The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) opens with the attempted escape from an asylum, and then jumps ahead to the patient’s (demonstrably premature) freedom. Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) is a handsome widower living in a run-down mansion in the countryside haunted by memories of his dead wife. To deal with the grief he frequents nightclubs and strip joints in the city, looking for red-headed beauties who resemble his late wife, then proceeds to lure into the family dungeon to torture and kill. Yes, all those dreamy, soft-focus reveries of naked romps in the woods turn out to be memories of his wife’s affairs. His release from psychiatric observation was apparently premature but in perhaps the most unexpected twist in the film he shifts from villain to victim. When he marries Gladys (Marina Malfatti), a woman whose wardrobe is defined by dizzying plunging necklines and blouses that surely must be glued to her breasts, mere hours after they meet at Gothic-chic party, the dead Evelyn appears. Whether she’s an actual ghost or an elaborate scheme, there is something decidedly human killing off members of the manor and there is no shortage of suspects—a bitter wheelchair-bound aunt, the brother of the dead wife who slinks around spying on everyone, a devoted cousin who keeps showing up—or victims.
It’s a confused plot—by the time the film ends it’s completely forgotten that he’s an insane serial killer—with details that are a dubious even for the coincidence-laced genre. Seriously, who leaves an open bag of powdered sulfuric acid next to a swimming pool? But it’s also a handsome film with great locations and art direction and a memorable mix of fashions. The walk through the dark, decrepit old manor let slide into ruin that ends up in Alan’s modern, well-life bachelor pad is an effective bit of atmospheric whiplash in a film where the past and present are constantly colliding. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave came out of the early seventies explosion of giallo, a distinctly Italian twist on horror that combined high style and gory violence, but director Emilio P. Miraglia is more indebted to the Gothic tradition of Roger Corman’s Poe movies and the sixties Italian horrors that picked up the style—the journey to the family crypt is like a trip back hundreds of years—and he embraces the fashions of the era, which he weaves into the Gothic flashback to create something a little different for the genre.
Rated R, Italian with English subtitles
Also on disc in a special edition from Arrow and SVOD through Amazon Prime and other services. Arrow’s box set is a double feature limited edition with both Blu-ray and DVD editions and an impressive collection of supplements (new commentary by Troy Howarth and interviews with actress Erika Blanc and critic Stephen Thrower, plus archival interviews with Blanc and production designer Lorenzo Baraldi and a brief video introduction by Blanc). It makes it a little spendy and there are other, cheaper DVD editions but they are pretty poor and not worth recommending.
Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia (4-Disc Special Limited Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD]