Thursday, 13 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

From https://horrorpediadotcom.files.
Director: Emilio Miraglia
Screenplay: Massimo Felisatti, Fabio Pittorru and Emilio Miraglia
Cast: Anthony Steffen (as Lord Alan Cunningham); Marina Malfatti (as Gladys Cunningham); Enzo Tarascio as (George Harriman); Giacomo Rossi Stuart (as Dr. Richard Timberlane); Umberto Raho (as Farley)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #37

Giallos, as documented on the blog Krimi in the Pocket, Giallo on the Brain by Leonard Jacobs attests to, could easily cross pollinate with other genres from the gothic to sexploitation, due to anything from following popular trends to the idiosyncrasies of their creators. It's also the entire nebulous nature of pulp storytelling at hand, everything regardless of genre having a web connected to each other, where each one once had a direct link to other in the arcane history of pulpy literature, gothic novels, penny dreadfuls and print materials long before cinema existed. These various threads, plot lines and twists being constantly repeated over decades, naturally came over to cinema, to the point a genre like giallo in its output can be classified in smaller categories based on those set in the fashion industry from those about people being murdered for family inheritances. What's important with giallos, as I'm learning and more films get re-released on home media, is that the stereotype of giallo as black gloved killers bumping off nubile young women is a mere blip to what is a more polymorphous genre between suspense, mystery and sometimes horror; "giallo" is the Italian word for yellow, the colour of the book covers that adjoined anything from mysteries like the film equivalents to even Agatha Christie, the same application tied to the genre. That it's inherently an Italian film genre is also fluid as co-productions with countries like West Germany and Spain exist.

Probably the distinct trait of giallo, which The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave exemplifies, is how they are narratively playful and constantly tricking the viewer. This means logic as applied to the stereotypical English language murder mystery can be utterly useless with these films, willing to cheat with out-of-the-blue plot twists, but a film like Evelyn is able to get away with this because its playing with the viewer from the first scenes, ready to twist its tale back at you as its plot continues. Evelyn is laced in gothic tropes from yesteryear, well worn but exaggerated to an extreme here. The interest in psychologically damaged minds found in giallo at this time are found in the protagonist Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen), a man of wealth who has an unhealthy fixation of red haired women after his late wife Evelyn committed adultery in front of him, wooing women to come with him to his basement dungeon, the cliché of Iron Maidens and spiked equipment next to the seventies deco aesthetic upstairs without jarring together, to whip them and have his wicked way in his psychosis. To have him as the hero is a very risky idea but it's the sort of thing that stands out when it's at least interesting; just as he seems to have been cured, marrying a woman named Gladys (Marina Malfatti), Evelyn has seemingly returned from the grave, leading to a very nihilistic idea that no one is to be trusted, that everyone is out for themselves and that there are many even in Cunningham's family who'd gladly have him carted off to a mental asylum to claim his wealth, compelling because of its lack of morally black and white viewpoints.

The immense liberties with logic allows for it to gladly dip into the irrational of gothic, obsessing over Evelyn's final resting placed and the various symbols of death from caskets to mausoleums common in the genre, as well as points which cannot help but feel camp but not in a detracting way, more a sense of humour appearing in its pulpy nature. It's a film where someone gets a snake to the cheek as a method of assault, closer to a trope from a turn of the century pulp novel than even Dario Argento, and there cannot be anything else but a wink to the viewer when actress Erika Blanc, a stunning women with natural fire red hair, first appears in a dance sequence as a stripper coming out of a casket derriere first in a fur lined bikini. By this point, between the sixties and seventies, a lot of European genre cinema gladly dug its influences out of pulp literature and storytelling of the past for inspiration, the countless times Jesus Franco name checked Cagliostro or the influence of Eyes Without a Face (1960) next to giallo like this which had little qualms in taking a very cliché plot - a person being driven insane by what appears to be an undead figure of their past - and yet relish in it for all its sexuality and luridness nonetheless. It's here the polymorphous nature of giallo, far and away above their American counterpart the slasher, really feels like a film genre seeped in literature, because it had to space within itself to take such influences outside of cinema as part of itself.

Aesthetically it's the same. It fails completely in convincing someone its set in England - watching the Italian dub, there's nothing inherently English in the countryside as an Englishman and its mostly in a few pieces of dialogue that it even bothers trying to suggest it - but one of the other fascinating aspects of genre cinema from European at this time, not just giallos, is how it was the meeting of the past with the then-modern. The opening scenes set this up perfectly in Evelyn, Cunningham taking a woman to his castle home and into rooms, before they're restored, that are dank and covering in cobwebs before his private bedroom turns out to be decked in bright, modern decor and hip art. Far from a mess in styles, the emphasis on the classical gothic story is both the glue to make this work but also means that, like a lot of films from this era, if kitsch is an acceptable taste for a viewer they can appreciate the mix of styles, gothic a mood that can work in any time period and entirely flexible.

In terms of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave as a good giallo or not, it's pretty entertaining with the bar for many difficult to criticise in technical quality unless one botched this area completely. Bruno Nicolai's score is appropriately sensual, and whilst the decision to set it in England fails, the vague cinematic world of the film does lead to a nice change to the genre in being a rural giallo, where the woodlands and darkened paths are the places to fear and for people to die on. As an explicitly gothic take on the genre, it definitely stands out, the gothic plot allowing it to get away with its twists because inherently the gothic tropes remind me of the irrational and secrets only discovered when it's too late. 


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