The Red Queen Kills Seven Times/La dama rossa uccide sette volte (1972)

‘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.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (1971)

‘I need a fistful of ash. That’s essential.’

A troubled aristocrat is obsessed with the memory of his dead wife, Evelyn. He picks up lookalike prostitutes and introduces them to his torture chamber. Then he meets a beautiful woman at a party and falls instantly in love. The couple marries, and he plans to renovate his crumbling ancestral home, but his obsession with Evelyn remains…

Good-looking Giallo directed by Emilio Miraglia and co-written by him, Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru. The title suggests a straight horror film, but, despite some early hints of the ghastly and supernatural, it’s not likely that anyone would consider it as such.

The death of his unfaithful wife Evelyn (Paola Natale) in childbirth has seriously screwed with the psyche of eligible bachelor Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen). Rather than hit the dating scene, he prefers to frequent sleazy clubs and pick up prostitutes such as redheaded exotic dancer Susie (Erika Blanc). After surreptitiously changing the number plates on his car mid-journey (nothing suspicious there!), he gets them back to his cool pad: a suite of chic rooms in his tumbledown castle. Like all good ancestral homes, this comes with its own torture chamber, and good host Steffen is happy to give his guests the grand tour.

Concerned about Steffen’s brooding isolation, his cousin George Harriman (Enzo Tarascio) and psychiatrist Dr Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) encourage him to get out more. Tarascio takes him to an outdoor party where the moody noble meets the glamorous Gladys (Marina Malfatti). It’s love at first sight, and the two get hitched and move into the old homestead straight away. Steffen instructs estate manager Farley (Umberto Raho) to renovate the property and invites wheelchair-user Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davis) to stay. Also resident on the estate is ex-brother-in-law Albert (Roberto Maldera), who acts as caretaker and keeps a cage filled with hungry foxes. He also prowls around at night and accepts regular ‘cash in hand’ payouts from Steffen.

This is an intriguing setup, and the film’s first half builds quite nicely. Miraglia makes excellent use of some wonderfully overgrown locations, the first-class work of cinematographer Gastone Di Giovanni ensuring the daylight scenes carry as much menace as those at night. Most significant story developments occur on the grounds rather than inside, and this unusual emphasis results in some striking images and compositions.

The notion of initially presenting the audience with the apparent fact that Steffen is an insane serial killer and then slowly undermining it is an elegant idea. Although Steffen killing the girls in the first act isn’t shown, it’s heavily implied as Miraglia invites the viewer to fill in the gaps. However, later story developments start to suggest that something else might be going on and, at first, this is well-handled. However, Miraglia soon overplays his hand with a seance scene where the spirit of the departed Natale appears in mid-air courtesy of some camera trickery. This event suddenly opens up the possibility of the paranormal, which comes right out of left field, but it’s so heavy-handed that it signposts what’s really going on. Unfortunately, this is the first of a series of ridiculous plot developments which make less and less sense under close examination.

The most obvious example of this chaotic patchwork of contrived plot points centres around Aunt Agatha. To begin with, Davis (probably a pseudonym as it’s the actor’s only screen credit) looks no older than any of her male relatives, begging the question of just whose aunt she is supposed to be. It transpires later on that she’s having an affair with handyman Maldera, and she’s also faking her disability. She’s murdered a few moments after she gets out of her wheelchair, so we never find out why she was pretending to be an invalid. I guess the murderer kills her a few moments later because she’s fulfilled her function of ‘looking a bit suspicious’. The disposal of her body is also quite silly. I’m guessing that ‘falling out of a wheelchair and getting eaten by foxes’ doesn’t appear on many death certificates. Props also to the local constable who turns up for a few moments, frowns, licks the end of his pencil and proclaims her death ‘an accident’! Promotion to detective must be just around the corner.

The script ties itself in knots trying to make sense, and the director and cast aren’t up to the task of papering over the gaping plot holes. Steffen fails to conjure up any sympathy for our miserable sod of a hero as he sulks around with a face like a wet weekend at the seaside. He shares zero chemistry with Malfatti, which doesn’t sell the idea of an instant love story and immediate marriage. The only cast member to emerge with any credit is Blanc, who makes a lot out of her far too limited screen time. Some credit should also be reserved for composer Bruno Nicolai who delivers a solid and quietly appealing score.

Miraglia began his career as an Assistant Director in the early 1950s and worked his way up to solo directing duties on above-average crime thriller ‘Assassination’ (1967) starring Henry Silva. After another teaming with his star, Miraglia then delivered caper movie ‘The Vatican Affair/A qualsiasi prezzo’ (1968) starring Klaus Kinski, Ira von Fürstenberg and veteran Hollywood star Walter Pidgeon. Obscure Spaghetti Western ‘Shoot Joe, and Shoot Again/Spara Joe… e così sia!’ (1971) came after a three-year break, and his last film was another Giallo, ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times/La dama rossa uccide sette volte’ (1972). He left the industry shortly afterwards and passed away in 1982 at the age of 58.

Some excellent visuals are dragged down by a screenplay written without due care and attention.