Emilio Miraglia, 1971
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc
An English lord, Alan, was recently released from a mental hospital after a breakdown over his wife Evelyn’s death. His obsession with Evelyn has not abated and he spends his time trolling bars and clubs looking for red headed women that resemble her to come home to his isolated castle and spend the night. But these trysts all result in torture and murder. He has to pay off his wife’s brother, the groundskeeper, to keep silent and attempts a seance that summons Evelyn’s ghost but results in another minor collapse. His doctor convinces him he should marry again and he meets the blonde Gladys. For a time he is happy with her, but Evelyn’s ghost begins to appear around the castle and drives Alan back to the brink of insanity. Gladys finds Evelyn’s tomb empty and strange murders begin to occur around the castle. Is Evelyn back to take her revenge on Alan?
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is the first giallo film from director Emilio Miraglia. Though lesser known alongside giallo greats like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and Umberto Lenzi, Miraglia’s first film is a stylish, fascinating entry in the genre that will likely delight giallo lovers but probably confuse the hell out of everyone else. At its heart, the film is an entertaining blend of genres and presents a series of intertwining murder mysteries constantly folding and unfolding upon themselves. The winding plot is far from perfect and will likely confuse giallo newbies. While the giallo films in general aren't known for linear or rational plots, Evelyn is something else entirely. Some scenes drag on too long, where as others cut away without fully explaining events. Though there are many beautiful set pieces, the film is a little choppy and the plot isn't too concerned with making a lot of sense.
Part of the confusion is due to the fact that Miraglia blends a number of genres together. This begins as a fairly routine Euro-horror serial killer film a la The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), or even the ridiculous Night of a Thousand Cats (1972), where a series of beautiful women are whisked away to a castle or mansion to be murdered. It rapidly turns into a ghost story with the seance and sightings of Evelyn’s ghost around the castle. The plot eventually morphs into a more giallo-like construction and picks up some genre tropes along the way, including twist after twist... after twist.
If you have the patience for it, the bizarre story actually works in the film’s favor. Though there are some murders early on, courtesy of Alan, things don’t really kick off till the second half of the film. Evelyn isn’t particularly gory, but includes such unexpected deaths as a woman being fed to a cage full of prized foxes. There are some lovely, surreal visuals with plenty of shots of semi-nude women running through graveyards and one great scene where a stripper, played by the lovely Erika Blanc, rises from a coffin to begin her macabre striptease act. And let’s not forget the wacky ending that involves a swimming pool full of acid.
Unlike other genre directors, Emilio Miraglia did not make a lot of giallo films even though he started fairly early -- Evelyn came out the same year as one of Dario Argento’s earliest films, The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971). As with Mario Bava’s Baron Blood (1972), the Gothic horror influence is richly felt, particularly in the main set: a menacing castle in the woods complete with a moldering crypt and a torture chamber. It also borrows from Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon, as both films center around insane protagonists who murder women because of complicated relationship with their wives, who may or may not be dead and who possibly linger in the form of malignant spirits.
The uneven cast makes it difficult to really sympathize with anyone and, unlike the films of Dario Argento or Sergio Martino, Evelyn lacks a charismatic protagonist. Part of the problem is that it's simply unclear which characters are trustworthy. Spaghetti western regular Anthony Steffen does a decent job as Alan, though it’s difficult to redeem a character that is depicted as insane for much of the film. Marina Malfatti (from All the Colors of the Dark and Miraglia’s other giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) is icy and reserved, but looks beautiful whether she is screaming in terror or plotting diabolically. She also wears increasingly racy lingerie and is barely clothed for much of the film. The cast is rounded out by Enzo Tarascio (The Conformist) as Alan’s conniving cousin, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (The Last Man on Earth) as his psychiatrist, and Erika Blanc (Kill Baby, Kill) as a particularly memorable victim.
Overall The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is recommended only for giallo lovers or at least seasoned Italian horror fans. The film is available uncut on DVD from Eclectic or in the Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen box set with The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. It's one of my favorites among the lesser known giallo films, partly because of the great atmosphere and the fact that the script -- from Miraglia, Massimo Felisatti (The Weekend Murders, Strip Nude for Your Killer), and Fabio Pittoru (The Weekend Murders, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) -- is allowed to delightfully meander where it will.