Poor Evelyn has a history as ridiculous as it’s plot, and at times as hard to follow, but unfairly neglected and often resigned to the “50 Greatest Horror Films for a £1” DVD collections, with shoddy transfers, it’s overlooked and forgotten. A film that takes some time and appreciation to properly enjoy. You sip it slow and allow it’s insanity to take you where it wants to go.
When you are staring down the winding tale that is Evelyn, you require someone who can tackle a beast, and the captain of the good ship Satanic Pandemonium, kindly stepped up to the challenge.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
Emilio Miraglia, 1971
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Erika Blanc
La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba aka 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 will likely delight giallo lovers but probably confuse the hell out of everyone else.
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 his wife 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 an entertaining blend of genres and presents a series of intertwining murder mysteries constantly folding and unfolding upon themselves. With that said, the winding plot is far from perfect and will likely confuse giallo newbies. While the genre in general isn’t known for its 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 doesn’t really care about making much sense. If you’ve seen a lot of giallo films, this isn’t going to interfere with your enjoyment of the film too much.
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 is actually in the film’s favor and there aren’t a lot of other gialli with the sheer number of fun twists. 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 for some reason 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), this is a mix of giallo tropes and Gothic horror, set in a menacing castle in the woods complete with a mouldering 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 we are simply unsure who to trust. Spaghetti western regular Anthony Steffen does a decent job as Alan, though it’s difficult to rise above a character that is depicted as insane for much of the film. Marina Malfatti (All the Colors of the Dark, Miraglia’s other giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and more) 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 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 is also screening on Halloween at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave will conclude a day full of horror related talks with film historian Jonathan Rigby, film genre programmer Josh Saco, Professor Peter Hutchings, Associate Professor Ian Olney, and Dr Antonio Lázaro-Reboll.