AKA LA DAMA OSSA UCCIDE SETTE VOLTE, THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, in ARROW VIDEO’S ‘KILLER DAMES’ BOXSET
RUNNING TIME: 98 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The Wildenbrück family is plagued by a curse that dates back centuries. Long ago, the Black Queen murdered her cruel sister the Red Queen, but legend has it that the Red Queen returns every 100 years to take her revenge by killing seven people in and around the family. In 1958, in the Wildenbrück castle, sisters Kitty and Evelyn constantly fight, largely because Evelyn bullies Kitty. 14 years later, Kitty works as a photographer for a fashion house while third sister Franziska tends to their aging grandfather with the help of her slightly crippled husband Herbert. As for Eveyln, she’s dead – the victim of an accident stemming from one of her fights with Kitty. That night, their grandfather dies of a heart attack brought on by seeing a red caped woman advancing towards him with a dagger, a woman who witnesses say looks just like Evelyn….
The Night Evelyn Rose From The Grave was a good watch indeed, but only minutes into the other Emilio Miraglia [what does he have against the red haired women and the name Evelyn] film included with it on Arrow Video’s Killer Dames boxset, I realised that The Red Queen Kills Seven Times had already surpassed it, and I soon came to the conclusion that I was watching a giallo that was in the top ten or fifteen that I’d ever seen [granted, there are a few probably important pictures that I have yet to see, such as Sergio Martino’s generally well regarded efforts], a film that Mario Bava or Dario Argento would have been proud to have put their name to. Like The Night Evelyn Rose From The Grave, it melds typical giallo aspects with more Gothic ones, but does it in a much more assured and cohesive way. It’s almost as if Miraglia and his co-screenwriter Fabio Pittoru used the previous film as a learning experience and with The Red Queen Kills Seven Times really decided to show what they could do. Of course few gialli can get past certain seemingly obligatory ingredients like characters behaving oddly and seriously iffy dialogue which often let them down, but this one gives you all the tried and tested giallo elements like vicious murders, a convoluted mystery, blackmail, sleaze, and a traumatic event from the past, then combines them with Gothic fiction ingredients like a family curse, a will, a possible ghost and an old castle, to make a combination thriller/horror film that should satisfy most even if they’re not too experienced in the in the crazy, fascinating subgenre that is the giallo.
The opening scene really is very good indeed in the way it draws you in and sets things up. Two little girls are playing in the garden of a castle. They are sisters; blonde Kitty and brunette Evelyn. Evelyn steals Kitty’s doll and is chased by her into the room where their grandfather, sitting on an armchair, reads the newspaper. Kitty complains about Evelyn, while Evelyn is looking interestedly at a picture hanging on the wall which a lady dressed in black is stabbing a lady dressed in red. Evelyn begins to say repeatedly: “I am the red lady and Kitty is the black lady”, then stabs and beheads the doll. A fight ensures but the grandfather intervenes and tells them the legend related to the picture. Apparently two sisters – a red lady and a black lady – once lived in the castle. The red lady persecuted the black lady who ended up killing her, but one year later, the red lady left her grave and killed seven people, her seventh victim being the black lady. Once every hundred years, the red lady returns from the grave to kill seven more people, and sixteen years from now is the next time she’s supposed to do so. What great stuff, and you could almost say that the film goes down a notch once it switches to the present day, especially with a couple of rather wobbly camera shots as the Bavaria location is established, but then we return to the castle where a woman in a red cape appears to frighten the old man to death in his bed, and is seen running from the castle by two others, laughing hideously! The two witnesses think it’s Evelyn, but it can’t be, because she’s in America….or so they think.
In fact….and I was initially surprised that this was revealed so early on….Kitty accidently killed her sister Evelyn [in a subtly shocking flashback scene expertly staged and shot for maximum impact without going overboard on the violence] who tormented her, much like the black queen killing the red queen in the legend, but only her and the castle maid Franziska know about the corpse hidden away in the depths of the castle. When Evelyn seemingly starts to kill more people, the first being Kitty’s boss [who, in a typical bit of pointless giallo sleaze, had offbeat sexual tastes and with his girlfriend had just picked up a hooker for a threesome], Kitty’s situation is really bad indeed because she doesn’t want the police to investigate the mystery too much and the killer could be her guilt manifesting itself. The decision to reveal the death of Evelyn actually ends up really working, adding suspense and viewer empathy for Kitty. Is it really Evelyn? Or is it Kitty’s boyfriend Martin’s insane wife? Or is it?….well….though we know that there can’t really be a supernatural explanation for things, this one really does keep you guessing as it lurches from red herring to red herring and brings in various little subplots, not all of which seem really necessary when the Big Final Twist [which really is a surprise without being totally ridiculous] is revealed and shows some of the build-up to it to be absurdly convoluted. That’s part of the fun of these things though, and overall it’s a good plot, and one that is well paced so that many of the dialogue scenes advance the story without getting the viewer lost in it all.
Of course there are some killings, from a bloody rail impaling to a forerunner of that memorable scene in Deep Red where that poor guy is dragged along by a truck before having his head squished, but it’s the film’s tremendous killer with her bloodcurdling laugh and ability to turn up and kill in broad daylight in front of many that leaves the greatest impression. Elsewhere things from the previous movie are rehashed, like the dodgy blackmailer who may find out too much, and the checking to see if somebody is buried where he or she shoud be, and, while the giallo side of things is a bit more to the forefront here, there’s much more atmosphere and suspense, and the castle with its cobwebbed, bat and rat-populated crypt, is a wonderfully designed Hammer-esque main setting, though the gaudy salon setting for other parts of the isn’t really exploited in the way that, say, Bava did in Blood And Black Lace. Many of the cast members sport stylish outfits throughout, and there’s interesting bits of set design here and there – Martin has the oddest wallpaper consisting of green and blue lines of various width running all the way around the room against a white background – while Miraglia gives us the odd really memorable image like the sight of Evelyn [or not] in the distance at the end of a hospital corridor running towards the camera, arms and cloak flailing wildly looking for all the world like one of the typical CGI spooks you get in films nowadays. There’s also an inventively handled fashion shooting montage ending in a great kelaidoscopic shot. A totally unnecessary [if barely shown] rape leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but the fairly exciting underground climax makes up for it in a genre where the finales are often something of a let down.
Barbara Bouchet, a common face in Italian thrillers of the time, is pretty good as usual as the lead, though once again the male lead, here Ugo Pagliai, lets the side down a little. I was a bit disappointed that the obligatory cop, played by Marino Mase, didn’t have much of a personality. On the other hand there’s an early, and extremely sexually charged [“Even the police know I’m a notorious nymphomaniac” she says at one point in one of the weaker bits of dialogue in the film] appearance by the often topless Sybil Danning for male viewers to enjoy. Bruno Nicolai’s score is less diverse than his one for The Night Evelyn Rose From The Grave, but the somewhat more beat-orientated work still provides great backing and that main theme is so insanely catchy you may not get it out of your head for days. Gripping, intriguing and very well put together, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is an essential giallo, deserves to be far better known than it is, and ought to be held up as a notable example of its kind.
Arrow give this film another strong transfer which to me seemed slightly inferior to The Night Evelyn Rose From The Grave [a few slightly soft and cloudy scenes, though they’re mainly outdoor bits, so perhaps owe more to the shooting method], but is still probably the best the film has ever looked. This time the English language track was quite reasonable though it’s distinctly quieter than the Italian one, and the latter still flows better even if most of the cast are speaking English [though it’s not their voices that you usually hear]. Again, Arrow have been able to port over the special featured from the NoShame DVD release of the film as well as adding some of their own. I went straight to the interview with Danning to be impressed that she still looks rather delectable at 64 and a nicely unassuming, but frank, lady too. I also heard a portion of the commentary by genre experts Alan Jones and Kim Newman, and found it to be such a good listen that I’ll probably hear the rest later on today. The two, who have done other talk tracks together, are just a joy to listen, managing to be extremely informative while avoiding any dryness. They have such a good repartee and show their love for the films that they talk about while being entirely aware of their flaws. It’s one of the highlights of a great two-film boxset that, it you’re a regular reader of a website called Horror Cult Films, you really ought to buy.
KILLER DAMES BOXSET
*Limited Edition box set (3000 copies) containing The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
*Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray Discs)
*Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
*Limited Edition 60-page booklet containing new writing by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and Rachael Nisbet
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES
*New audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman
*Exclusive new interview with actress Sybil Danning
*Writer Stephen Thrower on The Red Queen Kills Seven Times
*Archival introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi
*Dead à Porter – archival interview with Lorenzo Baraldi
*Rounding Up the Usual Suspects – archival interview with actor Marino Masé
*If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today – archival featurette with Erika Blanc, Lorenzo Baraldi and Marino Masé
*My Favorite… Films – archival interview with actress Barbara Bouchet
*Original Italian theatrical trailer
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx