Click for Translation!
Evelyn is typical of 70's Italian horror-movies: its title is the most interesting and imaginative thing about it.
Like some of the great American B-movie misfires of the 50's and 60's (Terror from the Year 5000, It Conquered the World, From Hell It Came, The Monster that Challenged the World, or The Beast With A Million Eyes, among many others), it seems as though the film-makers spent all their creative energies coming up with a title, long before they had any inkling of a plot.
But the alarming thing about Evelyn is that practically anybody, given a title like that, could imagine a better film than Emilio Paolo Miraglia actually made. I certainly could -- and I did, back when I was about eleven years old, and this movie began airing on late, late night television. What a title! It seemed to promise the best bits of Nightmare Castle or Fall of the House of Usher... I waited all week for it to come on, then stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning so I could watch it on our old black and white set. I had to keep the volume really low, so I wouldn't wake my parents, and consequently I had to sit only a few inches away from the screen to hear anything at all. Heck, I figured; it'll be worth all the inconvenience to see what happens when Evelyn Comes Out of the Grave!.
If you've actually seen the movie, you'll realize how incredibly disappointed I was when the movie actually started. I was bored to tears. The thin "plot" of the movie was just an excuse to string together some mild sex and gore, all of which had been edited out of the TV print. To make matters worse, Evelyn does NOT come out of the grave (somebody does, but more about that later). In fact, this is not a horror movie at all. It's actually a poorly-written attempt at a psychological thriller, a half-hearted venture into territory better navigated by Mario Bava in Il Rosso Segno dalla Follia/A Hatchet for the Honeymoon.
Years passed, and I grew up with a dimly-remembered grudge against this movie, not just for being tedious and incoherent, but for failing to deliver on that promising title.
Gradually, though, as an adult, I became re-introduced to the world of Italian horror. I came to appreciate movies that had gone largely over my head as a child. This was particularly true of Mario Bava's Terrore nello Spazio/Planet of Vampires, a movie that used to show up every couple of weeks on TV as Demon Planet. As a child, I'd hated it, mostly because I'd seen it in black and white. I saw Bava's film again years later, in color, and for the first time I could appreciate his his astonishing grasp of color theory and its emotional application. I was overwhelmed: how could I have loved horror movies, and yet missed all this? I felt as though I had been sleepwalking through the first two decades of my life. After this, I was determined, whenever possible, to give every film a fair viewing -- even those I'd loathed in my younger days.
Then one day, having just turned thirty-three, I stumbled across VCI's new release of Evelyn in the cheap-o bin of a big chain video store. I thought of the pleasant surprises I'd had reappraising Bava, investigating Argento and Fulci. I realized that I'd lived through Lenzi; that I'd survived the worst of Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso and Andrea Bianchi. I thought briefly of Andrea Marfori, and after I'd restrained my rising gorge, I felt as though I was adequately prepared to face Emilio Miraglia. I shelled out my ten bucks and took Evelyn home with me.
And that night, Evelyn came out of the tomb, all right; clothed in the rotting rags of a script, staring back at me with the empty sockets of a blind cinematographer, worms feasting on the malodorous clichés which were the only flesh on its meagre bones of a plot. Worse, it had brought with it the bitter stench of frustration, torn from my soul and buried with it for twenty two years:
All right, enough of this. On to the movie.
The film begins with a man attempting to escape from an insane asylum. It's a pretty gripping opening, actually: the typical "psycho on the loose" background music could be by Ennio Morricone, but is in fact by Bruno Nicolai... We see by several blurry P.O.V. shots that the escaping patient is doped up to the eyeballs. As the fugitive is climbing over the gates, the interns catch up with him and drag him forcibly back to the institution.
What follows is one of the most absurd attempts at transition I've ever seen. We still have no idea if the tense scene we've just witnessed is a prologue, or the conclusion of the story we're about to see. So imagine the shock when we go from the gate of a mental institution in broad daylight to shot of a distant Ferris wheel at dusk. Suddenly we're just outside a carnival. Is this later the same day? A week later? Six months in the past?
No time to decide: a man (who looks a bit like the loony we just saw trying to escape) appears, escorting a lithe redhead to his sports-car. If this is the same guy, then we suspect the redhead is in deep trouble. However, as we listen to the dialog between the two, while they drive off into the night, we begin to suspect that we're the ones who are in trouble: either the lines are extremely badly translated, or these are two of the biggest nit-wits any audience has ever been forced to spend time with.
To make matters worse, the music has changed into typical "70's Euro-horror Opening Title Music": ludicrously up-beat, with strings, harpsichord and a soprano singing "loo-loo-loo..." If you've ever seen a bad Italian suspense film, you know what music I mean: the elevator to the Other Hell plays nothing else.
As the credits draw to a close, and the annoying vocals fade away, the loony gets out of the car and kicks the false license plates off. Here we have the first certainty of the film: This guy is a right bastard. We don't know exactly what he's going to do -- though we have our suspicions -- but we know his intentions are very, very bad.
The loony turns out to be Sir Allan Cunningham. He's driving the floozy to his sprawling castle, somewhere between London and Bologna (and believe me, the film gets closer and closer to Bologna every minute). Arriving at the family manse, Sir Allan parks roughly a quarter mile down the road and walks the girl to the front door. The redhead, showing a lapse of intelligence heretofore observed only in blondes, seems unsuspicious, even though Sir Allan is beginning to drool. But the castle turns out to be in such a state of disrepair that even the girl begins to have second thoughts.
As the two wander in, we see they are being watched from the bushes by a sinister-looking fellow in a trench coat and hat. Miraglia really wants to get the point across that the two are being watched: we cut away to the voyeur in the bushes even after Sir Allan and his prey have ventured deep into the castle. This is a big Cinematic No-No: if we see the guy watching from the bushes, then the people he's watching should still be visible to him. As it is, Miraglia is implying that the guy can see Sir Allan through the thick stone walls of the castle.
(Evelyn is full of badly chosen camera tricks like this. Later in the movie, Miraglia gives us an inept shot in which the principals' heads are obscured by tree branches. The funny thing is that Miraglia alternates stupid, thoughtless errors like this with studiously composed, deliberate, equally stupid "auteur" shots. At another point, for example, he composes a bizarre shot of Sir Allan walking down a staircase, seen through the frame of an ornate carving in the stonework. Miraglia is so pleased with this "art shot" that he uses it again later in the film, when the heroine [I haven't mentioned her yet, but bear with me] descends the same staircase. This is yet another Big Cinematic No-No: it's such a contrived shot that we're immediately reminded of the beginning of the movie, even though the later scene has no logical or emotional ties to the earlier scene. The ONLY reason to repeat such an immediately-recognizeable setup is to establish a connection to what has come before. Since there is no connection, this one scene is enough to derail the whole movie.)
By the way, the voyeur in the bushes turns out to be Albert, the brother of Evelyn. He is the castle's groundskeeper, but he doesn't actually keep the grounds... at least not from what we've seen of the castle's condition. He just hangs around, and gets paid not to see what Sir Allan does with his dates.
But I'm getting ahead of myself... Back in the castle, Sir Allan and his prospective victim arrive at the only few rooms Sir A. has bothered to keep up. These are decorated in a horrid 70's kitsch which would send anyone with 90's sensibilities screaming out the door faster than the ruins did; but this is a 70's flick, so the girl forgets her misgivings and settles in. And, since this is a 70's flick, she "settles in" by taking off her clothes.
Unfortunately for her, one of Sir Allan's usable rooms is a fully equipped torture chamber. Pausing for a moment to acknowledge the girl's resemblance to a painting of his late wife Evelyn -- at least as far as the red hair goes -- he proceeds to tie her up, torture her and kill her.
... but I have to guess, because I'm watching the censored T.V. Version. The whole scene is truncated to a matter of microseconds: Sir Allan looks at the girl with a menacing leer, and suddenly the girl is tied up screaming. Then she's dead. Next scene.
Soon Sir Allan is lighting a fire. I guess that's to dispose of the body, though again, my print just shows him lighting a fire. Sir Allan's psychiatrist, the owner of the loony bin from Act I, Scene 1, happens to be driving by, and when he sees the smoke he insists on stopping in. What, he demands to know, has brought the unstable Sir Allan back to this wretched castle? Doesn't he know it will hurt his recovery? Sir Allan responds by inviting him to a seance his wheelchair-bound Aunt Agatha is insisting on holding that evening.
Joining Aunt Agatha fot the seance is Cousin George, the comic-relief wacky relative (George even appears in drag later on, for no particular reason). As the participants join hands over the table, the spirit of the late Evelyn appears in their midst. This should have been an eerie scene, but it all goes by so quickly that there's no time to build a convincing atmosphere. Before Evelyn's projected ghost has a chance to say, "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!", a knock comes at the door, breaking the spell. Enter the psychiatrist, and the seance is forgotten.
After the aborted seance, we discover another side to Cousin George: he's also Sir Allan's procurer. He apparently doesn't notice that the nubile red-heads he finds for Allan are never seen again. As the evening draws to a close, George drops Sir Allan a hint about a stripper he's discovered, a statuesque, flame-haired woman who works out of a coffin.
Sure enough, after a strip show censored to mere seconds in my print, Sir Allan brings the girl back to his decaying castle. The stripper is played by the legendary Erika Blanc, star of La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable, a woman whose features could transform from striking beauty to inhuman ghastliness with a simple change of expression. Anyway, the stripper has just enough time to draw our attention to a monogrammed compact she has before Sir Allan starts drooling again. She is chased, nearly naked, through the mouldering grounds. Stumbling into the Cunningham crypt, she finds an empty coffin, just as the mad Sir Allan catches up to her. Here again, I have to guess at what really happens, because all the nudity and violence have been expunged from my print. Apparently he kills her and drops her body into his family crypt.
The next morning, Sir Allan awakens with a throbbing headache... and the stripper's compact, which was supposedly buried with her, starts turning up in unexpected places.
So, at this point it seems like we know where the film is headed. We have an obvious psychopath for a hero. Clearly, he's killed a number of girls who looked like his wife, so clearly we can expect either his conscience or a real ghost to start making trouble for him. It's not terribly original, but at least it's reasonably engaging. Just as we're settling back for the ride through familiar territory, the movie makes an illegal left turn from the right lane, through a red light, with its right-hand flasher on. Figuratively speaking.
Remember the psychiatrist? The one who insisted Sir Allan should keep away from ties to his former life? Well, evidently he's since decided to run for public office, because he's completely changed his tune. He now shows up demanding that Sir Allan stay put in his decrepit castle. He thinks the journey back to London would be too much of a strain on his recovery. He also thinks the dangerously unbalanced Sir Allan ought to re-marry.
Fortunately, Cousin George knows just the girl. At a party, he introduces Sir Allan to a pretty blonde, and before long the two are enjoying a turgid, 70's horror-movie courtship.
Sir Allan announces that he is going to marry the girl, even though it means giving up his title and fortune. This makes no sense: if his late wife was really Lady Evelyn, and he were a mere commoner, why is the castle crypt filled with his Cunningham ancestors? Did he bring them all along when he moved in? And why is Evelyn's brother the lowly groundskeeper? Surely he'd be Lord Something-or-Other (don't worry too much about this little plot point, though: first of all, it's completely forgotten as soon as it's brought up; and second, unless you forget about it immediately, the whole rest of the movie falls apart).
Thinking of Brother Albert, he's none too pleased by Sir Allan's re-marriage. First, he's angry because he blames Sir Allan for Evelyn's death, which apparently happened in childbirth. I think there's some sort of vague suggestion that Sir A. may have killed her because he didn't want the child, and then made it look as though she had died in labor. Albert is also miffed because he doesn't want this other girl taking Evelyn's place.
Undaunted, Sir Allan brings the girl home to meet the suddenly-augmented household staff. It turns out that Sir Allan has a staff of identical maids, all with blonde Afros. You do see why, don't you? Of course: our hapless bride starts seeing another maid around the house, one who has... red hair.
(Let me interrupt the synopsis yet again for a brief aside about red-heads. Sir Allan doesn't seem to be the only one with a fetish for red-haired girls. Director Miraglia followed this movie with another psycho-horror-cum-faux-ghost-story called The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. It's about another red-head who may or may not be back from the dead. That movie's existence is foreshadowed in Evelyn, when Sir Allan is interrupted while playing solitaire -- just as he's playing the Red Queen...)
Soon after Wife Number 2 arrives, people in the house start dying. While Brother Albert is out making his rounds, we see a pair of gloved hands remove a snake from a box (need I mention that it's a particularly harmless looking snake?). Albert conveniently turns away to look at something -- for a very long time -- as Gloved Hands Person sneaks up on him with the snake. You know those moments in the cartoons, when somebody sneaks up on tippy-toes (with a xylophone making little "tippy-toe" sounds) and then hides behind an impossibly narrow tree, with a low violin glissando as he dissapears (nrrrrr--ROOMP!)? This scene plays just like that.
Albert fails to notice as Gloved Hands Person walks right up to him and brushes his neck very lightly with the snake -- ptoink! What seems like several hours later, Albert gets a concerned look on his face -- "Hey! Did something just bite me on the neck?" -- and turns around. Naturally, Gloved Hands Person is nowhere to be seen, and Albert collapses in comical convulsions.
As he lies there, writhing, Gloved Hands Person comes back and buries him alive.
Next, our lovely bride begins sensing something is wrong. While she is out investigating, Aunt Agatha follows her in her wheelchair. When the wheelchair gets stuck, Agatha is unfazed: she gets up out of the chair and starts walking!
This astonishing plot twist is rendered meaningless ten seconds later, as Aunt Agatha gets whacked over the head and fed to a cageful of foxes.
In the meantime, Sir Allan sees his new wife wearing a red hairpiece and, well, wigs out. The girl goes out to Evelyn's tomb -- which, surprisingly, is not in the Cunningham crypt -- and discovers that the tomb is empty. That's fine, except... if this is Evelyn's tomb, why was there an obvious empty coffin in the Cunningham crypt? Who else is missing? Or is this movie a hodge-podge of three or four badly written scripts?
(That was a rhetorical question.)
So far the movie has gone from being a botched supernatural thriller, in the vein of Bava's Hatchet... or Bert I. Gordon's Tormented!, to a botched version of Ten Little Indians. By now, every fiber in the viewer's being will be crying out, "Turn the Movie Off! Turn the Movie Off!"
But then, for one brief, shining moment, the film goes back to its first premise: in a torrential rainstorm, Sir Allan follows a shadowy figure to the ruins of the Cunningham crypt (Never mind that Evelyn wasn't actually buried there: just go with it). Sir Allan starts opening caskets. The first is empty; the second, hilariously, is full of plates and silverware. Either the staff is robbing him, or this is where the family hid the valuables during the War, but this is all beside the point, so stop giggling and pay attention... because in the next casket, Sir Allan finds EVELYN.
Ohhhh, she's not a pretty sight, although she still has quite a figure for a girl who's been dead a few years. She still has her flame-red hair, but her face is a horror, a skull to which bits of flesh still adhere. Wisely, Miraglia does not let us see her clearly for very long -- just long enough to steal a classic bit from Mario Bava's Maschera del Demonio/Black Sunday: as we watch, spellbound, a pair of living eyes rises up into the empty sockets of the skull!
Sweet Mother of Pearl -- is this the same stupid movie we've been watching for 70 minutes? Was Miraglia sick that day, and did he get a real director -- say, Antonio Margheriti -- to replace him? Because this scene is really rather well done. Sir Allan runs screaming out into the rain, with the risen Evelyn close behind him. Outside the crypt, Sir Allan sprawls helplessly in a patch of mud. Unable to regain his footing, he looks behind him -- and glimpses the horrid ghoul standing in the doorway of the crypt, half-hidden by shadows.
For one moment, we almost forget what a badly written, poorly paced mess we've been watching. For one moment, we're almost ready to forgive Miraglia for some of the silliest on-screen murders we've ever seen. For one moment only -- and then the whole thing comes crashing back into mediocrity. Because Miraglia suddenly makes a fatal mistake: he lets us see Evelyn too long, too closely and too clearly. And she's obviously a girl in a badly-fitting latex Hallowe'en mask.
You can turn off the movie here, if you like. You can see the end coming. You can smell it. It makes as little sense as the rest of the movie, but you can spare yourself the torture of any further "surprises" by just hitting EJECT. No? All right, you asked for it. As Sir Allan lapses into babbling idiocy from sheer terror, "Evelyn" peels off her mask and reveals that she's -- wait for it -- Wife Number 2.
With Sir Allan insane and permanently institutionalised, his wife gets the money and estate (which Sir Allan presumably had to give up when he married again -- remember that plot point I told you to forget?) After the reading of the bequest, we get a further shocking twist: it was all wacky Cousin George's idea! Who could have seen that coming?
George takes his pretty young dupe back to a little place he's rented, to keep her out of sight until things die down. He pours his accomplice a glass of champagne. Any reasonable poison -- er, sorry, PERSON -- would be mighty suspicious about this, especially when George doesn't drink from his glass. But remember: the girl is a blonde, after all. In fact she's so blonde that even after the poison begins to take effect, she keeps drinking.
It turns out that George has another accomplice, one who also had a part in driving Sir Allan off his nut: the house belongs to the stripper, Erika Blanc, who steps out from behind a partition to smirk at the dying girl.
I know, I know: why isn't Erika Blanc dead? If Sir Allan didn't kill her, did he kill any of the girls? If he didn't, then what was the point of the whole first part of the movie? Forget it -- just add these to the steadily-growing list of grievances while the climax of the film unfolds. The dying girl grabs a knife, and with her last strength she stabs Erika Blanc to death. This suits Georgie just fine -- now both his accomplices are out of the way! As next-of-kin, he'll inherit everything, with no "loose ends" to turn up later.
Or so he thinks. Because there's one last ridiculous plot twist waiting: as George leaves the scene of this latest crime, who should show up but the psychiatrist? And with him is -- wait for it -- no, wait for it -- here it comes -- (uurrrnnngghhh....)
... who isn't really nuts after all. He was just pretending! It was all a trap to catch George! Mind you , it's a trap which was sprung too late to save George's two accomplices, and one which fails to take into account the fact that our supposed hero Sir Allan is still a psychopath and a murderer... anyway, George tries to escape, but Sir Allan tackles him and throws him into a swimming pool, which just happens to be full of sulphuric acid.
Don't you just love a happy ending? They could have taken George away in the paddy wagon, but no. They had to give us one last bit of superfluous cruelty. It's nice when a film goes the extra distance to make itself really unappealing.
Avoid this movie. It used to be available uncut from Something Weird, via their series of Frank Henenlotter's Sexy Shockers, so if you must see it, get it from them... but I can't say it will be worth the effort to track down, even in its uncut form. I do hope, though, that VCI's tawdry commercial release of Evelyn doesn't mean the Berne Act grey-market dealers have to remove it from their catalogs; that would be a real shame.
VCI has also put out a readily-available cheap release of Mario Bava's interesting thriller Kill, Baby, Kill/Operazione Paura, his last great Gothic ghost story. The movie itself is well worth seeing. Except for some over-use of the zoom lens (an early symptom of a habit that seriously mars some of his later films) and an irritatingly over-wrought musical score, it's a very satisfying horror movie. Particularly noteworthy is the hallucinatory scene in which Giacomo Rossi-Stewart finds himself running through an endless series of identical rooms, until he finally catches up with himself -- entering the room before he's left it!
However, I can't encourage anyone to go out and buy VCI's print (and certainly I never intend to buy from that company again). Lord knows what the quality is, and what scenes have been carved out. Sinister Cinema had a good quality print -- once again, I hope it's still available. I'd hate to see them have to pull it from their list just because a fly-by-night commercial firm did an "official" release.
(Anyone who wants to see Cat o' Nine Tails uncut should investigate some of the smaller, older private video stores, if any still exist. There was a video release of the full version, many years ago. One of our local stores used to have it -- it was one of those rare places that really cared about movies, from the really good to the truly awful, instead of the middle-of-the-road, all-too-recent pablum most chains carry. That store has since been bought up by a major chain, and I haven't the heart to go see what's left.)
Simitar did a similar thing with their otherwise excellent Godzilla re-releases in 1998: they gave an inflated running time for Terror of MechaGodzilla, leading some of us pathetic collectors to hope it was the uncut version. Again, no dice: it was the already-available TV print, shorn of all non-monster violence and missing the key scene of Katsura's suicide.
I'm sure both Simitar and VCI will have their lawyers send me nasty letters as a result of this review, but I think I have a legitimate gripe. This sort of thing is unethical. You should only list the actual running time on your box. If your video has been censored, you should say it's the cut version, and even if you don't you shouldn't advertise the film with scenes that are no longer in the movie. Is this too much to ask??
And let's not forget Simitar is the same outfit that released Larry Buchanan's eighty-minute snoozefest Zontar as a two-tape set!!