Last week, I talked about Emilio P. Miraglia’s Gothic-inspired giallo, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. It’s a moody and twisted little thriller that works well enough, but is ultimately not that fun to watch. The following year, due to the unexpected success of Evelyn, Miraglia was persuaded to make a follow-up using a lot of the same mixture of modern-day setting and Gothic tropes. The resulting film was way more effective—and way more enjoyable—as a popcorn horror flick. And the fact that the brilliantly titled The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is full of ’70s Euro glamour models doesn’t hurt either.
What immediately separates Red Queen from Evelyn is the brightness. Miraglia’s first giallo film was purposely dark, both in tone and color palette. It takes place at night (usually), in an overcast part of “London” (really Rome and elsewhere), the dreary vibe about the whole thing present throughout. Conversely, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is even colorful in its title treatment, featuring a vibrant mixture of ’70s mod fashion and decor with crimson blood and a hallucinatory dream sequence that’s right out of a David Lynch film. There’s a lot going on, but in Red Queen it comes together better than Evelyn, even if the plot ends up being (somehow) way more complex.
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to two little girls: the fair-haired Kitty and the raven-haired Evelyn (yes, again), twin sisters who look nothing alike and hate each other. They live in a castle, descendants of the rich Wildenbrück clan in Germany. Their father tells them of a family curse, in which there have always been two queens in the clan—the Red Queen and the Black Queen. The Red Queen would always lose the throne but was destined to kill six people before killing the Black Queen. Real great bedtime story, dad. Twenty years later, the father dies after a woman dressed in red breaks into his room and scares him to death. The will is read and grown-up Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) and elder sister Franziska (Marina Malfatti) will inherit the castle—but only if Evelyn can be reached in America.
But the problem here is this: Evelyn isn’t in America; she’s dead. Kitty believes she killed her accidentally when Evelyn hit her head on rock and fell into the family pond following yet another skirmish with Kitty. And Franziska knows all about it, too, having cleaned up the whole mess for a distraught and remorseful Kitty. So that puts them in a real pickle. Soon thereafter, however, more people start to die at the hands of a mysterious woman with dark hair and a red cloak. Could this be Evelyn back from the dead? Was she even dead to begin with? Ah, the mysteries of the Italian thriller.
As with most gialli, the murder plot is sort of secondary to the effed up relationships of the characters. Nobody’s ever completely innocent. Like Kitty, who—for all her doe-eyed glares—believes herself to be a murderer or at least culpable for Evelyn’s death. Soon, many other characters begin to figure out where Evelyn is and want to blackmail Kitty for money in her massive inheritance, which puts both her life and her career as a fashion photographer in peril. High fashion model Lulu Palm (Sybil Danning) has eyes on Kitty’s boyfriend, the magazine editor Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai), and even though he’s ostensibly the hero of the piece, he totally has sex with Lulu before each of them begins to figure out the plot. And a secretary named Rosemary (Maria Pia Giancaro) is equally up to something, though we don’t know what.
These proto-slasher movies truly play out in a way all their own. You always know when you’re watching a giallo because there’s always some black-gloved, often totally unseen killer, who is somehow linked to the main character. There’s usually some glamorous European city as the setting, and all of the women are the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. It’s always funny to me that characters like Franziska, the “mousy” older sister, and Rosemary, the bespectacled secretary, are supposed to be less attractive than the lead woman, but they’re all on the same level. It’s the Italian way, and fashion models-turned-actresses in Europe were all aplenty.
This movie contains a very trippy dream sequence in which Kitty, after learning of the third and fourth victims of the so-called Red Queen (and believing the culprit to somehow be Evelyn), envisions the murderer chasing her through hallways, coming to her bed to finish her off. This sequence is shot very experimentally, with a dolly-tracking shot speeding up to the bed at the end of the long hallway of the fashion offices. There is then an optical shot—done in-camera; it’s 1972 after all—where the Red Queen, in a ghostly, see-through image, prepares to stab Kitty right before she wakes up in a start. This touch really helps further the Gothic-tinged story of sisterly betrayal and possible supernatural interference.
The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a super stylish, very effective thriller with a crazy, baffling, yet still somewhat comprehensible plot, with a hell of a finale featuring the castle’s lower floors flooding at the hands of the Red Queen, attempting to kill for the seventh time. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and nobody is fully without blame. It’s got some great set-pieces, the typical Italian thriller sleaze which was compulsory, and a head-scratching explanation that makes you question everything you’ve just seen. It’s a shame Miraglia never made another giallo in his short career.
Images: Arrow Films Video