Thursday, May 14, 2015


Emilio Miraglia, 1972
Starring: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Sybil Danning

Two young sisters, Kitty and Evelyn, are seen fighting over a doll when a family heirloom – a painting of two women known as the Red Queen and the Black Queen – possesses Evelyn and she violently stabs the doll, decapitating it. Their grandfather explains that the two girls are part of a family curse, where every 100 years the Red Queen will possess one sister who is destined to kill seven people, ending with her other sister. As adults, Kitty and her other sister, Franziska, become alarmed when a murderer stalks their family mansion. Kitty, who accidentally killed Evelyn in a fight months before, becomes convinced that her sister has risen from the grave to get the Red Queen’s vengeance once and for all.

Director Emilio Miraglia’s two giallo films – The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (also known as The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times) and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave – may not be the most coherent entries in the giallo canon, but they are admittedly two of my favorites. Miraglia reuses the same themes for both films: a mix of colorful ‘70s giallo style blended with more traditional Gothic elements – for instance, most giallo films don’t take place in castles or ancestral mansions – and a hint of the supernatural when he suggests the possibility that the murderer is actually a ghost. I don’t know if there was an Evelyn in Miraglia’s life, but both of these films center around a love/hate obsession with a woman by that name.

While both films have plenty of lovely, scantily clad ladies, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is certainly more female-centric and the male characters more or less fade to the background (or are rapidly killed off). Bond girl and giallo regular Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling, Caliber 9) shines as the appealing protagonist haunted by guilt and stalked by a killer. While many giallo films focus on helpless heroines trying to stay a step ahead of a black-gloved killer, I tend to prefer the more complex characters to the outright damsels in distress (a la films like Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion). Bouchet’s Kitty falls somewhere between these defenseless characters and the ball-busters often played by Nieves Navarro. For much of the film she’s wracked with guilt about having killed her sister, but she also seems relieved that Evelyn is gone.

Her relationship with her two sisters is complicated and it’s never explained why they were raised by their grandfather instead of their parents. Kitty works as a photographer at a fashion agency and the atmosphere there – full of beautiful, competitive women – somehow mirrors her childhood and home life. The use of models and fashion was popular throughout giallo (thanks to Mario Bava’s seminal Blood and Black Lace), as it allows for numerous built-in scenarios where attractive women are half-nude, nude, or wear a variety out absolutely outrageous outfits. The film makes Kitty less of a sexualized object than her peers because she is a photographer, rather than a model, though this is also used in other ‘70s films like Baba Yaga and Eyes of Laura Mars.

Despite the film’s frequent ridiculous moments, Miraglia effectively conveys the suspenseful atmosphere and keeps us guessing about Evelyn’s identity. There are some great kill sequences, including one where a woman is impaled on a wrought iron fence, and somewhere the visual of a red-caped figure running through tombs and around dark corners is effective. Though this is something of a spoiler, it becomes quickly apparent that even though some people seem to recognize Evelyn in a sketch of the killer – Miraglia even shows a few glimpses of the killer’s face – the killer is wearing an effective and creepy mask. Miraglia also includes a dream sequence, eerie flashbacks, and an excellent chase sequence through the family castle, which is rapidly transformed into a palace of claustrophobic horrors.

Most giallo films have a cast of wholly unlikable characters, something The Red Queen Kills Seven Times fortunately doesn’t succumb to. There are certainly lots of moral gray areas: Kitty herself is a murderer and her sister Franziska (icy giallo regular Marina Malfatti, who is quite entertaining here) comes across as some sort of lazy opportunist waiting for her share of the fortune, while the agency’s models are eager to stab each other in the back. Fascinatingly, the male characters are almost all hamstrung by physical or mental obstacles. Kitty’s grandfather is in a wheelchair, her boyfriend is in financial and romantic limbo thanks to his insane wife, who is kept in an asylum, Franziska’s husband has a pronounced limp, a former agency boss is impeded by a notorious sexual fetish, and Evelyn’s old boyfriend is a pale, sweaty drug addict blackmailing Kitty for money.

It’s hard for me to list The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ faults, though I know they exist. Miraglia makes a mess of a the plot, as with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, but the film is just so much fun that it comes highly recommended. Between a likable cast, some great style that veers dramatic from Gothic splendor to swinging ‘60s/’70s, and some truly delightful sequences, there’s a great score from Bruno Nicolai ties the whole thing together. It’s on DVD, but out of print, and I’m really, really hoping for a blu-ray box set of Miraglia’s two films plus plenty of exciting special features.

P.S. The Red Queen does not actually kill seven times, but I will leave you wondering whether it's more or less.

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