‘All men are filthy beasts.’
A series of murders begins after the death of a wealthy old man. His daughters fear that the killings are linked to the family legend about an ancestor called the Red Queen and how she returns from the grave every hundred years to kill…
Convoluted tale of mystery and horror from writer-director Emilio Miraglia. This Italian-West German co-production stars Giallo favourite, Barbara Bouchet, and was co-written by Fabio Pittorru.
It’s far from happy families in Wildenbrück Castle. Grandfather Tobias (Rudolf Schündler) is forced to referee between pre-teen sisters Kitty and Eveline, who are constantly at war. One day, he tells them of a family legend involving two feuding ancestors; sisters known as the Red Queen and the Black Queen. The story goes that the Black Queen murdered the Red Queen’s lover, and the Red Queen retaliated by going on a rampage, killing seven times. Every one hundred years, she returns to reenact her bloody revenge.
More than a decade later, Kitty (Bouchet) is now a successful fashion photographer, working for the company run by Hans Meyer (Bruno Bertocci). Relations with sister Eveline never improved, and she has left for America and can’t be traced when Schündler passes away. Bouchet attends the reading of the will with her lover, Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai), third sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) and her husband, Herbert Zieler (Nino Korda). To everyone’s surprise, Schündler has instructed that the process be delayed until the following year when the latest anniversary of the Red Queen’s return has passed.
While looking for a prostitute for a threesome with his lover, Lulu Palm (the spectacular Sybil Danning), Bertocci is brutally stabbed to death. Witnesses see a figure fleeing the scene in a full-length red cloak, accompanied by maniacal laughter. Police Inspector Toller (Marino Masé) suspects Pagliai is involved as he will take Bertocci’s place as head of the fashion house. However, the late chief’s secretary, Rosemary Müller (Pia Giancaro), recognises the photofit compiled by the witnesses as Bouchet’s sister, Eveline.
Considered purely as a storytelling exercise, director Miraglia’s second Giallo is an ambitious effort indeed, with a complex, twisting narrative that benefits from a second viewing. There’s a lot to unpack with its dense plot and interconnected relationships and personal histories. Unfortunately, this results in a slight lack of clarity, and perhaps some elements should have been omitted or simplified. Not that the final revelations don’t make sense, but they tread very close to the line of credibility. Structurally, it also involves an awkwardly hefty exposition dump during the finale.
This complexity may frustrate some, but it does keep the mystery engaging, and Miraglia doesn’t want to waste any time getting into it. As a result, the audience is thrown rather roughly into the story, with some characters not sufficiently established, particularly Malfatti’s Franziska. In the early exchanges, she can easily be mistaken for a live-in housekeeper rather than another sister. This approach also gives us the film’s first major twist very early in the proceedings. Bouchet knows that Eveline can’t be responsible for the murders because she’s already dead. Bouchet accidentally killed her during a fight, and Malfatti helped hide the body in the castle’s cellars.
The events that occur before the story begins leave Bouchet’s Kitty as an unusually short-tempered, uptight and unlikeable heroine. It’s to be applauded that Bouchet and the film commit to this rather than play for sympathy and cast her in a more familiar damsel in distress or victim role. In the end, it’s what happens to her over the course of the movie that puts the audience in her corner. There are some brief but harrowing moments after her encounter with drug addict Peter (Fabrizio Moresco) that are particularly heart-wrenching.
There’s a similar tone here to Miraglia’s previous Giallo ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971) with its mixture of the gothic and the contemporary. On the one hand, there is never any real suggestion that the mystery has a supernatural explanation, with the police investigation firmly fixed along more rational lines. However, the climax does take place in the castle’s crumbling cellars, and Bouchet and Malfatti also visit them to check that Eveline’s body is in the dank cell where they left it.
Miraglia reassembles some of the cast and crew from ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971), including actress Malfatti, writer Pittorru and composer Bruno Nicolai who delivers an excellent, melodic score. It may have been Alberto Spagnoli’s first full credit as a cinematographer, but he was a veteran cameraman, and together the two create some memorable images and striking compositions. A couple of the murders are particularly fierce and shocking, clearly foreshadowing the American slasher films to come.
The production’s international status led to some German talent in the supporting cast, including Danning. Born Sybille Danninger, she debuted in the sex comedy ‘Komm nur, mein liebstes Vögelein’ (1968) after a brief modelling career. Her next assignment was co-starring with Robert De Niro, although the project was a pre-stardom drama called ‘Sam’s Song’ (1969). She relocated to America permanently in 1978 and became a familiar face in genre cinema during the video home rental age, beginning with her memorable turn in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980). Notable films followed, such as ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Hercules’ (1983) and ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), and she remained active in the mainstream, guesting on television shows like ‘The Fall Guy’, ‘Street Hawk’ and science fiction hit ‘V’. After retiring in 1993, a convention appearance rekindled her career, and she appeared in Rob Zombie’s short contribution to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse’ project, ‘Werewolf Women of the S.S.’ (2007) and his remake of ‘Halloween’ (2007).
Some muddled storytelling and an overcooked plot prevent this from hitting the next level, but it’s still a stylish and enjoyable Giallo.