The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: May 24th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
The color red is an obvious recurring motif in Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, the second of the director’s two early-70s gialli efforts. A more crimson-splashed film than its predecessor, this film is bathed in red, whether it’s in the form of lurid bloodshed, garish garments, or gaudy decorations. It slowly becomes inescapable, much like the death curse that haunts the characters here, guiding them to an inevitable doom heralded by fleeting glimpses of a lady in red. Where many gialli zig and zag, this one gives the impression of constantly spiraling downwards, much like blood circling a drain—meaning it’s no less dizzying, of course.
The titular Red Queen is supposedly the spirit of a long-dead, tragically murdered daughter of the Wildenbrucks, a wealthy clan who still resides in the family castle. Legend has it that her unrested soul returns every hundred years to claim seven victims, including any Wildenbruck daughters. Presently, two sisters, Kitty and Eveline, live in the castle along with their grandfather, who relays the sordid family history as if it were some twisted bedtime story. Even though history seems to be repeating with these two bickering sisters, the grandfather assures them that the Red Queen is not due to return for over a decade, in the year 1972.
Once we flash ahead to that year, Eveline has actually moved away to America, while Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) has become a successful fashion photographer. A previously unseen third sister, Franziska (Mariana Malfatti) also lives in the house, the first of many disorienting reveals that serve to continually put the audience off-kilter. When their ill grandfather dies of a heart attack, the Wildenbruck family is met with an odd stipulation in his will: because he believes the curse will strike in 1972, the grandfather decrees that his wishes won’t be revealed until the next year. His prediction proves to be true—not only is the Red Queen glimpsed on the castle grounds following his death, but she also reappears during a rash of grisly murders.
While the setup here is as knotty and crooked as a typical giallo, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is relatively straightforward, at least when compared to The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. Where that film constantly pivots between different modes and styles, this one is largely committed to a stalk-and-slash routine that keeps the blood flowing. The title demands at least seven murders, after all (it actually delivers this and more, not that I’m complaining about the misnomer). In sequences seemingly inspired by contemporaries like Bava and Argento, Miraglia artfully stages many of the incredibly bloody murders, with the crimson spatter acting like grace notes. One sequence involving a wrought-iron gate is among the most creatively gruesome kills the genre has to offer, and Miraglia consistently treats each murder as a show-stealing moment, putting him at (or at least near) the forefront of the splatter movie tradition.
This is not to say Miraglia allows the story to become consumed by splatter; on the contrary, the outlandish plot slowly becomes consumed by itself as it weaves through its various twists and turns. What begins as an inheritance thriller detours through the seedy world of fashion modeling, where predatory managers prey upon the girls—and vice versa, it turns out. The ample cast allows Miraglia to indulge in the genre’s requisite skin, sleaze, and bloodshed, while also providing numerous red herrings. As slipshod as the general, underlying logic can be, nearly every character is a plausible suspect, including characters that may even be dead (and this is not to mention the possibility that the spirit of the Red Queen is real). A colorful array of sleazebags and harried women emerges, with Bouchet and a young Sybil Danning eventually separating from the pack.
The former is wonderfully vulnerable in the role of a woman whose own hoarded secrets lead to questions about her own sanity—she’s very much out of the giallo “final girl” mold, as she’s equally plucky and (understandably) on the verge of losing her fucking mind. Danning, on the other hand, is a total firecracker as Lulu, the promiscuous, scheming model with connections to everyone involved in the main plot. She’s the sort of gal who openly lets her new boss know she’s seducing him in order to win his favor: “even the police know I’m an incredible nymphomaniac,” she assures him as she lolls about on his couch, completely nude. (His surprise at her nudity might as well match the audience’s since she goes from fully-dressed to fully-nude over the course of one cutaway.) She and the rest of the cast—which spans from suspicious lovers to institutionalized wives—truly give the film a distinct, Eurohorror flavor.
Of course, Miraglia’s direction solidifies that flavor; in fact, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times feels like a 98-minute tour through a decade of Italian horror filmmaking. The familial, haunted-castle backstory involving the Red Queen evokes the gothic era of the early 60s, when Bava and Steele reigned as king and queen, while the bright, gaudy fashion world aesthetic recalls Bava’s transition into color filmmaking. These two contrasting styles clash throughout The Red Queen Kills Seven Times: one scene might find characters lounging in an chic, art-deco apartment, while another finds them trawling through a decrepit crypt, where bats flitter about and corpses rest just within the walls. Miraglia’s widescreen frame rarely wants for an alluring image—this is a dazzling display from a director whose brief foray into horror filmmaking was sadly short-lived.
It almost seems fitting that the most enduring image from this jaunt is the Red Queen herself, an elusive phantasm treading the line between fever dreams and reality, her iconic crimson cape and a blood-curdling giggle trailing in her elusive wake. She’s there—and then she’s not
The second disc in Arrow Video’s Killer Dames box set, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times makes its Blu-ray debut about a decade after its revelatory DVD release. Back then, NoShame granted both Miraglia gialli their first respectable presentations, and Arrow has followed that lead by upgrading both with new, restored transfers. The Red Queen’s vibrant color palette especially benefits from the restoration, allowing the film to dazzle even more. In the audio department, viewers can choose between uncompressed Italian and English tracks that do wonders for Bruno Nicolai’s dreamy, evocative score. It’s hard to believe this film will ever be more impressive unless you’re lucky enough to catch a repertory screening.
Like its companion gothic chiller, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times also sports a host of extras, including a commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman, a new interview with Stephen Thrower, and a 20-minute chat with Danning, who reflects on both this film and her early career (there’s even an entire aside where she discusses nudity in general—it’s very on-brand). Archival interviews with Bouchet, costume designer Lorenzo Baraldi, and actor Marino Mase are ported over from the previous DVD release along with an alternate opening, an original theatrical trailer, and a featurette with Bouchet, Baraldi, and Erika Blanc.
This is a fairly exhaustive set of material for a pair of films that (like the Red Queen herself) came and went out of nowhere: as Thrower points out, Miraglia himself proved to be quite elusive following these films, as he only directed one more film before presumably retiring. Both he and his films are somewhat enigmatic—one wonders especially how these two films still feel so obscure since they’re among the best early-70s Eurohorror offerings. Hopefully, this latest release will bring them to a wider audience and change that. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: