Friday, 21 January 2011

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Country: ITALY

La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba
The Night She Arose from the Tomb
The Night That Evelyn Left the Tomb

The beautifully titled The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave is an unusual and distinctive giallo from Emilio Miraglia. Miraglia only directed six films, but his two contributions to the giallo cycle (the other being The Red Queen Kills 7 Times [1972]) are unusual for their foregrounding of the supernatural. But the supernatural never becomes more than a storytelling device, a sophisticated red herring which acts as a suitable peg upon which to hang the principle themes of obsession, mental illness, and sexual perversion. The supernatural elements work extremely well with a visual style that bathes the film in gothic atmospherics. The sumptuous production design and art direction of Lorenzo Baraldi is a key element of this strategy, and his efforts to extend the decadent perversions of the central character to the principal locations of the film adds immeasurable depth to the proceedings. The Cunningham estate is an excellent space with which to play out this tale of death, decay, sexual depravity, blackmail and moral emptiness. The castle is a schizophrenic space which dramatises a clash between chic interior design and kitsch modernity and the cold stone walls and corridors of a gothic past. It also offers a metaphor for the mental fragmentation and fluctuating psychology of the central character Sir Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen).

Although the film is set in the countryside of England, the film makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it was shot in mainland Europe. England is evoked for both its heritage of gothic ghost stories and for the wealthy class of aristocrats that Sir Alan belongs too. The films attitude to class is not at all dissimilar to the one propagated by Hammer - the aristocracy is a haven for sexual deviants, murderers, and sadists. However this is a giallo and unlike Hammer there is no sense whatsoever of a wider class structure; Miraglia’s film is typically insular. After opening with an attempted escape from an asylum that sets up the theme of mental instability we are invited to see the way Sir Alan spends his evenings. This consists of luring red-headed whores back to his mouldering castle with promises of cash and kinkiness. The kinkiness consists of a surprisingly well equipped torture chamber, and before long Sir Alan is thrashing his guests into oblivion with a bullwhip. But the crazed pervert doesn’t stop there; only when they lay dying from a knife wound is the camp sadist content. This is Sir Alan’s own brand of personal therapy for the fact that his unfaithful wife Evelyn died in childbirth (or did she?). His mind is shattered by hallucinations, flashbacks to his naked wife indulging in her affair, and an obsession with red-headed women. Sir Alan’s psychological disruption is handled well by Anthony Steffen who ably switches from affable and charming to a cold hearted sadist and murderer in the beat of a heart.

Pevert aristocrat Sir Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) and his wife Gladys (Marina Malfatti)

When Sir Alan marries Gladys (Marina Malfatti) the sightings of Evelyn become more frequent and the bodies began to stack up. The set pieces are of particular note, especially the peculiar death of the blackmailing Albert, and the grisly fate of the wheelchair ridden Aunt Agatha. The moody and sombre lighting of Gastone Di Giovanni works wonders here, especially in the rain soaked sequence in which Sir Alan witnesses what he believes to be his dead wife rising from the grave. The narrative structure which at first explores Sir Alan’s murderous mental fugues, and then switches to a ghostly tale of the supernatural, finally does end up in the more familiar confines of the giallo. In other words we are in the territory of inheritances, greed, and material wealth. Sir Alan is a wealthy psychopath and there are a lot of hangers on who regard the Cunningham estate with envious eyes. This unfortunately weakens the effect of the film as a whole, and the plot slides inexorably into convention and predictability. The rushed finale tries to throw in too many plot twists, but the most surprising one surely is the emergence of Sir Alan as a hero of sorts. One has to question the morality of a screenplay that doesn’t punish a character for torturing and killing two women.

Sir Alan shows an unfortunate hooker how he likes to spend his evenings.

Nevertheless this film is extremely stylish and with its bizarre subject matter emerges as a highly distinctive giallo. The sepulchral atmosphere, misty landscapes, corpses, and the rot and decay of the grave stands side by side with the kitsch and modish interior design of Sir Alan’s bedroom. This is a film of unlikely contrasts, but ones which offered a route into a brand of gothic giallo that few filmmakers chose to tread. Although the film ultimately fails to follow through with its supernatural potential it does combine gothic and giallo conventions in a rich and thematically rewarding manner. Few gialli possess both the rot and smell of the grave and the camp modernity of a vacuous and artificial world of wealthy aristocrats and scheming relatives.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. I've always wanted to see this based on the title alone, but I had no idea it was a giallo. Your last paragraph makes it sound simply sublime!

  2. I wonder how many giallo films lure people in with their stunning titles? I was the same Will, but this is one of a handful that I think live up to the name on the marquee...thanks for stopping by mate!

  3. One of my favourite giallos. The Red Queen Kills 7 Times isn't quite as good but is still worth a look.

  4. I've actually passed this one up frequently because the only versions on DVD ni R1 seemed to be public domain copies. Going to be adding this to the watch list immediately Shaun!

  5. I was fortunate enough Carl to pick up the Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen box set put out by Noshame a couple of years ago. It contains this film and THE RED QUEEN KILLS 7 TIMES. The presentation of the films is excellent. When Noshame went down the tubes (the lavish nature of this collection may have been a contributory factor) it's price rocketed up.

  6. I agree Doom - I enjoyed EVELYN more than THE RED QUEEN. But the general consensus seems to take the opposite view.

  7. I like films that use the supernatural as a backdrop to their story, sometimes filmmakers add the supernatural element (however faint it maybe) to add a spookier vibe to the film, even if it isnt necesarilly about the supernatural. I have put this one on my list! Thanks for the review.

  8. I still have yet to open my KILLER QUEEN box with the action figure inside. I recall first reading about EVELYN from an old Mondo Video advertisement back in the mid 80s with that classic poster image on one of the ads pages. I was always fascinated by both that image and the films title and all the more baffled that I still haven't watched the damn thing yet!

  9. I gather the KILLER QUEEN box set is a rare collector's piece now? Sadly the action figure from my set has long since vanished, I think my niece ended up adding it to her voluminous collection of toys. I might find it one day, headless and armless! It really is an excellent poster, among the finest for a giallo.


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