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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retro Review: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Although I'd read about it for years (and even worked for the company that distributed it for television), tonight is the first time I actually sat down and watched the Italian 1971 giallo/erotic thriller, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, and I'm sure glad I did. What a premium slab of Euroschlock!

Spaghetti western star Antonio Di Teffe (here billed as Anthony Steffen) plays Lord Alan Cunningham, a man who'd been confined to an asylum after the tragic death of his beloved red-headed wife, Evelyn, but is now back at his dilapidated old castle, bringing ginger hookers home to torture and kill them. I guess everyone has different ways of grieving.

His groundskeeper, Albert (Roberto Maldera), who is also the late Evelyn's brother, constantly spies on Alan's evil deeds and gets his palm greased regularly in exchange for his silence, occasionally bringing up the memory of his dead sister to keep the cash flowing.

And his psychiatrist, Richard Timberlane (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) constantly frets about his patient, advising him to get married again or move to London, never once getting a clue about Alan's sadistic lifestyle. When Alan goes to a nightclub and sees a bizarre striptease performed by a red-headed (of course) woman named Susie (Erika Blanc), he offers her a thousand pounds to spend the weekend with him and they head back to the castle where he starts to do what he does best, but she escapes before he can deliver the death blow.

Remembering his doctor's good advice, Alan goes to a party hosted by his cousin, George (Enzo Tarascio), meets a red-headed woman named Gladys (Marina Malfatti) and proposes to her after a roll in the hay. And she accepts.

His urge to kill put on the back burner and delirious with happiness, Alan has the castle restored to its former glory and moves the whole family in, including his Aunt Agatha (Joan C. Davis). But soon he's seeing the ghost of Evelyn wandering everywhere so he freaks out and starts whomping on Gladys. Everyone has a hidden agenda and spying eyes are everywhere.

Aunt Agatha is confined to a motorized wheelchair, the result of paralysis, but when she sneaks out at night for her trysts with Albert, it's revealed that she is faking her handicap. At first, it seems like Albert and Agatha are the ones trying to drive Alan crazy to get their hands on his fortune, but Albert is dispatched with the bite of a poisonous snake clutched in the gloved hand of an unseen assailant, and the same killer bashes Agatha's head in with a rock before dragging her body into a cage to be devoured by Alan's pet foxes. Yes, you read that right.

Of course, it turns out that cousin George is the actual schemer, working in cahoots with Gladys. Alan goes nuts again, Dr. Timberlane has him hauled away, and the two double-crossers retire to George's summer home to enjoy their newfound fortune over a glass of champagne. But just as Gladys is starting to feel the effects of strychnine-laced bubbly, who should appear but Susie, who'd actually been the one plotting with George all along! Gladys may be dying, but she still has enough pep to grab a knife and ventilate Susie while George gloats. How convenient for him! He even tells the two dying women, "The worms are waiting!"

Cheerily, he goes outside, only to be confronted by Alan, who'd faked his crack-up to expose his cousin. George tries to kill him with a really big stick, but Alan throws a handy drum full of sulphuric acid (or as it was helpfully printed on the drum, "acido solforico") into a nearby swimming pool and pushes George into it. His flesh burning, George crawls out of the pool into the hands of waiting policemen who carry him off like a quarterback who just won the big game. Now wait a minute—how the hell can four cops carry a guy bare-handed who's just been soaked in sulphuric acid?

The joy in films like this is the detail, though, from the inappropriately cheery music to the hilariously tacky '70s decor. The actress playing "dotty" Aunt Agatha is a good ten years younger than either Alan or George, and she looks it. Gladys' hair keeps changing from super-curly to straight, sometimes in the same scene. When Alan greets his cousin at the party where he meets Gladys, George is wearing a kaftan and one huge hoop earring. There is no explanation. There are singers at the party performing a rock number whose lyrics don't even remotely begin to match their mouth movements. As a matter of fact, their mouths are closed even as the vocals keep carrying on. And since Alan has forbidden any red-haired women at the castle (except Gladys, I guess), Aunt Agatha has hired a bevy of maids, all wearing the same ridiculous curly blond wig, which makes them look like a bunch of Carol Kanes...or Little Orphan Annies.

Susie's strip show begins with a coffin being carried out on stage, the lid swinging open, and Susie's wiggling butt emerging from the box. It's supposed to be erotic, I guess, but it's absolutely hilarious. As she dances to the groovy music and blows out candles, there are repeated cuts to different members of an audience of rather elderly men and women smiling and watching appreciatively.

To make matters worse (or better), Blanc looks a lot like Karen Black. She has amused me before in the Belgian-Italian co-production The Devil's Nightmare (also 1971), in which she plays a succubus who menaces tourists in a remote castle. The hilarious highlight of that film involved a topless girl taking a snooze in bed when a snake slithers in the window to attack her, and its hissing is just some guy saying "Ahhhhh…" on the soundtrack. But Blanc and Rossi-Stuart also co-starred in a bona fide classic, Mario Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill!, from 1966—the one with the ghost child—and she's still working today. Rossi-Stuart died in 1994 and Anthony Steffen, who was actually of noble blood, left us in 2004.

Evelyn has lots of nudity, mostly breasts, but a couple of almost subliminal lower areas. As a matter of fact, entire scenes take place with the woman completely topless or wearing an outfit that only covers her nipples. There's not much gore, but when Aunt Agatha is thrown into the cage with the foxes, there's a nice shot of the creatures dragging away a big gloppy string of entrails and chowing down on them. Gladys' stabbing of Susie is pretty good, too, but when Albert is bitten by the snake and is supposedly writhing in agony from the effects of the venom, he looks just like Steve-O! And, God, the art direction…it's like A Clockwork Orange threw up on Barry Lyndon (with apologies to Stanley Kubrick).

Director Emilio Miraglia only made six films, and his other gialloThe Red Queen Kills Seven Times—has garnered something of a cult following. I think I'm going to have to check it out.

This is one of those films you can enjoy either in a party situation or alone where you can relish each scene in jaw-dropping silence. It's weird, it's funny, it makes little sense, but it's never boring. They just don't make 'em like this anymore. Like other Italian (or Spanish or French) genre films of this era, it exists under a multitude of alternate titles and running times. I saw it on a Sinister Cinema DVD, which was uncut but pretty worn and green, but I didn't mind it—beat-up drive-in prints add to the atmosphere of movies like this. Beware of other bargain bin companies offering the television print that excises the nudity and violence—which is kind of the whole point, isn't it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recall this film was the sequel to THE NIGHT VERA CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE. Afterward, there was MADELYN, HARRIET...

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