highly recommend THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK as far as underrated Italian horror films go...along with THE HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS.

Bryce Wilson said...

I've long thought this had one of the greatest titles in movie history, but never got around to seeing it.

Now that I know it has oft nude busty red heads, this will change.

Neil Fulwood said...

Kevin – I haven’t seen ‘Perfume of the Lady in Black Yet’, but I’m hoping to track it down for a future Giallo Sunday. I reviewed ‘House With the Laughing Windows’ a couple of years ago:

I love the atmosphere of that film – and it’s got one of the all-time great giallo titles.

Bryce – agreed: no movie that features redheads and copious nudity can be entirely unless. Unless, y’know, it’s David Caruso pandering to both requirements.