Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, The (1971)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-06-01 03:30

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: May 24th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is not the most outlandish giallo title, but it’s certainly among the most evocative. It hints at something otherworldly, at something repressed returning from beyond to wreak havoc, and, in true giallo fashion, it’s never quite clear if it’s a misdirection until literally the last minute. Ghosts and spirits swirl about in some fashion (perhaps literally, perhaps metaphorically), haunting the lives of a set of decadent mansion dweller whose opulent digs become akin to a crucible, one that works to squeeze the lines between sanity and insanity, reality and unreality.

Only one thing is completely certain: master of the house Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) is still losing his shit despite having been recently released from a mental institution. His release is immediately revealed to be a bad idea, as he swiftly takes to bringing women back to his castle, specifically his dungeon full of whips, racks, and other instruments of torture. During these violent outbursts, he’s visited by strange visions of his dead wife, the red-headed Evelyn who pleads for him to stop. Her spirit does so to no avail—not only does Cunningham dispatch this prostitute, but he also sets his sight on another stripper a few days later, only to repeat the process in a double-down sequence that captures his looping madness.

The repetitive nature of the film’s first twenty minutes set a deceptive routine that’s quickly undone once the film’s wild script sets into gear. If witnessing a madman prey upon and murder local prostitutes weren’t weird and lurid enough, the film breathlessly weaves its way through séances, a shotgun wedding, suspicious housemaids, a robbery, a possibly undead wife, and a murder plot. It’s like Rebecca by way of one of the wackiest Italian giallo plots imaginable—I mean, I haven’t even mentioned a pack of foxes raised on the Cunningham estate that eventually figure into the proceedings.

To say The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is outrageous is an inevitability and an understatement all wrapped up in one: anyone familiar with this flavor of filmmaking knows it’s likely to be warped and ridiculous, and Emilio Miraglia’s first giallo foray doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Even though this genre was still finding its way in 1971, it’s almost like Miraglia already sensed its gonzo potential. Few gialli before or after this effort move with such reckless abandon, as it winds through a psychosexual gong show, a ghost story, and a murder mystery in the space of 105 minutes. Sure, you have to make some obvious concessions when it comes to lapses in logic (the police sure seem pretty blasé when two corpses turn up, for one), but it hardly matters since the script’s commitment to ludicrous, breakneck reveals lasts until literally the final minute. Just when it looks as though it’s settled in, a flurry of twists and turns continuously upends the story, leaving one so bewildered that they may need to press the rewind button just to make sure they caught everything.

If The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave simply coasted on the lunacy of its story—seriously, it’s a real whopper—it’d be one of the more memorable examples of the form. It moves with the same perverse intrigue as a trashy pulp novel, only it doesn’t leave much of anything to the imagination. Indeed, Miraglia’s direction is what truly solidifies this as one of the genre’s standouts. The opening scene takes on the tenor of a hazy, soft focus dream, an aesthetic that casts immediate suspicion of Cunningham’s sanity, particularly when he’s plagued by similarly misty memories of his unfaithful wife’s trysts in the castle’s courtyard. The films are Jean Rollin are an obvious comparison, what with this blend of delirious erotica, sleaze, and murder.

Even as it becomes a bit more lucid, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is no less feverish. Its Bava-tinged. gothic sensibilities especially become more pronounced, as the Cunningham estate casts long, sinister shadows over the courtyard that houses Evelyn’s dusty, cobwebbed crypt. Whenever night falls, the film is a sumptuous visual treat: moonlight and fog bathe this rural haunt, adding another layer of unreality to a pastoral nightmare that reaches its frenzied climax during its titular sequence. Here, something impossible seems to happen—or perhaps it’s just the first of many climactic illusions that’s shattered and untangled during the film’s furious rush to the finish line.

This is a fiendishly clever little mind-bender that ultimately abandons any pretenses of coherency once it finally shakes out a Russian nesting doll loose of its twists and reveals. Forty years after its release, it feels like a black-hearted parody of the giallo, or perhaps a precursor to the devil-may-care lunacy of Bava’s Bay of Blood. So many little maids are laid all in a row, only to be swiftly and viciously knocked down and swallowed up by a serpentine conspiracy whose head eventually consumes its own tail. Miraglia’s arrangement of several giallo standards—buxom vixens, frightened housewives, suspicious interlopers, and psychosexual madmen—is exquisite in both its setup and its destruction.

The disc:

Once part of the DVD era’s most lavish box sets, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave has received a long-overdue upgrade to Blu-ray from Arrow Video. Packaged alongside once again with Miraglia’s other giallo effort (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) in the studio’s limited edition Killer Dames collection, the film sparkles thanks to a new 2K restoration from the original negative. Both Italian and English soundtracks are included along with newly-commissioned English subtitles.

Each film is also loaded with extras, with Evelyn specifically boasting an audio commentary from genre scholar Troy Howarth, new interviews with actress Erika Blanc and critic Stephen Thrower, Italian and American trailers, plus a reversible sleeve featuring the original cover art. Archival interviews with Blanc and production designer Lorenzo Baraldi are also ported over from the DVD release, making this an even more definitive presentation of one of the era’s more compelling giallo films—and this is not to mention its even more impressive companion piece.
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