The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) – By Roger Carpenter

 

I was a teenager during the video boom of the early- to mid-80’s, when it seemed every gas station, convenience store, and corner Mom and Pop store had at least a few videos. Being a movie lover, I haunted every single one of them because they all seemed to have different exploitation films, though there were always a few titles you could count on being at every store, whether it was a national chain or an independent. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave was one of those common titles that seemed to be everywhere. I must have passed the video cover 10,000 times as a teenager. It always seemed to catch my eye but for some reason, it never captured my imagination as so many others did. Even as a youth I became pretty sophisticated in choosing videos and I think I knew from seeing so many of them that this would just be another poorly dubbed, European effort with nothing to truly offer except a lurid title. By 1985 I’d already seen way too many censored, Pan and Scan videos with terrible picture quality. My gut just told me this would be another of those. Then, too, Fangoria and Gorezone magazines never seemed to mention this flick, which lent credence to my theory that it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

Jump forward three decades or so and Arrow Video gets the rights to release The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave in the U.S., and does so in spectacular fashion. It was worth the 30-year wait for me.

Arrow Video bills this film and its companion piece, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (see review in this issue of Rogue Cinema) as “gothic chillers,” and that’s a pretty apt description for both films. Part giallo (plenty of nudity, mysterious murders, and only the hands of the killer being seen) and part gothic in the vein of Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti (dark castles, cobwebs, séances and ghosts), I think the film also draws inspiration from the “old dark house” silent melodramas of the 1920’s.

The plot is as convoluted as it is full of holes, but Eurofilm fans are long used to quirky screenplays. Anthony Steffen stars as Lord Alan Cunningham, a rich pervert who obsesses over this dead wife who cheated on him when she was alive. Evelyn Cunningham was a beautiful redhead, so Lord Cunningham has developed a taste for redheads. He first woos them then leads them into his castle abode before some S&M foreplay with a main course of murder. His close friend and personal doctor, Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) tries to convince him to mend his ways before he gets caught (what devotion!) while his cousin, George (Enzo Tarascio) is of the mind that he simply needs to lighten up, go into the city, and, as he puts it, “have fun!”

It doesn’t help that Evelyn’s brother, Albert (Roberto Maldera) still lurks about the castle playing Peeping Tom. He always seems to know when Lord Cunningham has suffered one of his murderous blackouts and comes round for a bribe.

Enter Gladys (Marina Malfatti), a beautiful young woman who happens to be blonde and who also happens to catch Lord Cunningham’s eye. He is so quickly infatuated with Gladys that he proposes the same evening they meet. After a torrid session of lovemaking, she accepts and is very soon installed as Mrs. Cunningham. This seems to cure Lord Cunningham’s blackouts. However, his cure is short-lived as weird occurrences begin to manifest around the castle. Someone has broken into Lord Cunningham’s late wife’s tomb, coinciding with several sightings of a ghostly, red-headed figure prowling the estate. Albert is murdered, as is Aunt Agatha, and Gladys is attacked by her new husband when he enters her boudoir to see she is trying on a red wig (left over from her stripper days). It all proves too much for Lord Cunningham who suffers a nervous breakdown and is whisked away to a private hospital. Due to his incapacitation, his estate is divided amongst his doctor, his butler, his wife, and his cousin. Of course, there’s a twist ending. In fact, there are two twist endings. You might think you know “whodunit,” but in the end, director Emilio Miraglia will surprise you.

As I mentioned before, there are plenty of glaring problems with the script, but while the plot contrivances may be high, so is the style. Miraglia, who’s only foray into the horror genre was Evelyn and his follow-up, Red Queen, fills the film with beautiful topless women, striptease acts, some light S&M, and plenty of weird occurrences. There are some interesting camera angles and flourishes of Bava-esque gel lighting as well as a couple of pretty violent scenes. The great Bruno Nicolai provides another solid score (he never seems to get the same credit as his mentor, Ennio Morricone). And I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the marvelous and gorgeous Erika Blanc, who appears briefly in the first third of the film and returns near the end to help out with one of the twists. Speaking of Erika Blanc and twists…sorry, I couldn’t help it…she plays a stripper with one of the greatest entrances ever. I won’t say much more, but it sure helps to explain Arrow’s choice for an alternate video cover!

Evelyn isn’t the greatest giallo or even the best gothic film, but it’s a fun romp around the cobwebbed torture chambers of an old castle. And Arrow Video has seen fit to provide us with both the uncut Italian language and English language versions of the film (go with the Italian language version—somehow the English dubs always serve to “ghetto-ize” these films) as well as a fun commentary by Troy Howarth, who has written extensively on Italian genre cinema. He’s perhaps a bit harsh at times, and clearly enjoys his nudity, but I still enjoyed his commentary on the film. The film itself looks fantastic, as it should thanks to a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. We also have the Blu-ray option as well as standard DVD option.

There are plenty of other extras which include several riotous interviews with Erika Blanc. She’s absolutely hilarious and very blunt. She clearly enjoyed her time making movies and is enjoying some overdue cult stardom now. She provides a funny introduction to the film as well as two different interviews, both of which are highly entertaining. Critic Stephen Thrower does a solid job discussing the film in another feature and there is another interview with production designer Lorenzo Baraldi. A trailer for the film rounds out the special features.

Originally released as a special edition box set with Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Arrow has now released the films separately. Either way, if you are a fan of Italian exploitation cinema, you can’t go wrong with these releases. You can order through Amazon or directly from Arrow at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa