The Red Queen Kills Seven Times Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
An age-old family curse hits sisters Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and Franziska (Marina Malfatti), following the death of their grandfather, Tobias (Rudolf Schündler). Every hundred years, so the legend goes, the bloodthirsty Red Queen returns and claims seven fresh victims. Was Tobias just the first… and are Kitty and Franziska next? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
(The following paragraph was stolen from my own review of Arrow’s Death Walks on High Heels/Death Walks at Midnight Blu-ray double-feature)
Like most genre-centric filmmakers, giallo directors can be broken down into tiers. At the top, you have the innovators – your Mario Bavas, Dario Argentos, and Lucio Fulcis. Next, you have the stalwarts – directors with a wide breadth of work in the genre, like Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and Antonio Margheriti. Then, you have your ‘one hit wonders’ – filmmakers that didn’t exactly thrive in the confines of the category, but still managed to make at least one brilliant contribution to the giallo pantheon, like Massimo Dallamano, Giulio Questi, and Pupi Avati. At the bottom, you have your shlock artists and Johnny-come-latelys – guys that jumped on the bandwagon, cashed their checks, and moved on to the next big thing. There are too many of these guys to name.
Emilio Miraglia belongs somewhere between tiers two and three (along with Luciano Ercoli). After years as an assistant/second unit director on projects, like Lucio Fulci’s Two Public Enemies (Italian: I due pericoli pubblici, 1964), Carlo Lizzani’s Wake Up and Kill (Italian: Svegliati e uccidi, 1966), and a load of Luciano Salce movies, he first-unit directed six films (sometimes under the pseudonym “Hal Brady”). These included obscure crime thrillers (Assassination, 1967; The Falling Man, Italian: Quella carogna dell'ispettore Sterling, 1968; and The Vatican Affair, Italian: A qualsiasi prezzo, 1968) and a single obscure western (Joe Dakota, Italian: Spara Joe... e così sia!, 1972), but his most well-known work was a pair of excellent and particularly gothic giallo – The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italian: La notte che Evelyn usci’ dalia tomba; aka: The Night She Rose from the Tomb and Sweet to be Kissed, Hard to Die) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italian: La dama rossa uccide sette volte; aka: The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times, Blood Feast, Feast of Flesh, and The Corpse That Didn’t Want to Die).
Surely, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is one of the more beloved gialli by a non-star filmmaker, but The Red Queen Kills Seven Times holds the more lofty title of one of the genre’s most underrated entries. For his second shot at meshing typical Italian murder mystery thrills with gothic traditions, Miraglia was much more successful without neglecting his original audience’s expectations. There’s still plenty of sleaze, a major uptick in gory violence, and enough manic plot twists to make Sergio Martino blush. As in the case of Luciano Ercoli’s back-to-back Death Walks gialli (Death Walks on High Heels [Italian: La morte cammina con i tacchi alti, 1971] and Death Walks at Midnight [Italian: La morte accarezza a mezzanotte, 1972]), the director and his co-writer, Fabio Pittorru (Massimo Felisatti is not a credited co-writer this time), are recycling and refining story elements/themes. As a result, the two films share a lot of connective tissue, from basic story elements (another war over inheritance), to very specific imagery that doesn’t necessarily extend to other popular Italian thrillers. The most obvious comparison is the fact that both plots are driven by characters named Evelyn that are presumed dead and their unexpected resurrections both require non-supernatural explanations, no matter how convoluted. In addition, painted portraits and insane asylums play key roles, major female characters don red hooded cloaks, and, most arbitrarily, in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave one of Alan’s hallucinations connects his dead lover’s disembodied voice to the queen of hearts from a deck of playing cards.
Some first-time viewers may find the repeated motifs annoying, but The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is an improvement over The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave on every level. Miraglia finds better excuses for mixing modern and gothic images by tying the spooky castle to plot, setting the film in a metropolitan area that accommodates older architecture, and making the lead actress a fashion designer/photographer – the latter point being a common gialli standby since the early days of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1965). Besides shooting more convincing and gory horror/suspense set-pieces, he tightens the editing, forgoes dead-end subplots, and moves the narrative along at a much quicker pace. The screenplay doesn’t necessarily makes more sense than The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, but it is definitely better structured. The labyrinthine plot is improved by hinging more of the story on a likable female character – portrayed by the always amiable Barbara Bouchet – instead of a pair of psychopaths, and making the male co-victim (who is framed for the murders) a sympathetic sap, rather than a woman-beating (and maybe murdering) scumbag. Characters are introduced in a timelier manner as well, which makes it easier to keep track of the players in this long con.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times didn’t have a public domain problems that The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave had, so it was much more rare on home video. In fact, the only official DVD releases were from NoShame in US and Italy. Arrow’s 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut was also sourced in 2K from 35mm, 2-perf Techniscope camera negatives. The results are generally the same as Arrow’s Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave disc (the two were originally coupled as Two Gothic Chillers). Cinematographer Alberto Spagnoli’s brighter photography gives the transfer a small advantage over its counterpart, though the darkest sequences still require a gamma tweak that leaves the blacks a tiny bit washed out. There are also fewer suspicious artifacts, i.e., the grain here appears more like definite film grain, not machine noise. On the other hand, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave has the advantage of being a sharper production and Spagnoli’s use of soft focus and diffused light makes for a slightly fuzzy image. The color quality is a bit more bluish than its DVD versions, but skin tones and natural hues are still consistent and the searing reds really pop.
The original mono Italian and English soundtracks were mastered from the 35mm sources and are presented in LPCM 1.0 sound. In case you didn’t read the previous entry, both are dub tracks, because Italian productions at the time were shot without sound while using multilingual casts. There are more minor inconsistencies between the two language tracks this time. Though effects and music match, the tonal quality and clarity are both distinctly better on the English track. The Italian track, which has a much more naturalistic language dub (the Italian casting director actually hired children to dub children), is definitely fuzzier and more compressed, even where the music is concerned. Composer Bruno Nicolai’s fantastic score is a big improvement over The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, including one of the best title themes in the genre’s history. It deserves and gets the broadest dynamic range we can expect form a mono source.
New audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman – Jones, the author of Profondo Argento (among others), and Newman, the author of Nightmare Movies (among others), return for their fourth paired commentary for an Arrow Video giallo release. The duo offers their usual mix of anecdotes, criticism, and contextualization as they delve into the genre’s themes and the careers of the cast & crew. This track offers a unique perspective on the film and even long-time fans will likely learn something.
The Red Reign (13:50, HD) – Critic/author Stephen Thrower returns to discuss Miraglia’s second gialli. He covers the confusing plot, the careers of the actors, the gothic vs. giallo themes, the significance of the colour red (including comparisons to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now), the various US drive-in releases (under the title The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times and Blood Feast), and talks briefly about Miraglia’s relatively obscure career.
The Life of Lulu (19:50, HD) – The final new interview is with Sybil Danning, who (donning the same outfit she wore for her Howling II interviews with Scream Factory) runs down the intricacies of her career in Euro-horror/exploitation in complete and understandable terms. She has fond and vivid memories of her Red Queen Kills Seven Times character.
Alternative opening sequence (00:40, HD)
Italian and English trailers
NoShame’s archival extras:
Introduction by production/costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi
Dead à Porter (13:40, SD) – Having exhausted all of his industry chat during his Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave interview, Baraldi sticks a bit more to the film at hand this time.
Rounding Up the Usual Suspects (18:24, SD) – Actor Marino Masé talks about the film, the giallo and poliziotteschi genre trends, and working on multiple Miraglia movies.
If I Met Emilio Miraglia Today... (4:10, SD) – In this brief featurette, Blanc, Baraldi, and Masé answer the same question (the one posed by the title of the featurette, that is).
My Favourite… Films (1:00, HD) – Actress Barbara Bouchet very quickly outlines her gialli career.
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