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.

Eye in the Labyrinth/L’occhio nel labirinto (1972)

‘There was something devilish about him, maybe because he was a psychiatrist.’

A young woman embarks on a journey to track down her friend, a doctor, who has apparently vanished. The trail leads to a remote lakeside community and a villa occupied by various artists. All of them claim never to have seen her friend, but she soon has good reason to think otherwise…

Slow burn Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Mario Caiano that was a co-production between Italy and West Germany. Famous faces Alida Valli and Bond villain Adolfo Celo grace the cast, and a story that places a naive protagonist at the mercy of a rogue’s gallery of questionable characters.

When her boyfriend, Dr Luca (Horst Frank), fails to show up at his office after a short trip, Julie (Rosemary Dexter) is concerned. A note in his diary suggests that he may have gone to a remote lake, so she follows and starts asking questions around the local area. She’s given a lead by a mysterious man named Antonio (Gaetano Donati), who takes her to a ruined building, claiming someone lives there who can help. But it’s deserted, and part of the structure falls, almost killing her.

A friendlier local named Frank (Adolfo Celi) suggests she try her luck at the isolated villa owned by middle-aged millionairess Gerda (an intense Alida Valli). This house has a seemingly permanent population of oddballs and idlers. There’s Eugene (Franco Ressel), who obsessively records everyday conversations on a tape machine and Toni (Sybil Danning), who takes photographs of feet. Theatrical double act Thomas and Corrine (Gigi Rizzi and Peter Kranz) have a big, personal secret, and handsome toyboy Louis (Michael Maien) spends his nights in Valli’s bed. Dexter is keen to move on with her search, but Celi suggests that their sworn ignorance about the good doctor may not be the entire truth.

Director Mario Caiano starts his film with an impressive sequence. A man in black flees down empty passages of white stone, apparently pursued by a killer. Extreme camera angles and lighting combine to deliver a sense of hyper-reality and disorientation. When Dexter wakes up, it’s revealed as only a nightmare, but it’s only the beginning. She remains off-balance throughout the entire story, placing her trust in the wrong people and persistently ignoring some pretty obvious red flags. The character is not likeable or sympathetic, and when she finally takes action, she makes bad choices. It’s a testament to DeXter’s clever and skilful performance that the audience stays engaged and on her side.

The solution to the mystery makes sense, but Caiaino has dropped a few too many clues on the way, and certain aspects are a little difficult to swallow. The problems revolve mainly around the involvement of Saro (Benjamin Lev), an adolescent artist who lives at the orphanage run by Celi’s mistress (Elisa Mainardi). His behaviour makes little sense, given his possession of the solution to the mystery. Still, his eventual fate does make for the film’s standout scene.

Gorehounds and those looking for an escalating body count are likely to be disappointed here, with Caiano’s focusing more on the psychological and mystery elements than horror. There are also few visual flourishes after Dexter’s opening nightmare, and little extravagance elsewhere, aside from the overstated score by Roberto Nicolosi. His music does work well at times, creating some unsettling moments, but at others, it’s merely an unfortunate distraction. The cast is good across the board, with Dexter showing up well against the more seasoned principals. Celi was an expert in playing outwardly friendly characters with a barely concealed sinister edge, and it’s good to see him go up against Valli as the manipulative Gerda. Ressel scores as the creepy Eugene in support, and Danning is fine in an early role, although there’s little sign of the tough persona she would bring to so many ‘B’ movies in the era of video home rental.

Caiano was a journeyman director whose career mirrored many other craftsmen in the Italian film industry in the latter half of the 20th Century. He began in the ‘sword and sandal’ arena with entries such as ‘Ulisse contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules’ (1962) and ‘Goliath and the Rebel Slave/Goliath e la schiava ribelle/The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules/Arrow of the Avenger’ (1963). He also tried his hand at both the gothic horror with ‘Nightmare Castle/Amanti d’oltretomba/The Faceless Monster’ (1965) and the Eurospy with ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le Spie Uccidono In Silenzio’ (1966). Perhaps he was best known for a series of Spaghetti Westerns, though, material for which he showed more affinity, particularly with action scenes such as the excellent climax to ‘A Coffin for the Sheriff/Una bara per lo sceriffo/Lone and Angry Man’ (1965). Along with many others, he was working almost exclusively in television by the 1980s as the domestic film industry wrestled with serious financial problems.

Valli was born into the nobility in 1921 and was of Austrian, Italian and Slovenian descent, although she always identified as Italian. After a short spell in acting school, she was on the screen at age 15 and scored her first significant success in the comedy ‘Mille lire al mese’ (1939). Breaking into more dramatic roles with her award-winning performance in ‘Piccolo mondo antico’ (1941), she was brought to Hollywood after the war by famous producer David O. Selznick. Her career never really took off in America, although she was unforgettable as the haunted Anna Schmidt in Carol Reed’s iconic ‘The Third Man’ (1949). Back in Europe, she enjoyed great success in Luchino Visconti’s ‘Senso’ (1954) and Georges Franju’s superb ‘Eyes Without a Face/Les yeux sans visage’ (1960), among many other prestigious projects. In later years, she appeared in Mario Bava’s ‘Lisa and the Devil/El diablo se lleva a los muertos’ (1974) and the Dario Argento classic ‘Suspiria’ (1977).

Solid, professional Giallo with a few interesting elements.

Hercules (1983)

Hercules (1983)‘lt spits cosmic rays of deadly fire! Do you know what that means?’

Zeus bestows superhuman strength and intelligence on the infant Hercules. When he reaches manhood, he finds himself being used as a pawn in the power games of the goddess Hera and her mortal follower, King Minos, who ordered his parents slain when he was still a child…

An enjoyable retelling of the legend of Heracles (Hercules to you and me) directed by Italian Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates). Television’s ‘Incredible Hulk’, Lou Ferrigno takes the title role, and the movie was a product of Cannon Films, who were owned by cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They invested heavily in the home video market of the 1980s, and the shelves of many a high street rental store were packed with tapes of their often less than stellar productions.

This film begins (as all films should) with the creation of the universe, which was apparently caused by pieces of Pandora’s exploding jar. The gods have taken up residence on the moon (roomier than Mount Olympus, I guess) where Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) holds court with the scheming Hera (Rossana Podestà) and goody-two-shoes Athena (the wide-eyed Delia Boccardo). By ‘holding court’ I mean they stand around and talk about the fate of humanity. Apparently, the race is facing its ‘hour of decision’ between good and evil, and Boccardo is concerned that the struggle is an uneven one. At her suggestion, Cassinelli attempts to redress the balance by bestowing an infant prince with the power of light which will give him a body ‘forged in the furnace of a thousand suns’ when he grows up.

Hercules (1983)

‘Blimey! Look at the Glutinous Maximus on that!’

And it’s not a moment too soon! A few seconds later, the youngster’s royal parents are butchered in a palace coup by the forces of the evil Minos (William Berger) and his sexy daughter Adriana (Sybil Danning). Thanks to a loyal servant, the child escapes the bloodshed but is cast adrift in an open boat. Cassinelli lends a helping hand (literally, thanks to some ropey SFX) and that doesn’t sit well with Podestà. She uses her animated finger lightning to set a sea creature on the child, but he tears it apart (with his strangely adult hands!)

Fast forward via an hourglass spinning in space and the little brat has grown into the massively muscular Hercules (Ferrigno) while Berger has somehow aligned himself with Podestà. Ferrigno knows nothing of his past, but Berger is fully clued up and summons Daedalus (Eva Robins) from Chaos (which is somewhere beyond time and space apparently) to help out. I’ve no idea who she is, but she certainly rocks a golden headpiece with bat-wing ears. Robins probably should have had a word with the wardrobe department about the rest of her ensemble, though. Anyway, she sends stop motion mechanical toys after Ferrigno which grow to giant size in Earth’s atmosphere (because of …science), and one of them kills his adoptive mother before he can chuck a pole at it.

Hercules (1983)

‘Does my bum look big in this?’

Searching for answers, Ferrigno enters a contest of strength to select a champion for King Augeias (third-billed Brad Harris in a one-scene cameo). The prize? To escort the lovely Princess Cassiopeia (Ingrid Anderson) to Athens. Of course, Ferrigno wins and completes a couple of tasks, or labours if you will, along the way. Just as predictably, Ferrigno and Anderson spar for a couple of minutes and then fall in love. But Ferrigno is betrayed by royal lackey Dorcon (Yehuda Efroni) and thrown into the sea wrapped in chains. When he breaks free, he runs into sorceress Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) whose youth and beauty he inadvertently revives by providing her with ten drops of his blood. In return, she answers a lot of his questions, and the two set out to defeat Berger and his minions via the gates of hell and Atlantis.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that barely stops to take a breath, Cozzi throwing everything at the screen that his limited budget can muster without any trace of apology. Atlantis appears courtesy of terrible model work that’s tinted bright green, a mechanical Hyrda shoots scarlet laser bolts from its eyes, and Ferrigno and D’Angelo visit Hades by walking across a rainbow. Almost everything that happens is accompanied by an endless selection of wacky electronic sound effects, and Cozzi’s script is full of frequently laughable dialogue with characters making important declarations and pompous speeches. Our old friend, Voiceover Man, tries his best to give proceedings some gravitas, but his constant repetition of things that the audience already knows isn’t really the best way to go about it.

Not surprisingly, the story isn’t all that accurate to the original mythology. There’s no mention of Hercules’ killing his sons or his inclination to general murder and mayhem. The legend as we know it today is an assembly of bits and pieces from several different sources, so, if you want to give the movie a break, I guess you could say it was written in the same spirit!

Hercules (1983)

‘I thought I told you to cancel our Netflix subscription.’

The chief joy here are the villains, of course, and Berger in particular, who plays everything with a knowing twinkle in his eye. His King Minos is laughably vague and idiotic, building a city on a live volcano and forcing the legendary phoenix to make its nest inside. A sound piece of town planning, I must say, although probably in contravention of several applicable health and safety regulations. Still, he does offer the bird a virgin bride from time to time to keep it happy. The underemployed Danning is also delightfully wicked and deserves props for managing to remain inside her costume for the entire run time when a wardrobe malfunction looks imminent at any moment. And Ferrigno? Well, his physique is certainly very impressive and, if his acting isn’t in the same league, he shows an easy charisma at times which could have been developed if he’d been given more opportunities. Sadly, such possibilities were limited due to a speech impediment resulting from his impaired hearing, meaning that he’s dubbed by a voice actor here.

If Harris’ appearance seems odd in its brevity, then this film was shot back-to-back with ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) where he also appeared with Ferrigno. Director Cozzi is chiefly remembered for triumphantly silly ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘Starcrash’ (1978) starring Caroline Munro, a young David Hasselhoff and Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. Cozzi began his career with bizarre science-fiction piece ‘Tunnel Under The World’ (1969), and further projects included Giallo ‘L’ assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975) and tatty ‘Alien’ (1979) copycat ‘Contamination’ (1980). Most infamously, he was involved with the hideous, colourised version of ‘Godzilla’ (1954), which was released in 1977.

Hercules (1983)

‘Have you ever seen a Valkyrie go down?’

Podestà first came to prominence in the title role of Robert Wise’s ‘Helen of Troy’ (1955), which also starred Stanley Baker and Brigitte Bardot. Working steadily until the mid-1960s, she finally hit paydirt with popular caper ‘Seven Golden Men’ (1965) and its sequel. Stardom (on the continent, at least) must have been within her grasp after those performances, but she only appeared sporadically afterwards. Danning has long been a cult cinema favourite. Her career began in Europe with sex comedies before she started getting supporting roles in bigger-budgeted Hollywood films like Richard Lester’s star-studded ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973), and the hilariously inept ‘The Concorde… Airport ‘79 (1979).  A prominent role in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) proved pivotal and she went onto alternate between guest slots on hit Network TV shows and exploitation titles like ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Reform School Girls (1986) and ‘Young Lady Chatterley II’ (1985) with Adam West. She also starred in the title role of ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), a film which almost has to be seen to be believed. 

If you’re looking for high-quality entertainment, then this is not the place to look, although it’s only fair to point out that Pino Donnagio’s rousing orchestral soundtrack belongs in a far better film. However, there is much to enjoy here; from the cheerfully ridiculous moment when Ferrigno flies a chariot through space to the scene-stealing Berger who plans to eliminate the gods for ‘Science! For the sake of science!’

Apparently, Cozzi and the producers originally intended the film to be far more adult in content, but Ferrigno violently objected after reading the script, insisting on a more family-friendly approach. It’s interesting to speculate on what Cozzi’s original vision for the project was like, especially considering the sheer number of beautiful women in the picture!

1980s video store cheese at its finest.