After his surprise hit of 1971, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, director Emilio Miraglia was given a slightly larger budget and asked to repeat his success of the year before. The result was an even more exciting murder mystery entitled The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.
Similar to Evelyn, Arrow Video is billing Red Queen as a “gothic chiller,” which is a pretty accurate description, though less gothic and more giallo-oriented than 1971’s effort. We still have a creepy castle, a shadowy, bat-infested crypt, and a reading of the will straight out of the 1920’s American “old dark house” films like The Cat and the Canary. But the centerpiece and plot-driver is the mysterious legend that seems to reoccur every century without fail. And now, the curse has been revived. But we also have a killer—maybe spectral, maybe mortal—whom the viewer never sees clearly and who is always able to keep her identity hidden from view. There are many creative kills, some of them fairly bloody (at least for 1971). And the setting is in the high-fashion industry of 1970’s Germany, another giallo trope.
The movie opens with two small sisters, a blonde and a brunette, fighting with each other. They run into Grandfather’s study where the fight ends. As the old man separates the two sisters, one of the little girls asks about the lurid painting on the study wall. The artwork depicts a young brunette woman stabbing a young blonde woman. The old man explains it is a depiction of the family curse. The two women in the painting were sisters who hated each other. The hatred naturally turned to murder, with the brunette being dispatched only to return from the grave the following year to kill seven people—with the surviving, blonde, sister being the seventh victim. Every century the Red Queen returns to enact her vengeance and Grandfather is concerned because the two sisters don’t get along and they each look like one of their relatives in the painting.
Cue to a few years later, when the two sisters are now grown up. The teasing has become full-fledged fighting and the next scene opens with the two sisters really going at each other. Beautiful blonde Kitty Wildenbruck (Barbara Bouchet) accidentally kills her brunette sister. While there is some guilt, Kitty also feels relief in that the curse has seemingly been broken now that only one sister survives. Soon enough, though, after the reading of Grandfather’s will, a series of murders begin occurring, the only clue being the sighting of a mysterious, red-caped woman with a cruel laugh near each murder. It isn’t long before Kitty is concerned that, as the murders pile up, she may end up being Number Seven. It’s a race against time to solve the series of crimes before Kitty is killed. Is the curse real or is someone using the legend to get to Kitty and her inheritance? If the curse is real, is there any way to stop it? The local police, along with Kitty and her adulterous lover (and head of the fashion house where Kitty works), are all investigating leads and hoping to solve the crimes before the next murder is committed.
Of course, there are plenty of red herrings, including a lecherous model with eyes for Kitty’s lover. Lulu Palm (Sybil Danning) could be the killer as she becomes embroiled in a sexual triangle and power struggle with Kitty and her lover, Martin Hoffman (Ugo Pagliai). Or the killer could be Martin himself. Martin has been overheard denigrating the head of the fashion house and his affair with Kitty is an open secret ever since he locked his wife away in a sanitarium. It can’t be just coincidence that Martin’s professional nemesis as well as his personal demon both die at the hands of the Red Queen. Or can it? Then there is the drug addict, Peter, a real gutter-dweller, who constantly shows up threatening Kitty that he knows what happened to her sister so long ago. He is clearly a desperate and violent thug and would be capable of murder as well.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times moves at a pretty quick pace thanks to the writing of Miraglia and Fabio Pittorru. Sure, if you look closely enough, you can catch some pretty big hints of things to come as well as some fairly short subplots that go nowhere—one of the silliest being when Peter rapes Kitty then comes back the next night to tell her he’s discovered the identity of the Red Queen. Peter is genuinely puzzled as to why Kitty won’t let him in to discuss this crucial piece of information. Really? Old Pete’s got a really lousy short-term memory if he doesn’t understand Kitty’s reticence in dealing with him. But these are minor quibbles and frankly, are typical of this subgenre, so we gialli fans have come to expect these kinds of things.
Alberto Spagnoli was a relative newcomer as cinematographer, this being only his second credit. However, he had well over a dozen credits as camera operator before his move up the ladder, and his experience shows. While the cinematography isn’t flashy, it’s very good work. Spagnoli went on to lens many Italian genre faves including Mario Bava’s Shock, Joe D’Amato’s Orgasmo Nero, Enzo Castellari’s infamous Jaws rip-off The Last Shark, the Lou Ferrigno vehicles, Hercules and Hercules II, and Ruggero Deodato’s cruel Cut and Run.
The acting is also solid, with Barbara Bouchet and Ugo Pagliai leading the way. The entire cast is populated with Italian genre character actors like Sybil Danning, Marina Malfatti, and Marino Mase as the police inspector. Rudolf Schindler (The Exorcist and Suspiria) plays the small role of Grandfather. Bruno Nicolai, who also scored The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave for Miraglia outdoes that score with a fabulous, very catchy theme that evokes a child’s music box. Nicolai was never as famous as other composers, but he nevertheless produced many famous scores. Similar to Riz Ortolani—who perhaps most famously scored Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust–Nicolai is enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks in part to beautiful releases like this and Evelyn from Arrow Video.
Along with the Italian and English tracks, the film is being released uncut and in a brand-new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. While listed on Amazon as “PG,” it is important to note the film is an uncensored version and is very much R-rated with a couple of gory scenes as well as some nudity, including a rape scene. While this particular scene is short and not done particularly well, it was typically one of the first scenes to go during Red Queen’s numerous distribution deals over the years. I’m glad Arrow is releasing the full version of the film in HD.
There is a very entertaining audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman who obviously enjoy the film as well as all the flaws. They embrace the film, warts and all, and have a fabulous time picking it apart while not coming across mean-spirited. They also impart a good deal of information, including dropping a great, obscure hint as to the killer’s identity—so don’t watch the commentary first! Arrow have also provided the alternative opening “countdown” sequence to the film which is an interesting take on revising the opening and worth watching. There is a fun interview with Sybil Danning as well as an overview of the film by Stephen Thrower as well as several short interviews with the likes of production and costume designer Lorenzo Baldi, Marino Mase, and Barbara Bouchet along with English and Italian film trailers. The entire package makes this the definitive release of the film.
You can purchase the film through Amazon or directly from Arrow at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa